"When they walk through the door, they feel like they are home," said the 39-year-old executive chef at Markt, a Belgian brasserie, since 2003.
Although the mussels-and-frites fad in New York has faded, Stoddart said he and co-owner Peter Michaels are sticking with Markt's concept and its Belgian dishes, which they believe will set the restaurant apart from its competitors.
Asked about his closest personal tie to Belgian cuisine, the Bahamian-born chef said, "My great grandfather was Dutch."
Q: Coming from the Bahamas, how did you become involved with a Belgian restaurant?
A: "Eight years ago, I was hired by an expeditor to manage a kitchen. All the chefs there were Belgian. The sous chef at the time was Chris Gielen (Markt's Belgian consulting chef). He took me under his wings. When he became chef, I became his sous chef."
Q: How is Markt trying to stay distinctive as the novelty of Belgian cuisine has worn off?
A: "I just try to be authentic. All my recipes are old-time Belgian recipes. I've been to Belgium, walked around the markets and ate at many of the restaurants. If I need inspiration, I would go back to Chris Gielen who's in Belgium now."
Q: Are there any ingredients for your Belgian dishes you can't buy here?
A: "You have to have North Sea grade shrimps in a Belgian restaurant, which I import from Belgium on a weekly basis."
Q: What do you cook for yourself?
A: "For myself I like to make paella with the blending of the different seafoods. Nothing is better than a one-pot meal."