The Taste: Meet the New Chef at Fisherman's Inn
Aug 21, 2017 12:55PM ● Published by Cate Reynolds
Andy Schulz and Chef Dennis Walz
Fisherman’s Inn new chef blends tradition with twists
Flash back to 1930, when the original Fisherman’s Inn was born in the small family dining room of the Thomas home on the shores of Kent Narrows. Flash forward to 2017, where a sprawling complex devoted to seafood continues to thrive as a beloved Eastern Shore landmark for hungry tourists and locals alike. Three generations later, the complex is run by the same family: Thomas’ grandson Andy Schulz, assisted by brothers Jody and Tracy, is at the helm, while their father, Sonny, oversees the operation.
We enjoyed a serendipitous visit with Andy and Fisherman’s Inn Chef Dennis Walz—both of whom interrupted their busy day to reminisce about the history, present and future of this venerable establishment. There were some surprises in store for me that afternoon—some sad and some inspiring.
Q. Andy, please give me a quick update on the complex, which over the years has grown from a small family-run eatery to a multi-faceted operation covering five acres.
Andy: Our business has evolved over the years from a small dining room where my great grandmother did the cooking to what is now called Fisherman’s Village—a complex that includes a second restaurant called The Crab Deck and a separate Seafood Market as well as Fisherman’s Inn. We updated the inn’s interior recently—even changing the name of the bar to “The Nauti Mermaid” to appeal to our younger patrons. We kept the classics, such as my father’s G-scale model train in the dining room and my mother’s collection of more than 400 antique oyster plates—one of the finest in the country, we’re told. They are displayed throughout the inn for the enjoyment of our customers.
Q. You lost your longtime chef to cancer last year. Who has replaced him and how difficult was the transition?
Andy: We were stunned and saddened when Chef Paul Wernsdorfer died so suddenly. And we were incredibly lucky to hire Dennis Walz as his replacement. Let Dennis tell the rest of the story.
Walz: I felt like a member of the family from the beginning. Paul and I graduated from school the same year—I, from the Culinary Arts Institute in New York, and Paul from Johnson and Wales in Rhode Island. We started our careers as partners in corporate-owned restaurants and shared the high standards we had been taught as well as a love of the business itself. Even after going our different ways, we remained friends. Paul spent 20 years at Fisherman’s Inn and I was chef-owner of Windows on the Bay near Annapolis for 20 years.
Coincidentally, my lease on the Windows building expired around the time Fisherman’s Inn needed a chef – and I gladly accepted the offer. My style of using fresh ingredients, love of local seafood and pleasing a wide range of customer tastes with a varied menu fits right in with what the owner’s family has been doing for many years.
Q. Have you made many changes to the menus at the inn?
Walz: Not many—and I continue to use the same tried and true local suppliers for produce and seafood. If there’s one thing about my personal taste that shows up, it’s that I love a good steak and you’ll see a 14-ounce center cut grilled rib eye with a Madeira wild mushroom sauce on the menu. The most visible “tweak” is the format of what we now call “The Front Page,” which prominently features our daily lunch and dinner specials. It lists the drinks, beers, soups, appetizers, vegan options, sides and entrees of the day—leaving off desserts for a separate menu. Robin, our pastry chef, makes our ice cream in house as well as our great desserts.
Sonny’s wife, Betty Thomas Schulz, was a wonderful cook and storyteller—everyone loved her. Before she died, she compiled a 366-page book illustrated with historic photos that includes hundreds of favorite recipes mixed with memories of more than 80 years in the restaurant business and the Eastern Shore. We have many of her recipes on our menu—especially for seasonal soups and the crab dishes that our patrons love. It’s available online at Fishermansinn.com.
Q. As a chef and as a restaurant owner, do you have any advice for people who want to get involved in the restaurant industry?
Walz: Get your education first, either by working in the industry or attending an accredited culinary school. Be prepared to work hard, to work long hours and to start at the bottom of a long chain. Have a good work ethic and give up any notion of going into what is sometimes portrayed in the media as a “glamour” job. But if you have passion and dedication, you will find your work rewarding in many ways.
Andy: Be prepared to work! Most restaurants run seven days a week, with long hours so be aware it’s not 9 to 5 with weekends and holidays off. There are opportunities galore in this industry. I look for people who are passionate about their jobs—whether serving, bartending or working in the kitchen. On the other hand, you may want to open your own place. You think you have the best concept, food ideas and recipes to succeed at it. But remember there is no success in this business without a dedicated and enthusiastic staff—both in the front of the house and the back. Your staff is the glue that holds everything together. This business is a team effort where every detail matters.
Chef Walz combined two recipes from Fisherman’s Inn Cookbook for this seafood entrée that features two local favorites.
Maryland Rockfish and Jumbo Lump Crab Imperial
- 1 to 1.5 lb. fresh rockfish fillet, washed and dried
- 1 lb. backfin or jumbo lump crabmeat, cleaned of shells
- 1 cup mayonnaise
- 2 eggs
- 1 teaspoon Old Bay Seasoning
- 1/2 teaspoon Coleman’s dry mustard
- Dash Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce
- 1/2 cup whole milk
- Salt and fresh ground pepper to taste
Combine mayo, eggs, Old Bay, mustard, Worcestershire, milk, salt and pepper in a bowl. Gently fold in crabmeat, being careful not to break up crab lumps. Reserve one-half cup of crab imperial mix for later use and stuff remainder inside fish. Bake 25 minutes at 325 degrees until fish flakes easily when tested with a fork. Spread remaining crab imperial on top of fish and broil for a few minutes, just to brown the topping. Do not overcook. Present with steamed asparagus, fingerling potatoes, and lemon wedges as garnish.