Food & Drink

It’s all about the conch as chefs pay tribute to Key West heritage

Martha Hubbard, one of the chefs paying tribute to Conch cuisine, talks with Bill Brown, owner of Isle Cook Key West.
Martha Hubbard, one of the chefs paying tribute to Conch cuisine, talks with Bill Brown, owner of Isle Cook Key West. Keynoter

From avocado salad and bollos to a pig roasted whole —and a whole fish while they’re at it —down to the Key lime pie, a group of Key West chefs has teamed up to pay tribute to the island’s native cooking by hosting a big outdoor picnic seaside this month.

The first Conch Revival Picnic, featuring a dinner of classic local dishes, is set for from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Aug. 27 at Fort East Martello, 3501 S. Roosevelt Blvd.

Conch, the shellfish that became a namesake for Key West natives and their cherished sports teams, the Fighting Conchs, will be a staple at the dinner, which benefits the Key West Art and Historical Society and is sponsored by a number of local businesses including Isle Cook Key West, 218 Whitehead St., where chef Martha Hubbard is the culinary curator.

“It’s sweet,” Hubbard, co-creator of the picnic, said when asked to describe the taste of Conch. “It tastes like the ocean but not like an oyster tastes like the ocean.”

Hubbard, a 15-year Key West resident who has cooked in Thailand, Hawaii, San Francisco and Portland, Ore., and most recently ran the upstairs restaurant and menu at Louie’s Backyard, believes a Conch salad is no back-burner item.

“When it’s made properly, the layers of all the ingredients are pronounced and wildly delicious,” Hubbard said.

Tickets are $35 per person and available at or at the door. For information call 305-295-6616, Ext. 111.

Joining Hubbard, who with local Dianne Zolotow created the event, will be chefs Dave Furman of Great Events Catering; Martin Liz, the Lost Kitchen Supper Club; Doug Shook, executive chef of Louie’s Backyard; and Paul Menta, chef and rum distiller.

Key West cuisine takes inspiration from Cuba, the Bahamas, the West Indies, Jamaica and Spain, and Hubbard said the original dishes are regulated to people’s homes nowadays rather than restaurants.

“It’s fading away,” Hubbard said. “Outside of fritters and chowder and Key lime pie.”

That ubiquitous pie, by the way, can be traced back to mariners who made a non-refrigeration-required concoction with lime juice, condensed milk and saltine crackers. Spongers’ food, some call it.

The menu also will include black-eyed pea fritters known as bollos, Conch chowder, Cuban bread stuffed with picadillo dubbed mollette, and chilao, a lobster enchilado with corn meal. A pig roast will also take place.

“The finesse and history of just one recipe varies from family to family,” Hubbard said. ““Those recipes handed down in families become a common bond that really creates a community.”

Gwen Filosa: @KeyWestGwen