The Sun’s Chef of the Month for February is Chef Anton Ghitel, executive chef at Graffiti’s & The Funky Blues Shack in Destin for three years.
Originally from Moldova, Ghitel left there in 1998 to study in Romania. He graduated in 2004 as a veterinarian with a ramification in food control.
“So basically I was going to be similar to a health inspector,” Ghitel told The Sun. “By that time I knew I wanted to be in the food industry, I just didn't know I wanted to be a chef yet.”
Ghitel and his wife decided to make a big change in their lives in 2006 and moved to the United States. He wanted to continue the career he had chosen, but additional courses at colleges in the U.S. would cost too much.
“I was disappointed and was pushed to look for options,” he said. “I told my wife I know how to handle the food and I have a passion for cooking, so I’m going to go and apply as a cook.”
Ghitel began his cooking career at AJ’s in Destin and then worked at Tommy Bahama’s for a time. But it was at the next restaurant that he would find his home.
In 2008, when Ghitel applied at Graffiti’s, Chef Shawn Sherman asked him what he wanted to do. When he told Sherman he wanted to be a chef, Sherman told him to start tomorrow.
“Shawn Sherman untied my hands,” Ghitel said. “He gave me the opportunity to create. He always told me you have a big potential, just keep cooking with your heart. Don't think.”
Ghitel became Sherman’s sous chef after working hard for two years, and then after another year, Chuck Stiles, owner of Graffiti & Funky Blues Shack in Destin, offered Ghitel the job of executive chef.
“I thought about it for about two seconds and said yes with a big smile on my face,” Ghitel said. “By this time, I already knew that cooking is what I wanna do for living.”
Q: Do you have a signature recipe you are known for?
A: I think I'm known by cedar plank salmon with mango salsa and Mediterranean crab meat pasta. I'm 100% positive there is no other restaurant in our area that does it the way I do.
Q: How would you describe the food of your home country?
A: Moldavian food is homemade from scratch, very traditional and old school. There are recipes that went from mother to daughter having their little secret ingredient. Moldavian food is really well balanced, not too sweet, not too hot, not too spice and not too salty.
Q: What do you like to eat when you’re at home?
A: I never cook at home. My wife is an excellent cook, and she cooks a lot of traditional Moldavian food. We always share the new recipes.
Q: What is your favorite food?
A: There is no food that I wouldn't eat. Food is my passion. But a well cooked Moldavian dish brings back a memory from my childhood, when my grandma and my mother used to spend hours in the kitchen cooking everything with love.
Q: Any advice for the home cook?
A: My best advice to a home cook is to not be afraid to experiment. If you don't like something in the recipe, just take it off and twist it the way you want it to be.
Chef Ghitel’s Stuffed
Smoked Salmon Crepes
For the crepes
51/2 Tbsp. flour
1/2 tsp. sugar
1/2 tsp. salt
1 oz. olive oil
16 oz. milk
Mix all together with a mixer; preheat a medium size sauté pan. Use solid butter to coat the pan.
Add about 4 oz. of the crepe mixture and cook about 1 minute on each side or until golden brown.
For the filling
Spread the cream cheese on the crepes. Add salmon and the capers.
Fold them the way you like. I like to dip them in sour cream mixed with a touch of Sriracha.