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Chef Ricky Moore’s Culinary Journey Led Him Around The World — And Straight Back To His Roots

Ricky Moore has been chasing taste for his entire life. He moved around a lot as a child because of his father’s military career, but when he was 11, his family settled back to Eastern North Carolina, in New Bern. He was surrounded by family, friends and country cooking.

The goal was to always make whatever was in that pot delicious. That was a really important thing. That's the most wonderful gesture, or soulful gesture, that one could do for a group of people. - Ricky Moore

Moore wanted to become an artist, but he was tired of spending time in the classroom and he wanted to see more of the world. So instead he enlisted in the military and chose cooking as his profession. After years of service, he attended the Culinary Institute of America and worked in kitchens in Washington D.C., Chicago and across Europe. He read and researched about great chefs — and came to realize that their cooking was not so far off from the country cooking he enjoyed as a boy. The food that makes up haute cuisine is often dressed-up rural or regional food.

When it came time to open up his own restaurant, he decided to apply his formal chef’s training and pursuit of excellence to the food of his home region. Moore is the owner, chef and founder of the Saltbox Seafood Joint, with two locations and a food truck in Durham. He is also the author of the “Saltbox Seafood Joint Cookbook” (The University of North Carolina Press/2019). Host Frank Stasio talks to Moore about his culinary journey and his mission to evangelize North Carolina’s seafood. He will be at Golden Fig Books in Durham on Tuesday, Nov. 19 at 7 p.m.

Saltbox would not be if it wasn't for North Carolina fishermen. - Ricky Moore

Core Sound Clam and Sweet Potato Chowder

Be sure to clean the clams vigorously and thoroughly. Sand and grit is unpleasant even in the best homemade chowder.

Serves 8

  • 4 cups water
  • 24 cherrystone (medium) clams, rinsed well and scrubbed clean
  • 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
  • 1/4 pound slab bacon or salt pork, diced
  • 2 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
  • 2 medium leeks, tops removed, halved, and cleaned, then sliced into half moons
  • 3 medium sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into medium dice
  • 1/2 cup dry white wine (such as Pinot Grigio or Sauvignon Blanc)
  • 3 sprigs of fresh thyme
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cups heavy cream
  • Freshly cracked black pepper
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

1. Set a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat, pour in the water, and add the clams. Cover and cook until the clams have opened, 10–15 minutes. Note: Discard any clams that fail to open after 15–20 minutes.

2. Strain the clam broth through a sieve lined with 2 layers of paper towels and set aside. Remove the clam meat from the shells and set aside.

3. Rinse out the pot, set it on the stove over medium-low heat, and melt the butter. Add the slab bacon or salt pork and cook, stirring occasionally, until the fat has rendered and the pork has started to brown. Remove the pork with a slotted spoon and set aside.

4. Add the garlic and leeks to the fat and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables are soft but not brown, about 10 minutes. Stir in the potatoes and wine and cook until the wine has evaporated and the potatoes have started to soften, about 5 minutes. Add just enough clam broth to cover the potatoes, approximately 3 cups, reserving the rest for another use. Add the thyme and bay leaf. Simmer, partially covered, until the potatoes are tender, about 10 minutes more.

5. Meanwhile, chop the clams into pieces about the size of the diced pork.

6. When the potatoes are tender, stir in the cream, chopped clams, and cooked pork. Season with black pepper. Bring the chowder to a simmer and then remove the pot from the heat. Discard the thyme and bay leaf. Allow the chowder to cure for about 10 minutes, reheating it to barely simmering before serving. Portion into deep bowls and garnish with the chopped parsley.

From SALTBOX SEAFOOD JOINT COOKBOOK by Ricky Moore. Copyright © 2019
Ricky Moore. Used by permission of the University of North Carolina Press.

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Amanda Magnus is the executive producer of Embodied, a weekly radio show and podcast about sex, relationships and health. She has also worked on other WUNC shows including Tested and CREEP.
Longtime NPR correspondent Frank Stasio was named permanent host of The State of Things in June 2006. A native of Buffalo, Frank has been in radio since the age of 19. He began his public radio career at WOI in Ames, Iowa, where he was a magazine show anchor and the station's News Director.