From Boston: Teaching chefs to fish

By

Mary Smith

Published on
March 17, 2010

At the third day of the Boston Seafood Show, Jacqueline Church introduced us to her educational program “Teach a Chef to Fish” which works closely with chefs and restaurateurs across the country educating them on sustainable seafood issues. 

Like almost every discussion about sustainability, we start with a definition – what is sustainability?  Church quotes Kim Severson, NY Times who say it means “to live off the earth’s interest, not her principle” Church does believe that educating chefs on sustainability needs to have a science-based focus.

As Church reminds us, “chefs are where the rubber hits the road.” Since much of our seafood consumption happens in restaurants, it’s an area where a lot of positive action can happen. Chefs are in the middle – they can influence diners and they can influence the wholesalers they purchase from. 

But, chefs are in the crosshairs and expected to be leaders by the public. Diners are looking to chefs to help educate them – Church recommends chefs use this opportunity for good media coverage and to build relationships with customers.  To do this successfully you need to work on developing your own expertise – you don’t have to know everything, but you should know how to find out.

Also on the panel, Chef Andy Husbands, owner of Tremont 647 and Sister Sorrel. Like many chefs, Husbands struggles with the provenance of almost every item on his menu. He used Italian bottled water as an example. It doesn’t make sense from a carbon footprint standpoint, but he can make money off it!  The dilemma is what’s most important to him - His 40 employees and how he has to reconcile your conscience with the needs of your staff. It’s difficult to find he time to research all the issues of every ingredient.  Husbands works hard to support the community and do what’s right - but stay in business at the same time.

Sustainable seafood is a natural fit for him and his restaurants.  Husbands works to build relationships with fishermen directly which makes it tough to say to someone “I can’t buy your product and support your family anymore”.  He concluded by telling the audience, “we do the best we can, we move in a positive direction, and we keep striving to do better.” 

Chef Barton Seaver reminded us that sustainable fishing is at its heart a humanitarian issue – there are people behind it!  As a chef he knows that you need to start with the best ingredients - you get those directly from the best farmers and fishermen and your dollar has great power.

Both chefs discussed the idea of the excuse that one can’t take a potentially unsustainable fish off the menu because customers will complain. Seaver said, “you can’t just say no, you have to offer them something…they ask for Chilean Sea Bass? You can’t simply tell them no, you have to sell them on a solution, introduce them something new!” You DON’T just have to give your customers what they want, they are hungry to be challenged and educated.

Husbands added, “If your customers demand bluefin, you teach them – what if they asked for clubbed baby seals? You aren’t just giving them what they want.”

Seaver’s approach is to create a more useful, hopeful, lexicon – he described it as “restorative seafood”.  Work to find solutions, stay unique, and find good producers by following the human path. 

Church is encouraged by the increase in involvement of fishermen and communities in the future of their industry, citing potential improvements in the Gulf of Mexico red snapper fishery. 

Audience member Casson Trenor reviewed his 4 S’s as a way to easily find a sustainable option – just remember Shellfish (like farmed oysters and mussels) Sliver fish (sardines, smelt), Small and Seasonal. 

All the chefs agreed that there can be a lot of fun contained in finding unique solutions and rethinking their menus to reflect more sustainable choices, while simultaneously making money. 

Helpful resources:

FishChoice.com is a resource to help make it easy to source sustainable seafood and
Chefs Collaborative + Blue Ocean Institute = Green Chefs Blue Ocean - another great way to help educate your staff.

Also, check out this month’s Cooking Light magazine, it features today’s panelist Barton Seaver! You can learn more about Teach a Chef to Fish at JacquelineChurch.com.

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