Port Jefferson Chef Learns From a Pro on Food Network’s Chef Boot Camp

chef boot camp
Chef Cliff Crooks is on a mission to help struggling chefs from restaurants across the country prove that they deserve to keep running their kitchens. (Courtesy Food Network)

In the series premiere of Food Network’s Chef Boot Camp, Port Jefferson’s own Chef Andrew Seeley from Tara Inn showcased his culinary skills in efforts to grow the restaurant’s business.

On Chef Boot Camp, host and Executive Chef Cliff Crooks puts three underperforming chefs in need of professional assistance to the test with culinary challenges to prove they are fit to run their kitchens. Over the span of three days, chefs learn about cooking fundamentals, creativity, confidence, and the importance of timing. After judging their performance, Crooks then decides if the contestants will remain head chefs of their establishments.

“It’s a lot of pressure on me because I care about the restaurant and I care about the owners as well,” Seeley said.

Featured in the premiere episode dubbed “Have a Little Faith,” Tara Inn has been a local favorite in the Port Jefferson community for more than 40 years. Kate and Tara Higgins, whose father opened the Irish pub in 1977, are the current owners.

“We grew up there. It’s not a job, it’s part of who we are,” said Kate and Tara Higgins.

The Higgins sisters wish to improve the quality and presentation of the food at the restaurant as well as to rebrand it from being known as a dive bar.

For Chef Seeley’s first challenge, he prepared a Tara Inn signature dish, filet mignon with risotto and risotto stuffed shrimp. Next came a test for the fundamentals: making crepes with strawberry sauce and whipped cream. The chefs also got the opportunity to cook for a live dinner party at Crooks’ restaurant, Casa Nonna in Manhattan, where Seeley proved his ability to work well under pressure.

On the last day of challenges, Seeley put a creative spin on Tara Inn’s menu with a pineapple-soy glazed pork loin and Asian-inspired noodles, a homage to the owner’s noodle recipe. Chef Crooks and the Higgins sisters complimented both the dish’s flavor and presentation. The restaurateurs expressed their confidence in Seeley after deciding to keep him as a chef.

“Andrew has the knowledge and ability to do it,” said Crooks, near the end of the episode. “I’ve got a lot of faith in him.”

According to Food Network, Chef Seeley’s own confidence has grown since his return from bootcamp which shows in his food.

“Going through the bootcamp has really inspired me to be the best chef that I can be for myself and for the Tara Inn,” Seeley said.

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