PORTSMOUTH — After closing their doors for the winter, owners of The Striker will have their plates full in April.
Primed to reopen their restaurant on Thursday, two of the four co-owners of one of downtown’s staple restaurants will also be featured on the new Food Network series “Chef Boot Camp” later this month.
“(We’re) very excited to be featured. Rejuvenated,” said co-owner Chris MacDonald, who will appear on the show. “And we’re looking forward to the reopening.”
Hosted by renowned chef and former Top Chef contestant Cliff Crooks, each episode of Chef Boot Camp takes three restaurant chefs and assesses “their skills in the kitchen and address their areas for improvement,” according to the Food Network.
The show’s season is set to premiere Thursday, April 8 at 10 p.m. The Striker representatives will make their Food Network debut on the April 29 episode.
The Striker, formerly Dolphin Striker, has been shut down since November due to COVID-19 with the goal of returning in the spring for their 47th year. Before closing, MacDonald and co-owner Dan Wright, solidified their plans to appear on the show, hoping to promote the restaurant and the changes made to its appearance earlier in the year. MacDonald received a call from the show’s representatives before their closing after first communicating with them before the pandemic struck.
MacDonald said, “October hit and then I got a phone call (saying) like, ‘Hey, are you still interested?” he recalled. “I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ This is a great opportunity to kind of promote what we did for the past few months.”
Behind the scenes of ‘Chef Boot Camp’
MacDonald and Wright traveled to Manhattan during the New Year to shoot their episode. While Wright played a secondary role, MacDonald, head chef at The Striker before taking on ownership, was one of the three chefs Crooks worked with in the episode.
Wright said the premise of the show is to highlight chefs “that have been doing the same routine day in and day out and are a little burnt out.”
Though emphasizing he isn’t struggling to help run the business, MacDonald said his narrative on the show was the stress of operations was chipping away at his creativity in the kitchen.
In it, MacDonald was asked to make a Cobb salad, as well as a chicken tikka taco from The Striker’s menu, for Crooks. Then, each chef had the opportunity to run the line of cooks at one of Crooks’ restaurants in Manhattan.
Due to their extended travel, MacDonald and Wright had to quarantine in New York City before appearing on the show. When they were ready to film, Wright noted that, as MacDonald bore the brunt of the show’s schedule, his workload eased a bit.
“In the meantime, during this (MacDonald’s filming), I’m relaxing in the hotel, I’m watching football, I’m eating hot meals, I’ve got my feet up every day. It was hard for me to do,” he quipped.
One of the episode’s other featured chefs was from an Italian restaurant in New Jersey, and the other was from a soul food joint in upstate New York.
Striker revamps menu with new dishes
It has been a year of change for The Striker. Just prior to the the coronavirus pandemic, the restaurant expanded its ownership beyond longtime owner Pete Dizoglio, who purchased it in 1991.
Joining him were longtime employees MacDonald, Wright and Billy Rogan, creating a quartet of familiar faces taking over the Bow Street establishment that has been open since 1974.
Adding ownership to their repertoire, Rogan is The Striker’s baker and brunch chef, while Wright is the bar manager and entertainment booker.
After the initial shutdown of local businesses from COVID-19, the group took action to liven up the business Dizoglio acknowledged had seen little change over almost five decades.
Colorful paint was added to the walls and new decorations added to the business, with Rogan joking that the only real decoration before renovations was a roughly six-inch dolphin statue, a nod to the business’ old name, The Dolphin Striker.
“Now, the restaurant is bright and obvious and loud,” MacDonald said.
New menu items were added and some prices dropped, transitioning from an “upscale and continental” feel to a “casual funk” vibe, MacDonald said. In doing so, they hope to continue reeling in the younger clientele that they saw during their reopening last spring.
The revamped selection of food includes fried duck and waffles with maple syrup or raspberry-habanero sauce, green tea and chamomile-encrusted salmon, and smoked gouda macaroni and cheese.
Aside from its typical appetizers, sandwiches and tacos, the upscale entrée items help to balance the desire to bring in a range of tastes to the restaurant, Wright said.
“We want you to come here for just a taco and a beer, but we also want you to come here with your family for dinner,” he added.
Live music will continue in the downstairs tavern and upstairs in front of the patrons, with two different performers scheduled to play two-hour shifts between 7-11 p.m.
Dizoglio said the changes are about the “seventh or eighth” different concept the restaurant has seen in its tenure.
“It’s been, one chef did one thing for a few years and then another chef did another thing,” he said.
The owners agree the Food Network feature will be a great precursor to their big return.
“We’re hoping for a busy summer,” MacDonald said.