From the New Orleans bayou to Sarasota Bay, Mark Majorie doesn't just love seafood. It's a way of life.
Mark Majorie enjoys the heat. Not the steamy, midsummer Florida type — the proverbial type. The kind of heat used in adages, warning those who can’t stand it to stay out of the kitchen.
The 34-year-old chef got his first taste of the restaurant industry in his native New Orleans at just 14.
It was fast-paced, high-stress and thoroughly intense.
He loved it.
Now, as executive chef of Veronica Fish and Oyster, he’s bringing his love for the craft to Sarasota.
And he’s not leaving the kitchen any time soon.
It’s just before noon on a rainy Tuesday morning. Majorie emerges from the kitchen at Veronica Fish and Oyster, pours a cup of black coffee and sinks into one of the restaurant’s stylish green sofas. Dressed in a casual purple chef’s shirt, he gives the ends of his handlebar mustache a quick curl before taking a sip.
It’s a brief break from the day’s busy schedule. He’s just finished brainstorming the day’s specials with the morning crew — a whole snapper, cooked one of three ways — but there’s much to be done before the doors open for dinner at 4.
The Southside Village seafood restaurant opened its doors just more than a month ago. It’s the latest eatery from Mark Caragiulo,the restaurateur behind Caragiulo’s, Owen’s Fish Camp and Shore Diner, and the months leading up to its opening stirred up a lot of buzz.
How much buzz, exactly? Majorie chuckles. Busy is an understatement.
“I’ll put it this way,” he says. “We had to hire a guy to wash the face and handprints off the windows every day.”
Today is his first day back after a short trip home for his sister’s college graduation. Vacations are a luxury — especially with a restaurant this new. But more than a few days out of the kitchen, and he starts to get antsy. He can hardly wait to get back to work.
“That’s probably a good sign,” he says.
Majorie moved to Sarasota six months ago with his wife, Meagan, and their 2-year-old twins. After 20 years of honing his craft in New Orleans, he saw the ad for the position and flew down for an interview. He says he and Caragiulo hit it off right away. And after seeing what the city’s food scene had to offer, he says he was ready to make the move.
“This is a great food town,” says Majorie. “I didn’t know Sarasota had a food scene before I came here. Mark showed me around, and I could see that a lot of these chefs are headed in same direction, and they’re collaborating. I saw some innovative cooking, and I thought I could bring some of my momentum here, too. I said, ‘Let’s make some noise in South Florida.’”
A WAY OF LIFE
Growing up on the bayou in New Orleans, Majorie says food — especially seafood — was a way of life. His stepdad trawled for shrimp as a second job. Family meals consisted of home-cooked Cajun staples: His mom’s gumbo, shrimp etouffee, alligator. When she needed a break, Majorie would fill in, cooking family breakfasts.
“Everyone cooked,” he says. “Nobody was a professional, but when you’re cooking for families of 10, you learn pretty quick. I grew up surrounded by high-quality seafood. That muddy water that nobody likes to swim in sure has some delicious fish.”
Majorie got his first professional experience at a local pizza shop at age 14. When the time came to move up from scrubbing pots to tossing dough and cooking, he found his passion.
“You feel like a rock star,” he says. “It’s an open kitchen; people are watching you, and you’re pleasing people with the stuff you’re making. I took it to heart pretty early and was hooked right away. I burned myself a couple hundred times and fell in love.”
Sicilian on his father’s side and Creole French on his mother’s, Majorie’s approach to food is as melting pot as his heritage. Perhaps most representative of his eclectic cooking style is the two-crab fazzolletti featured on Veronica’s menu. It’s a labor of love, made with homemade pasta, king and blue crab meat, mushrooms and truffles. It incorporates a bit of everything, including his training in classical French cuisine.
“I think that speaks volumes to my cooking style,” he says. “I like to use a little bit of everything, but it still needs to make sense. It was the first dish I showed Mark, and I think that really solidified that we had something here.”
In his 20 years of cooking, he says this career continues to be his passion, both because of the reward he gets from making diners happy and the sense of camaraderie he finds in the kitchen. Of course there’s stress, but for him, the intensity is more than just part of the deal — it’s part of the appeal. He thrives on it. It’s part of what helped him meet the goals, however lofty, he set for himself: Be in a management position before finishing culinary school; sous chef by 19; executive chef before 25.
“There’s a level of intensity that comes with this business,” he says. “But I love that. You all go through it together, and it matures you. It’s about more than just putting pretty food on a plate. You’re orchestrating a whole culinary experience.”
His next goal? Ownership by 40. And create a few signature dishes that help put him — and Veronica — on the culinary map.
But right now, it’s time to get back to work. Break time is over, but Majorie isn’t complaining. He’s been waiting days to get back in the kitchen. He puts it simply.
“I wouldn’t do anything else.”