Eating Authors: Dyrk Ashton

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Dyrk Ashton

Here in the greater Philadelphia area, the first week of July has been stupidly hot, with multiple days hitting 99°. Being the delicate flower that I am, at times like these I cower inside my air conditioned home. Which surely is why my A/C opted like Elvis to leave the building on the hottest day of the year. We went without for a day and a half before we could effect repairs, the digital thermostat taunting me with the news that it was 89° inside the house.

There’s not much to do in such situations but distract yourself with thoughts of cooler and happier times, which is what led me to thinking about the last time I last saw Dyrk Ashton, this week’s EATING AUTHORS guest. It was back in January, in Detroit, at one of the best conventions I know of. It’s always a challenge to fly into Michigan that time of year, but this trip went smoothly, and I enjoyed hours of conversation with Dyrk in the hotel’s bar. It was only months later that I came to learn he’d knocked around Hollywood as an actor in an array of films he insists no one has ever seen (including the role of a “truck zombie” in Night of the Living Dead), before returning to his native Ohio and traded his life experience for a doctorate in film studies and a teaching gig at a university. When he tired of that, he noted that brick and mortar schools were so very 20th century and took his teaching online.

The digital academic life agrees with him, and has even allowed him time to write. The result is his Paternus universe, the second book of which, Wrath of Gods, comes out tomorrow.

LMS: Welcome, Dyrk. Whats been your most memorable meal?

DA: Wow. I have had so many incredible meals it’s hard to choose. Reading through the posts from other authors, I saw that most of them describe meals they had while traveling, and realized – it’s the same for me. I’ve had amazing and memorable meals here in the States, including homecooked dinners with family (my mother’s meatloaf with potatoes and carrots is to die for), but they tend to run together in my mind.

The ones that really stand out as individual experiences are indeed those I had while traveling. An unbelievable steak in Rosarito, Mexico while on a trip with a friend celebrating our birthdays, which are only a day apart. A cut of seared grouper with roasted red-skin potatoes and Caribbean slaw in a dockside café while on the Puerto Rican island of Culebra. A simple bowl of lamb stew at a bar in a small town in Ireland. Maybe a half-dozen others come to mind. So difficult!

Paternus

For my humble addition to Eating Authors, though, I think I’ll go with the grouper. My mouth is watering right now just thinking about it. I can feel the warm sea breeze, smell the briny air, hear the waves lapping against the dock… Ahem, okay.

For those who aren’t familiar, Culebra is a small Puerto Rican island only a few miles long, east of the main island, San Juan. It’s a wonderful place to get away to, with beautiful beaches but relatively unknown to tourists, mostly because there are no large resorts. A friend of mine owns a house there that sits on a hill. From his pool patio you can see St. Thomas. I have been there over a half-dozen times, but about six years ago I went down on a mission. My buddy had a sailboat he wanted to sail to St. Thomas for repairs and some renovation, the plan being to then sell it, and he needed someone to sail along with him. When he asked if I’d go along, I hummed and hawed – Not. Of course I leapt at the chance and bought my ticket immediately.

Wrath of Gods

After I arrived and had been there a few days, however, he was called back to New York to take care of some business and family affairs. The sailing trip was off. I had nothing to complain about. I would have the house to myself, in the Caribbean. And so it was for the rest of my stay.

One night I decided to drive into Dewey for dinner – the one and only town on the island, and not very big at that. This was something I did regularly but this particular night I found myself at a small, open-air restaurant right on the water of Dewey Bay. It wasn’t a fancy place. Plastic tables, no table cloths, and plastic lawn chairs. There were only four other people there, all sitting together, so I easily got a table at the edge of the dock, where I could look down and see fish swimming not three feet away from my sandals.

The menu had a few regular dishes, but mostly it was a handwritten list of the several items they had for the day. Grouper is my favorite fish, so I immediately ordered that when I saw it. I also knew they caught their fish right off the island, and I was assured the grouper had been brought in only hours before.

Berserker

I’ve had grouper many times, but never prepared like this. Instead of a filet, it had been cut straight down through the spine, so it looked almost like a fat U-shaped steak, smaller at the ends. It was over an inch thick, and a sizable hunk of fish. My first thought was I’d never be able to eat it all. I was wrong.

It was served with roasted red-skin potatoes swimming in butter and a side of Caribbean style slaw, which is rather sweet. Those were absolutely delicious, but the grouper itself was heaven. I’m no chef, so I can’t tell you how it was prepared other than on a grill. It came apart easily with a fork, and the first bite nearly knocked me over in my chair.

It still had that marvelous grouper texture and flavor, but other than that, it tasted like fresh lobster. I’d never had grouper like that before. I had to force myself to slow down and enjoy it, and I ate every bite.

Later that night, while I swung in a hammock looking over the moonlit sea, I tried to work out some plot kinks in the novel I was working on. But all I could think about was grouper. Having dredged up this memory, I’m afraid it will be on my mind all week. Come to think of it, it has been awhile since I’ve been to Culebra…

Thanks, Dyrk, I had the pleasure of multiple meals of freshly caught island fish while in Puerto Rico last July. But sadly, no grouper. I’ll happily volunteer to accompany you next time you head to Culebra to rectify this oversight.

Next Monday: Another author and another meal!

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