Joe Tuna hopes to inspire cooks with show
By Sandra Santana Mariaca
At 9 p.m.,the day is just starting for Joe Centrone, a fish merchant at the Hunts Point Fish Market and a fledgling TV chef.
Centrone’s breakfast consists of Cheerios cereal and 6 shots of espresso. At 1a.m., when the market is in full swing, Centrone, an Italian-American with a firm voice, is all set for his shift at Emerald Seafood, which he calls his “home at the fish market.” When his hours are finished, around 9 a.m., he transforms from Joe Centrone, fish merchant, to Joe Tuna, TV chef.
The idea for the show was conceived between Centrone and Cesar Villacis, president of De Lucia Media Group, the company that produces the show. It has been aired by NYC Media – channel 25, a publicly-funded station dedicated to portraying daily scenes of the city since 2010.
Initially, Villacis and Centrone wanted to raise awareness among New Yorkers about the fish market and the healthfulness of a seafood diet. After the September 11th attacks, when the market was still located in lower Manhattan, the businesses were hard hit and Centrone wanted to bring them attention.
“My show is really down to earth,” Centrone said. “We took the ‘I like cooking’ to the next level.”
Unlike most cooking shows, the idea behind Joe Tuna is to connect his culinary skills and the fish market as well as its community.
Each episode is divided in four parts.
“The show format came to us as a collaborative. Joe and I work well together and even though he’s a full-time fish man, he also has a great creative eye and we both knew that a format of “history/buying/cooking/eating would work well,” said Villacis.
The first part is the historical facts about the fish he is going to cook and some anecdotes from his past.
“Some people like to hear the crazy stories I used to do when I was a kid,” Centrone said.
The second part shows him buying the fish—at the Fish Market, of course.
The third part is Joe Tuna cooking three different recipes of the fish he chose for the day at the same time. In this section, there is a kitchen set up inside the market, rather than in a studio. After the food is ready, in the last part of the show, he feeds his audience, his co-workers at the market, who refer to him as Joe Tuna.
“In regular shows, they normally feed three or four people who are seeing the shooting. Everyone else just looks. If I do that at the market, they kill me,” he joked.
Cooking and sharing food is something Centrone has been doing his whole life. He sees it as an essential element of a healthy community.
Centrone started his career at the age of 13. Having learned how to cook with his mother and grandmother, he took over the short orders of his father’s restaurant, in Queens.
“For me, cooking was never really a choice,” he recalled.
He was born in Woodside, Queens, where many Italian immigrants concentrated in the 1920′s and 30′s. Growing up in a close family environment, Centrone remembers everyone helping each other out, a tradition he takes with him.
“I would get the same reception I get in Hunts Point,” he said.
After working for his family restaurant and even decorating cakes at an uncle’s bakery in Long Island, he finally landed in the fish business, then started working at the Fulton Fish Market in lower Manhattan. In 2005, when the market was permanently transferred to Hunts Point, Centrone admitted he resisted the change, but he eventually recognized the benefits of the new location, including the spacious refrigeration facility.
“This is the right way to sell fish,” he said.
Beyond anything else, Joe hopes the market will bring with it jobs and development to the neighborhood.
“The loss of jobs, in my opinion, was what caused the problems in the Bronx, but now it’s changing,” he said. “There are a lot of restaurants and supermarkets coming to the Bronx. It’s all coming back to the community and it’s a great place to work and live.”
Centrone’s activities in the neighborhood go beyond the Fish Market. Every year, he organizes a free street barbeque at A1-BBQ Headquarters on Spofford Ave., offering hot dogs, hamburgers, shishkabobs, and obviously, some Joe Tuna’s seafood.
Centrone is optimistic about fostering deeper connections between the fenced off world of the market and the neighborhood where it is based.
“The market is important to the neighborhood as the neighborhood is important to the market,” he concluded.