Celebrating Seafood and Screening The End of the Line

Kicking off the 2010 Celebrate Seafood Dinner Series NEAQ Chef Tim Ridge and Guest Chef Brendon Bashford of the Fairmont Battery Wharf delighted guests with entertaining demos and delicious fare.

We started with Marvesta Shrimp in a saffron scented cream soup. Marvesta is an example of land-based aquaculture that is without the problems associated with other off-shore aquaculture.

Here Chef Ridge shows guests how to make the red pepper vinaigrette that would top our Cod Cakes and White Bean Ragoût. White beans are a perfect foil for these crispy fish cakes, the roasted red pepper vinaigrette adds the right piquant note to the dish. Ridge allows the use of jarred red peppers as a time-saver. My trick: roast the peppers until black under a broiler then remove with tongs to a brown paper bag and close it. In a few minutes the charred skins will slip off the luscious roasted red peppers which you can then use in sandwiches and salads, or in an elegant vinaigrette as here.

These light and crispy cod cakes were paired with a Nebbiolo Rosé. Nebbiolo is reputed to be a finicky grape, rarely grown outside it's native Italy. Trinchero Vineyards Amador County Terra D'Oro blends 6% Syrah for depth and balance.

The question of Cod. (More on this below) For now, know this cod was Pacific Cod which is neither over-fished nor approaching that status. Pacific cod from the Gulf of Alaska an East Bering Sea or Aleutian Islands area fall within the purview of Alaska's Constitutionally mandated and carefully monitored fisheries management. Look for this cod frozen, year round or fresh in the Fall and Winter.

 

Chef Bashford (a real advocate for sustainable seafood) shares a light moment with Lydia Bergen Director of Conservation. Lydia graceful emcees these dinners adding conservation information along the way.

 

Barramundi is a prime example of sustainable aquaculture. People often think all aquaculture is bad. A further inquiry into the field of aquaculture shows that, in fact, there are good and bad examples of how it's done. One of the problems with most aquaculture is the "fish in: fish out" ratio. That is, for fish like salmon which are carnivorous, the fish that must be caught to feed the salmon can equal up to 6 times the fish produced. The pressure on the fish population is certainly not reduced in those situations. Another problem with many aquaculture operations is the escape problem and the disease and waste. To read more about Aquaculture issues click that link to go to the Seafood Watch website of Monterey Bay Aquarium.

 

To read more about our New England Aquarium and their Celebrate Seafood series, click here. The next dinner features Chef Greg Griffie of 606 Congress.

 

 

 

Slow Food Boston Screens - The End of the Line

I was honored to be an invited panelist at the Slow Food Boston screening of The End of the Line. Really recommend seeing it if you have the chance. If I were reviewing the film from only a cinematic standpoint, I'd have some quibbles with editing but overall I think it's a dramatic wake up call for anyone interested in learning more about the global impacts of fishing practices.

Along with me on the panel were Niaz Dorry of the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance, and Jason Clermont Conservation Associate and Wild Fisheries expert at the New England Aquarium. It was my first time meeting Niaz and Jason I know through the Aquarium and through Teach A Chef to Fish.

Pretzels and twisted logic -

I'm hearing Steely Dan and thinking of the gift of homemade soft pretzels from Mary Reilly, Chef & Owner of The Savory Kitchen. We couldn't have known but those pretzels keep presenting themselves in my mind as a perfect metaphor for what disappointed me in the event. While the WSJ reports that fully 1/3 of the US population shops at Wal-Mart weekly there was actual applause at the suggestion that the solution (to saving our oceans) is do away with big box stores. It seems little of my remarks got captured in the summary on the Slow Food blog, but plenty of column inches were given to Niaz' remarks and her subsequent email. While I respect and support the work she's doing, I disagree with the approach that says the only answer is for everyone to buy only from CSFs and CSAs. I disagree with the position that says it's better to support local fishermen fishing depleted stocks of cod than to buy more sustainable fish elsewhere. Niaz and I had a lively debate before the panel started and I think the audience benefitted from having at least the three perspectives she, Jason and I shared.

