“Cooking with my grandmother was my alibi,” said Paul Menta. Curly-haired, charismatic, with an easy smile and sporting his beloved Liberty Bell tattoo, Paul is one-third of the dynamic trio behind Key West’s runaway concept Three Hands Fish.
Rough and Humble Beginnings
During his “misunderstood” youth in Philadelphia, Paul spent a lot of time with both of his grandmothers who were Sicilian and Italian. On many occasions, after doing “something wrong,” Paul would run to one grandmother’s house and pass the time cooking.
“She’d tell people, ‘Look, he’s been cooking with me all day, he’s a good boy,’” he recalled, unable to hide his smirk. “I didn’t realize it at the time, but I really paid a lot of attention and developed a passion for it.”
Due to his feisty personality, Paul ended up attending a Quaker high school, where the teachers encouraged him to cultivate the things that he was interested in – history, science, chemistry, and how they related to cooking. They introduced Paul to Key West because it was during the winter – not spring, summer, or fall – that he tended to get into trouble.
After high school, Paul jumped at an opportunity to visit Key West. “It was just like the Wild West on water and I fell in love with it,” he said.
Training: Formal, Informal, International
After graduating from the Restaurant School in Philadelphia and subsequent internship in France and Spain, Paul visited every state in the United States on his Harley Davidson. He learned a different style, technique or flavor in every state. He began to understand that if you approach people the right way, they’ll offer up their knowledge. Paul continued to use his personality as he traveled through Europe and South America, persuading people to let him into their kitchens.
“I’d ask, ‘Who is your favorite cook? And they’d say ‘Oh, my aunt so-and-so makes this,’ and I’d ask if she was around and if I could try it.” Sometimes they’d say, ‘Are you kidding me? You’re not coming into my house!’” But a higher percentage of the time he’d get in because people were very proud to show off their style. He compiled different types of recipes and began to create his own style.
“Everyone asks me what is my favorite style to cook, but I don’t know – just shove me in somebody’s kitchen and I’ll open up the cabinets and start using whatever they have or whatever’s available.”
Read why Three Hands Fish is taking Key West by storm in Epicure and Culture.
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