From learning the ropes at one of London’s greatest restaurants to serving guests as distinguished as the Royal Family and Sean Connery, the career of Chef Jonathan Preece reflects both his culinary accomplishments and his British heritage.
Having exchanged the foggy clime of England for the sunshine of Florida, Preece now runs Portside Pub & Grille in Sebastian. Seated in one of the pub’s cozy booths for an interview, he looks back on his career with a twinkle in his eyes.
Preece was born in 1943 in the county of Surrey. As a young man, he worked at Simpson’s in the Strand, a renowned London restaurant. Simpson’s is mentioned in Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s stories as a favorite of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson; in the twentieth century, it was frequented by Sir Winston Churchill, for whom a table was reserved by the fireplace.
The atmosphere of Simpson’s is one of comfortable elegance, but Preece jokes that he called the kitchen where he worked “the dungeon” because it was underground. “I did cooking in the kitchen—that was my training—and I would transport the food from the kitchen to the restaurant.” Roasts of beef and lamb are the establishment’s specialties, and as Preece brought them to the restaurant area, they would be placed in the signature silver trolleys to be served to guests.
Preece learned well at Simpson’s, and he quickly began receiving accolades of his own. At 18 years of age, he was a member of the Guild of Sommeliers—“I was the youngest member,” he recalls with a smile. He also earned a gold medal from the prestigious Escoffier Society.
At the Royal Ascot races, Preece served drinks to Queen Elizabeth II and other members of the Royal Family. Their beverage choices included Bristol cream sherry. Preece had to learn how to hold out a tray while bowing at the same time. “The idea was not to spill the drinks.”
At one of Preece’s restaurants, Sean Connery was a customer, coming in with some friends. “I served them the biggest lobsters I could get,” he says. There was just one problem, though: It was a formal restaurant, and Connery was wearing a golf shirt. Preece provided him with a sports jacket and a tie that were kept for such occasions. Later, he was amused when he saw that Connery was wearing the tie down the back of his jacket. “There’s a story for you!” laughs the chef.
Captain Bill’s New England Clam Chowder
“Captain Bill Bowers was the greatest New England chef in Florida, ever,” says Preece, who enjoyed working with him on a previous restaurant job. Preece remembers everyone calling Bill “the Captain.” And he remembers this special clam chowder recipe.
- Six 6 1/2-oz. cans chopped clams
- 1 cup chicken stock, fish stock, or water
- 1/2 lb. diced cooked potatoes
- 1 quart half-and-half or light cream
- 1/2 stick unsalted butter or margarine
- 1 cup corn starch, whisked in water until smooth
- 1/2 cup finely chopped onions
- 1/2 cup finely chopped celery
- 2 tbsp. Old Bay seasoning
- 1 tbsp.thyme
- 1 tbsp. Italian seasoning
- 2 tbsp. chopped parsley
- Juice of one lemon
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Dry sherry (optional)
In a 4-quart pot, sauté onion and celery in a little butter until soft; add clams, stock, half and half, and the rest of the butter and bring to a boil.
Whisk in the corn starch slurry until the chowder is of your preferred thickness. Add diced potatoes (you may heat these in a microwave if you wish).
To season, stir in all spices and herbs. Then taste and add more Old Bay, salt, pepper, or thyme as needed. For a special touch, add a dash of dry sherry to each serving.
Chef Jonathan’s Salmon Galleon
This is an original creation by Chef Jonathan that reflects his creative flair—and his love of good seafood.
- 4 fresh salmon fillets, 1/2 lb. each (frozen vacuum-packed will work if the salmon is No. 1 quality)
- 2 lb. jumbo shrimp (12 to 16 shrimp),peeled and deveined, tails on
- 2 cups water
- Old Bay seasoning to taste
- Juice of 1/2 lemon
- Garlic-Herb Sauce
- Parmesan cheese to taste
- 2 cloves garlic
- Butter or olive oil for sautéing
- Basil leaves
- Old Bay seasoning
- Dry sherry
Finely chop the garlic and sauté in butter or olive oil until soft. Season with basil, Old Bay, parsley, and dry sherry.
Cook the salmon until done; it may be baked, grilled, blackened, or sautéed—your choice! Set aside, ready to top with cooked shrimp.
To cook the shrimp, bring the water (mixed with lemon juice and Old Bay) to a boil. Add the shrimp and bring back to near boil. Let cook about 3 minutes or until done. Strain and put shrimp to one side.
Place hot, cooked salmon on an oven dish. Line each salmon steak with three or four shrimp standing on toothpicks.
Pour Garlic-Herb Sauce over salmon portions and over shrimp. Sprinkle with grated Parmesan. Heat in oven for about 3 minutes or until desired serving temperature. Serve and enjoy!
Mum’s Bread & Butter Pudding
This dessert recipe reflects Chef Jonathan’s British heritage; it is, as he puts it, the “Olde English” recipe.
- 1 loaf hearty white bread or white bread “leftovers”
- 1 lb. sultanas (golden raisins)
- 10 eggs
- 1 quart half-and-half
- 1/2 lb. low-salt butter
- 1 cup sugar
- 1 tsp. cinnamon
Slice and lightly butter the bread; set aside.
Beat the eggs and half-and-half together and set aside.
Grease a large (10 x 5 x 2-inch) 4-quart pan or oven dish with butter or oven spray. Pour a little coating of the half-and-half-egg mixture into the pan. Place a layer of bread in the pan and wet with the mixture. Sprinkle sugar and sultanas over this layer.
Repeat this process two more times, resulting in a three-layer soggy concoction; dust with sugar. Use any extra half-and-half-egg mixture on top to settle through the pudding.
Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 30 minutes and check; add more time if needed. Continue to bake until it “sets” and is lightly browned. Enjoy!