Welcome to the Florida Keys, a 112-mile archipelago of coral and sand islands that create the southernmost place in the continental United States. As famous for our laid-back life style as we are for our amazing sunsets, the Keys are connected to the mainland by 42 bridges, and are affectionately referred to by locals as “the rock.” It is not uncommon for someone to ask a local when the last time was they left the Keys, and for the local to respond that they have not been “off the rock” for over a year or more.
Inside the Florida Keys, there are five basic geographic boundaries – Key Largo, Islamorada, Marathon, Big Pine Key and the Lower Keys, and Key West. The recipes inside this book basically focus on the areas known as the Upper Keys – Key Largo, “the diving capital of the world,” and Islamorada, “the fishing capital of the world.”
My recipes are based on our life in the Keys. It is the food that we ate as kids — living and working off the waters of the Florida Keys. Growing up in the Keys is different from growing up in a city like Miami. The Keys are linear, so as kids my brother Scott and I used a boat to get from island to island. Our boat was our car, and we went everywhere in it.
On weekdays, after school, we would often run down to our dock and head out to pull lobster traps or fish for snapper and trout in Everglades National Park.
Since we lived in the Upper Keys, fishing off Key West or Big Pine Key was “special.” It was a trip to get there, so for that we would usually have to go with our father, Capt. Bob Stoky on charter boat the “Fringe Benefits,” a 24-foot open fisherman that at the time we thought was huge –today it would be considered more of a reef boat than an off-shore fishing boat. After trading a case of beer with one of Key West’s famous shrimp boats, for some by-catch chum and bait, off we would go fishing the reefs, wrecks, and patches far out into the Gulf. Wow, the fishing was great!
On weekends, from sun up to sun down, we were in our boat, plying the waters off Key Largo, Tavernier, Islamorada, and Marathon. We made gas money by fishing or free diving, and then selling what we collected, and had a great time doing it. To this day, I cannot think of anything better than spending the afternoon out in the boat off Key Largo, looking at the turquoise waters, blue sky and green islands that make up the Keys –it is simply stunning. I cannot believe that we live here!