First a chef, then a fishmonger, now an author

At Captain Marden’s Seafoods, that smiling gentleman behind the case, often chatting with customers about how to prepare fish or seafood, has just released a cookbook reflecting his nearly 40 years in the industry.

Thomas Hepner, who was a chef for 20 years before Keith Marden, “The Captain,” recruited him, has just written “Fresh from the Source: A Collection of Personal Recipes from the Chefs, Crew, Friends & Family at Captain Marden’s Seafoods.”

The fishmonger, 58, who included roughly 300 recipes, calls the book “the capstone of my culinary career” and says his regular customers encouraged him to write it. He has given cooking classes in the store for many years, first in Newton before that location closed, now in Wellesley. “Fresh from the Source” was a major effort that took about 2½ years to complete, including a false start that ate up about a year. Once he found Framingham-based Damianos Publishing, the project progressed smoothly. Hepner shot most of the photographs in the book and Charles M. Johnson, son of Hepner’s wife, Kathryn Johnson, provided charming illustrations.

The comprehensive recipe collection includes most popular fish and seafood, such as salmon, swordfish, cod, shrimp, lobster, and scallops, but Hepner also has options for others that home cooks may shy away from (skate, squid, and crayfish). There are recipes for every ability level, from a simple Lox, Eggs, and Onions, “The L.E.O,” or Arctic char with cucumber-feta relish, to a more complex Provencal oyster-stuffed squid. Though a few recipes came from customers and other Captain Marden’s staff, the spectrum of international influences reflects the author’s diverse professional cooking background.

A New York City native, Hepner moved to Cambridge with his parents when he was 11. He first experienced a restaurant kitchen as a dishwasher at the Red Coach Grill in Hyannis when he was 15.

“I fell in love with it,” he says of the kitchen atmosphere. Two years after graduating from Connecticut College, with a degree in psychology, Hepner moved to San Francisco. He attended the California Culinary Academy (now Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts) and worked at The Trellis Cafe, Augusto’s European Cuisine, and a couple of other boutique restaurants in the state before moving to Virginia five years later.

At The Red Fox Inn & Tavern, in Middleburg, Va., where customers included Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and George H.W. Bush (before he was president), Hepner had the opportunity to cook a wide variety of game, some fairly exotic, like lion and elk. He also had his first encounters with uni, which at the time (early to mid-1980s) was practically unseen on US menus. From there he moved to West Virginia, where he worked at a seasonal restaurant and met his future wife. In 1992, Hepner and Johnson returned to Massachusetts to be near his aging parents. He worked as a chef at the former Wellesley Inn until he joined Captain Marden’s.

Seven years ago Hepner earned a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Cambridge College. He wants to continue and get a doctorate; proceeds from his book will help that goal. Of the 1,000 books printed in the first run, all but 370 have sold ($40 a copy), so he’s nearly breaking even on his upfront investment.

When he is not at work, he and his wife love to cook together. “I like being inclusive. I like it being a shared experience,” he says. In his classes, which are hands-on, usually six-course meals, Hepner says, “It’s about playing in the kitchen and having fun.” This has led to a devoted following in the store.

“I adore my customers,” Hepner says. “That’s what makes my job worthwhile.”

“Fresh from the Source: A Collection of Personal Recipes from the Chefs, Crew, Friends & Family at Captain Marden’s Seafoods” available at Captain Marden’s Seafoods, 279 Linden St., Wellesley, 781-235-0860; Wasik’s Cheese Shop, 61 Central St., Wellesley, 781-237-0916; Wellesley Books, 82 Central St., Wellesley, 781-431-1160; or go to www.amazon.com

Andrea Pyenson can be reached at apyenson@gmail.com.

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