A juice salesman, 59, he lives in Huntington Station and has twins, Joshua and Amanda, 22.
When did you decide you wanted to cook? When I was a kid, we had a country house in Sackett Lake upstate. Every time you'd walk in my grandmother's house, it would smell like pot roast. The smell and desire for food - that got me interested in cooking. I spent my summers close to my parents. We had big family gatherings where my father cooked over the barbecue pit: hamburgers, hot dogs, steaks, corn, what have you.
When did you start cooking? I always wanted to cook, even when I was a kid. I would cook eggs, spaghetti. Many times, I tried to help my mother in the kitchen, and she would basically tell me to go play in the traffic because it was her thing to do - this was back in the '50s.
How did you learn to cook? When I went to college, I ate in the cafeteria. But when I rented a house in Point Lookout when I was about 19, I had to cook. Plus I went to Pratt and studied cooking, got a [degree] in food management.
That must have really helped your cooking. If you can read a book, you can cook any recipe there is. But they teach you measurements to the point where I have a pretty good eye - I don't have to use measuring spoons most times.
What's your favorite thing to cook? I really like brisket. One recipe I make includes white horseradish, French onion soup and whole cranberries. Oh, it's delicious. You can add potatoes, carrots, string beans, fresh garlic and red wine. That happens to be a really good recipe, and it's always tasty as leftovers. There's also my jambalaya.
What's so appealing about your jambalaya? The beauty of cooking this jambalaya is you can add and subtract ingredients, depending on what you like or have around.
MARK'S CREOLE JAMBALAYA
1/2 white onion, chopped
1/3 cup chopped green pepper
1/2 cup chopped celery, with leaves
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1/3 cup butter
2 cups whole tomatoes with juice, chopped
Kosher salt, to taste
1 bay leaf
1 heaping tablespoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon thyme
Cayenne pepper, to taste
1/2 pound shrimp, peeled and deveined
2 dozen raw oysters, shucked
1 cup water
1/2 pound cooked spicy sausage, such as andouille, sliced
1 cup rice
1/2 pound cooked chicken, boned and shredded
Chopped fresh parsley, for garnish
1. In a large saucepan over medium heat, saute onion, green pepper, celery and garlic in the butter until soft, about 5 minutes.
2. In a separate saucepan, cook rice according to package instructions.
3. To the vegetables, add tomatoes, salt and spices and simmer 15 minutes.
4. Add shrimp and oysters, simmer about 5 minutes. Add water as needed for desired consistency.
5. Add sausage and chicken and heat through. Remove bay leaf. Adjust seasonings to taste.
6. Arrange rice in a circle on plates and place jambalaya in the center. Sprinkle with parsley. Makes 4 servings.