Savoring Oysters and More with Chef Austin from Nick’s Cove

Most culinary professionals don’t talk about their office view, but Chef Austin Perkins of Nick’s Cove restaurant is the exception – he looks at the beauty of Tomales Bay. “There’s no one who has it better,” Chef Austin, a Petaluma native, told guests at Fresh Starts Chef Events before launching into a March 27 menu made from the specialties of West Marin.

Chef Rachelle with Chef Austin Perkins of Nick's Cove

Chef Rachelle Boucher (left) emceed the evening

The feast began with Pacific sweetwater oysters from Hog Island Oyster Co., a Nick’s Cove neighbor. Chef Austin demonstrated the shucking – don’t be forceful, just consistent – and then halted. “The best way to eat them is right now – just go for it,” he said, but offered his recipe for Oysters Mornay as a sure crowd-pleaser.

Oysters Mornay at Fresh Starts Chef Events

Oysters Mornay from Nick’s Cove

Once the sauce is made – his version uses Point Reyes Toma from Point Reyes Farmstead Cheese Co. — preparation takes only a minute.  Just top the opened oyster with a spoonful of sauce and breadcrubs, then cook for 60 seconds on the grill.

Rainbow Chard Salad at Fresh Starts Chef Events - photo by Neely Wang

Warm Rainbow Chard Salad could be a meal

His Rainbow Chard Salad with Duck Confit could be a meal in itself. Since Nick’s Cove has a 3-acre garden on-site, Chef Austin says, he’s tasked to “come up with recipes to use it all.” The salad balances the salty confit with a lemony vinaigrette, adding sweetness with strawberries and some cashews for texture. In the winter, he uses dried cranberries and pecans.

Students served Warm Rainbow Chard Salad at Fresh Starts Chef Events

Students from Fresh Starts Culinary Academy served guests

Chef Austin demonstrated a favorite winter main course: Beef Short Ribs with Horseradish Mashed Potatoes. His Meyer lemon gremolata lightens the flavors.

Fresh Starts Chef Events presents short ribs from Nick's Cove

Beef Short Ribs with Horseradish Mashed Potatoes

The evening closed with the charming pastry chef from Nick’s Cove, Fernanda Hurst, who admits to a love affair with vanilla beans and acknowledged talking to her desserts early in the morning before the rest of the staff arrives.

Fresh Starts Chef Events presented menu from Nick's Cove

Chef Fernanda Hurst works on dessert

Her crème brulée uses vanilla beans for a luscious depth. A secret to ensuring perfection, she said: pay close attention to “tempering” the egg yolks – adding the hot liquid to them slowly so they don’t scramble. “Baking is a science, cooking is love,” she told guests. “So don’t forget to read your recipe and do all the steps with care.” — Contributed by Maura Thurman with photos by Neely Wang.

Warm Rainbow Chard Salad — Serves 6 – 8
While Chef Austin Perkins often uses duck confit, he says cooked bacon, pancetta or ham make delicious and more easily accessible substitutes.

IngredientsFor the vinaigrette
1 cup sherry vinegar
1 ½ cups high-quality extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp. Kosher salt
1 tsp. fresh thyme leaves, chopped
½ tsp. Dijon mustard
Freshly cracked black pepper

Combine sherry vinegar with olive oil.

Add salt, thyme, mustard and pepper. Whisk vigorously until emulsified. Set aside.

IngredientsFor the salad
1 cup duck confit (bacon, ham or pancetta may be substituted)
2 quarts rainbow chard, stem removed and julienned
1 lb. strawberries, sliced
2 leeks, julienned
1 pint toasted cashews
2 tablespoons olive oil or vegetable oil

In a sauté pan, add shredded duck confit to hot vegetable or olive oil, and crisp evenly on all sides.

Add the leeks and cashews, sauté briefly, about 30 seconds. Add ½ cup sherry vinaigrette.

In a small bowl, combine the chard and strawberries. Pour the hot vinaigrette-duck mixture over the chard and strawberries and toss thoroughly until all of the chard is evenly coated. Serve immediately.

About Fresh Starts Chef Events

Fresh Starts Chef Events offers a parade of presentations by celebrity chefs, cookbook authors and artisan producers in The Key Room. Visit the online calendar at for upcoming events. Our list of presenters includes luminaries from the worlds of food, wine and restaurants who share stories, demonstrate techniques and offer tips on making the most of our local bounty. You can register online for upcoming classes or call us for more details at 415-382-3363 x243. Proceeds from our events support shelter and job-training programs at Homeward Bound of Marin; learn more at and
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