Did you know that Boston is home to the first 100% Sustainable Seafood Restaurant? Did you know Turner Fisheries has been on this path since a year ago October 1st? About time we investigate and take proper note of this new high water mark, eh.
Chef Armand Toutaint was one of the first and most enthusiastic replies when I began outreach for the Teach a Chef to Fish workshops last year. He was on my short list for folks to call this year to participate in Teach a Man to Fish. Lucky for me, his people got to me first. I had noticed many good choices on the menu when I stopped in with a visiting friend a few months back and then began to notice the ads popping up here and there.
Island Creek Oysters grilled with Maitake mushrooms, Riesling creme.
Grilled Mahi Mahi over lobster brown butter rice pilaf.
Taylor Bay Scallops, Littlenecks over pappardelle with a smoked tomato, vodka sauce.
Full disclosure: This was an invitation to dinner and Doc came along. Let me address the doubters first by saying, I was already a fan of this restaurant, and was so when I was paying, too. This hosted dinner afforded me the opportunity to share an interview with the chef about his sustainable seafood menu and also the chance to report first-hand on more dishes than I would have been able to purchase on my own. The chowder is legendary and the first New England Clam Chowder that Doc had when he investigated moving here in 1993. It sets the bar for what clam chowder should be, for him and for many others. I used to come here in the old days to watch a neighbor perform, who knows, maybe we were here at the same time and didn't know it.
Interview with Chef Armand Toutaint, Turner Fisheries
What has been the biggest challenge?
"100%" is the biggest challenge. I'd say we're almost where I want us to be, but it's always a struggle. I'm comfortable saying we're at 100% though I'd like better traceability on some of the items but the market is not there yet.
[ed. note: the issue Chef Toutaint raises here is really important. It raises so many of the challenges in this arena. What is "sustainable" - who provides the best science to back the claim? Who shares the science? Who provides traceability to the source or documents the catch method? Which fisheries are in good health and who is monitoring them? Throughout our discussion, over the course of this meal, it became clear to me how carefully Chef Toutaint considers each of these aspects of the decision he makes in building his menu and sourcing his seafood. This is truly a model for other restaurants and chefs to follow.]
Honestly, it was easy to sell up in the hotel (Starwood) property, it's been a part of their values so they signed on right away. Harder to sell "out" Boston is a very traditional town. Much tougher sell outward, to customers. For example, I don't use the cheaper imported shrimp. They want to know why this shrimp is so expensive?
What do you rely on for guidance?
Primarily, Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.
What about the in house training/or selling the concept in-house?
Some have embraced it more. In general, people are on board and getting more so. We're doing more than just seafood. We compost. We have an in-house filtration system and are eliminating bottled water. We're finding more and more sustainable breweries and wineries that are organic or biodynamic.
What has been a success story or a surprise in this transition?
During our transition, the British site, Fish2Fork rated us one of the ten best restaurants for sustainable seafood. We were pleasantly surprised and asked what we could do to improve our score. We worked to understand what went into the 2.5 fish rating and also to learn how to improve. We went up to 3.5.
Haven't done the Green Chefs/ Blue Ocean training since it was first launched, took it before Teach a Chef to Fish last year.
Where are you sourcing your seafood?
We try to use our local purveyors as much as possible and have one in particular, Louis Seafood, who really got it and stepped up. Now he's using what we're learning together to upsell to others. He has good traceability. Also we do use Cleanfish and MSC fish.
How did you get started on this ?
Well, it has been an interest of mine and recently caught eye as a differentiator. Especially from seafood restaurants in town, like Legal Seafood. Wish it were easier to find more purveyors offering traceable, sustainable seafood.
Any dishes that you wanted to keep but had to re-tool?
In some we could easily substitute a more sustainable product, like Laughing Bird shrimp for the standard SE Asian imports. Some things we could never take off the menu, like the number 1 seller: Seafood Risotto. We simply swapped out the components with more sustainable options .
Oysters are a great, sustainable offering and we carry a few all the time. We get Golden Trout from Wyoming.
We've even added a vegan offering that gets as much care as other dishes. Our favorite chowder is gluten-free as long as you don't use the oyster crackers.
Vegan "Cioppino" heirloom potatos, Fall squash, peppers, tofu.
How do you see the progress at the one year mark?
We're already seeing business results. I wish we could push it even further, like Miya's Sushi in New Haven with his invasive species dinners and such. We have to recognize our customers are more traditional, but we're seeing enthusiasm grow.
We explain that we're using fully traceable line-caught ahi. We're sourcing other things on the menu from sustainable sources, too. Our salmon is Alaskan in season and Loch Duart the rest of the year. Only carrying swordfish when we can get traceable sustainably caught from Canada but that's only 10% of the catch and there's a definite season (ending right about now.)
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Thanks Chef for dinner and thanks for all you do. With the focus progress and continuous learning, you are earning your stripes every day. True 100% sustainability may be possible soon, we bet you'll get there! These issues are complex but you demonstrate it's not impossible.
Now Boston, go give our sustainable star some love!