The summary on the Slow Food blog seems to take the approach I fear too many people in that room shared. The Slow Food way is the only way.

Simplicity loves a villain.

I urged the audience to think not in "either/or" and suggested that "both/and" is a better approach. Let's face it, if we ignore the big box stores, and the people who shop there, our oceans will empty. These insular meetings where it's all choir and no outsiders aren't going to do a thing to change mass public behaviors. Same thing when I saw Food Inc. I would hazard a guess that not one person in the room was coming from an "uninformed but curious" place.

We can wait for the eradication of big box stores while the oceans are overfished, ignoring the progress that is made in places like Target, Loblaw (Canadian grocery chain), WalMart. I'm no apologist for them, believe me, but if the assumption is that "we" avoid them so "everyone" should, that's just not practical. The reality is that these stores are here, and  I don't see anyone predicting their disappearance anytime soon. I don't believe most of America is ready to adopt the "Convivia" values and only buy from small, local, artisanal producers. Even if "everyone" agreed in principle with "us" that it's the best way, it's beyond the means of many families and the resources we have here in Boston are not universal. [For an excellent take on the power of incremental change and "big tent" thinking see: Another Assault on the SOLE Food Movement by Kurt Michael Friese.]

I suggested that it's better to have Target and WalMart sourcing sustainable seafood than not. I'm not sure if anyone else in the room was willing to entertain that premise.

The wallet cards (dismissed outright by Niaz) were actually produced by a couple of members of the audience who proved my point: they have used these cards as an introduction to better buying habits, as a way to learn how to make more sustainable seafood choices! I pointed out that the cards themselves are not the ultimate solution, but that they are in fact, backed by science which can be found at the website. This tends to be dismissed or ignored by those who discount the value of the cards.

I did "show and tell" introducing the audience to Rick Moonen's Fish Without a Doubt, to Jill Lambert's A Good Catch, to Casson Trenor's Sustainable Sushi, both available here. I mentioned the three types of sustainability: economic, social and environmental and used South Asian farmed shrimp as an example of one product that impinges on each. I shared the Mangrove Action Project.

I lamented that the "debate" is often framed as "either fisherman or ocean conservation" but guess what made it into the summary? Almost none of the resources I offered for further learning for consumers. Just Niaz' position about supporting CSFs. I brought up Alaska's model fisheries management and said if we'd had that type of fishery management here we'd still have healthy cod stocks. Privately, I shared that my hesitation with CSFs is that my friends that have signed on get "cod, cod, cod." The response was "That's not true." (I don't think three of my friends lied to me simply because it is emphatically denied.) My attempts at getting accountability for habitat preservation and by-catch reduction went unanswered previously, but Niaz promises to answer my questions, I'll follow up with her and report back.

For further review:

For anyone who's still hanging on here, Thanks! Let me share the additional resources that didn't make it to the Slow Food post:

This article The Price of Fish - by David Hanson in the New Zealand-based Good Magazine is an excellent overview of many of the issues we discussed yesterday. The failure of fishery management and public policy maker's reticence to make change, the MSC certification that has raised questions about their methodology, and more. It's well-worth a read.

My assignment was to bring the issues to the local level, what can one person do?

My answer is simple.

  1. Begin learning about more sustainable choices you can make and prepare at home.
  2. Make your preferences for sustainable seafood choices known to the fishmonger, to the grocery store, to the fishermen in the CSFs, to the restaurants you frequent.
  3. Use tools like the Huber 5 step plan for talking to your fishmonger, the Seafood Watch tools like the "Thank you for serving sustainable seafood" or "Become Aware."
  4. Share these tools and resources with your favorite restaurant chefs.
  5. Ask questions. Keep asking.

And now, let me ask those of you who have seen the film, or even if you haven't, where do you come down on the issues? Have you joined a CSF? What was your experience? How do you find sustainable seafood? Have you found a good fishmonger? What do you think about labeling schemes like the Marine Stewardship Council?

Let's hear it!