Meet a coastal Carolina seafood champion
By Kathleen Purvis
Garden & Gun
Ricky Moore couldn’t wait to get away from the small area of North Carolina where he grew up. Raised near New Bern, around the rivers and sounds of Eastern North Carolina, his father was in the military, so he had already seen places like Germany. And he couldn’t wait to see more of the world for himself.
“I got that traveling bug,” Moore says. “When I graduated high school, I was ready to go. I didn’t want to sit in a classroom.” He enlisted in the army and discovered cooking the military way, from feeding troops in combat field units to feeding officers in the generals’ mess.
After that, he kept going. He did stages—kitchen internships—for such chefs as Charlie Trotter, Art Smith, and Rick Bayless. He cooked French, Italian, Lebanese , and modern Southern, always keeping his notebook, always trying to figure out what made one restaurant different from another.
“The goal was to be a skilled craftsperson. At the end of the day, cooking is cooking. It’s the behavior you try to investigate—why is a Michelin restaurant a Michelin restaurant? It’s the behavior.”
Eventually, Moore and his wife, Norma, wanted to come home to North Carolina to raise their kids, daughter Hunter, 15, and son Greyson, 10. Moore was working at a small market in Carrboro when Norma gave him an idea: She was craving a good fish sandwich.
Moore spotted a tiny building, basically a hot dog stand. It was all of 205 square feet, a walk-up window and outside tables. But it reminded him of something: He had once visited Singapore, where vendors in the night markets fascinated him. He calls it his “aha” moment: A single cook, minimal equipment, just making one thing but doing it really well.
Moore had grown up fishing and crabbing, and he knew what his one thing would be: Local fish and seafood.
“I wanted to do my own thing. I didn’t want investors, I didn’t want to do a food truck. I wanted to do something small, just a small little place that folk can connect with and see a person in there working hard.”
Moore now has two locations of Saltbox Seafood Joint in Durham, the original walk-up and a small sit-down restaurant. And now he has his first book, Saltbox Seafood Joint Cookbook , focusing on fish and shellfish and the things that go with them, including stews, chowders, and plenty of grits.
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