ABOVE: Luke Maguire, left, is executive chef at Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant in Atlantic Beach, N.C., which was started by Hallock Howard, right.
When I went to meet Luke Maguire at his restaurant, I encountered this sign at a back entrance to the kitchen: When you walk through this door, you must wash your hands immediately upon entry.
As someone who, for many years, has taught seafood businesses and restaurants how to comply with state and federal food-safety regulations, I was impressed.
Luke, the executive chef at Amos Mosquito’s Restaurant in Atlantic Beach, North Carolina, says his operation rests on a foundation of safety.
“It’s why we have a score of 100 percent from the Carteret County Department of Health. Our prime goal is to ensure our customers can enjoy eating quality, local seafood safely,” he explains. Luke holds regular meetings with his staff to educate them about properly labeling, dating and storing perishables so the products’ safety and quality never are at risk.
Growing up, Luke was always in the kitchen with his mother, helping her cook family meals. While attending East Carolina University, he worked as a sous chef at Chefs 505 in Greenville. The restaurant was known for handwritten menus that changed daily. It featured five or six items made with fresh ingredients that Luke bought from local producers.
He went on to work at Front Street Grill at Stillwater in Beaufort, the Royal Pavilion of Atlantic Beach and the Wilson Country Club. When the head chef of Amos Mosquito’s left in 2012, Luke joined as the executive chef.
Luke enjoys cooking innovative American cuisine with “a southern flair” using local, sustainable seafood, an emphasis begun by Hallock Howard, who started Amos Mosquito’s. Hallock trained at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and traveled worldwide to learn different cooking styles and flavors.
Luke calls the integration of preparation styles and flavors “fusion cooking.” He is continually scanning trade magazines and the Internet to learn the newest culinary trends. His customers want fresh, local seafood prepared differently every day, so he strives to be creative, and he encourages his staff to be innovative too.
Luke prefers serving locally sourced seafood because he believes that is what his customers expect when visiting the coast. He is in close contact with local fishermen to learn what is available on any given day, so his staff can inform customers about what the restaurant is offering.
He gives back to the Carteret County economy by buying from fishermen who are members of the local community. In return, he and his customers get the benefit of high-quality, locally sourced seafood.
Luke prefers working directly with local seafood suppliers like Blue Ocean Market in Morehead City so he can evaluate the freshness of his seafood at delivery. That way, if any product doesn’t meet his exacting standards, he can get replacements or substitutes within the day.
He also has developed a strong relationship with David Tucker, owner of Blue Ocean Market, who brings his family to eat at Amos Mosquito’s. Luke values the quality of Blue Ocean’s seafood, the market’s customer service and the trust he has built with David, who understands the kind of dining experience Luke wants his customers to have. Luke sees David as his partner in offering customers the freshest North Carolina seafood.
Luke enjoys living in Carteret County and working with businesses that focus on selling local seafood. During the tourist season, Amos Mosquito’s serves more visitors than county residents.
However, it is business from residents that enables the restaurant to remain open year-round. To thank those who support the restaurant in the off-season, Luke and his staff hold Locals Night every Wednesday from 5:00 to 8:45 p.m. They offer “a ton of fresh, local seafood” at a discounted price.
It is yet another way Amos Mosquito’s gives back to the community and supports the men and women who make their living from commercial fishing in Carteret County.