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@ Work: Fish Trap


Feb. 17, 2006 – Think fish dinners, and the Fish Trap Restaurant comes to mind.
"Seafood has been my life for 20 years," said chef Aaron Willis, 41, who presides over the kitchens at the Fish Trap and the nearby Stone Terrace restaurant, both located in Cruz Bay, St. John.
The Fish Trap is a casual kind of place popular with both locals and visitors for its al fresco ambience and extensive menu, featuring a good selection of steak and pasta dishes in addition to numerous varieties of fish prepared in imaginative ways.
The menu also lists burgers and mahi mahi sandwiches, making it a good bet for families whose kids aren't big eaters.
The Fish Trap's conch fritters get lots of attention from aficionados. The recipe is available on the restaurant's Web site.
Willis said the restaurant is also famous for its coconut cake with rum caramel sauce, getting mentioned in a 1995 issue of "Bon Appetit" magazine.
Early bird specials are available from 4:30 to 6 p.m.
Willis said that the Fish Trap offers nine to 12 fish specials every night.
A 1985 graduate of the Culinary Institute of America, Willis said he got into cooking in self-defense.
When his father, Albert, married his stepmother, Lonnie, he said dinners consisted of dishes like canned ravioli.
The Bethpage, N.Y.-born Willis said he had been living with his grandmother and was accustomed to better cooking.
"So, I pulled out the cook books and figured it out," he said.
The Willis family – Albert, Lonnie, Aaron, and his brother, Robert – moved to St. John when Willis was 10. He went to Julius E. Sprauve School and then on to 10th and 11th grade at the hotel and restaurant management program at Charlotte Amalie High School.
He said that when the high school was in danger of losing its accreditation, he went off to live with his mother in Bangor, Maine, to finish high school.
"I learned what snow is all about," Willis said, laughing as he recalled cutting 16 cords of wood that winter to keep the fireplace burning.
Still laughing, he said he wrote an essay about cooking while a Sprauve student. However, with spelling not his strong suit, he said that when he spelled cook with a K instead of a C, the teacher told him he was already a "kook."
After graduation from the Culinary Institute, Willis returned to St. John to work for a year at Mongoose Restaurant before heading off to California. He said he helped the popular California chain, California Café, open nine restaurants.
"I went from being salad cook to assistant chef," he said.
After gaining experience, he came home to St. John for good in 1991 to take over the reins at what was previously called the Raintree Restaurant.
His days are busy and spent "micromanaging" the staff of about 50 people at both the Fish Trap and the Stone Terrace.
"I don't get to cook as much as I want," he said, a bit ruefully.
The Fish Trap is open from 4:30 to 9:30 Tuesday through Sunday.
Call 693-9994 or visit the Web site at www.thefishtrap.com.
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