The Chef’s Story: Jeremy Davis of The Port Hunter

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Jeremy Davis, executive chef at The Port Hunter in Edgartown, made silverside baitfish tacos during the Wild Food Challenge this past Monday. — Photo by Michael Cummo

Martha’s Vineyard has no shortage of restaurants, and behind each one, there’s a top-of-the-line chef. The Times decided to get to know these epicurean wonders, and is presenting its findings in a weekly series.

Jeremy Davis arrived on Island five years ago after a long history of cooking in private clubs across the country. A proponent of the farm-to-plate movement, Jeremy enjoys the privilege of meeting and conversing with the direct providers of his ingredients. He will be discussing the Farm to Plate experience with farmer Lily Walter and chef Jan Burhman at the Martha’s Vineyard Food and Wine Festival, Saturday, October 18, at 12 pm at The Port Hunter. For more information, visit mvfoodandwine.com.

How did you come to be on the Island?

I took the ferry. I heard the place was a real fantasy.

How and when did you start cooking?

When I was 14 years old. It was a little restaurant in Daytona Beach, Florida. Cooking is pretty much the only industry I’ve been interested in. I’ve been doing it as long as I’ve had a job. I just always loved food. It’s a little bit of everything. It’s science, it’s art, it’s history. It’s something you create in your hands and people ingest in their bodies. It’s pretty neat all the way around.

How did you come to be at The Port Hunter?

There was a brand-new restaurant opening up and I just applied to be on the kitchen team. I got hired (as a line cook). That was three years ago. A little while later I moved up to head chef.

Have you ever had a major cooking disaster?

I’ve burnt a lot of bread in my day.

Do you have a dish or a meal that you cooked for something really special?

I cooked a really nice staff party meal for The Red Cat in Oak Bluffs. That night I actually roasted a whole pig and brought it out in the middle of the dining room during dinner service. I put it on the table and fed them fresh pulled-pork tacos. The restaurant was kind of shocked when I brought it out and dropped it on the table. I just kind of peeled back the skin and they took tongs and pulled the pork into some grilled tortilla shells I had. It was a really cool experience.

Favorite dish on your menu?

The vegetable. You get a choice of rice or quinoa. It comes with a black bean ragout, roasted vegetables, and sweet potato hash. You can add an egg or ricotta cheese or tofu. So it’s like a playful dish that the customer can build in their own way. It’s a little different and a vegetarian dish that you can add meat to if you’d like to.

What’s the best single bite you ate in the last week?

Probably the Cuban sandwich from 7a in West Tisbury. That’s probably the best thing I’ve had in a long time.

What do you cook for a romantic evening at home?

I think the most romantic dish is dessert — a little more romantic than actual dinner. I would make cinnamon roll French toast with some fresh berries and whipped cream and maple syrup. I would have that with some champagne and a splash of orange juice.

What are your top five indispensable ingredients?

Fresh fish, fresh veggies, fresh cheese, fresh herbs, and curry.

Do you have a favorite kitchen tool?

My knife. It’s a Japanese Shun knife.

What songs do you listen to when you’ve got the kitchen to yourself or don’t care who hears?

My playlist is every different genre you can think of. Every different sound. I don’t have a preference. I love music. I usually just like to listen to whatever the other guys are prepping to.

What is your idea of a perfect day off on Martha’s Vineyard?

I don’t usually get a day off, but some good time off is if it’s slightly gloomy, rainy, I go out to eat in different restaurants. There are a lot of good chefs on the Island.

If it could be anywhere in the world, where would you open your second restaurant?

Thailand. I love their cuisine. It’s bright, flavorful, it’s crunchy, it’s fresh. Their flavors are far more extreme than any other.