Barton Seaver’s new online educational program promotes seafood literacy
On 5 June at 1 p.m., a live-webcast will be introducing “Seafood Literacy with Barton Seaver: Knowledge & Technique from Sea to Plate,” the latest effort by the professional chef and seafood sustainability advocate.
Powered by Rouxbe, a leading online culinary school, the new program is designed to give students a set of core competencies related to the seafood industry and preparing seafood in the kitchen. Aimed at professional cooks, the program starts from the bottom with the basics of sustainability and catching seafood, and works its way up to cooking at a professional level.
The course is partnered with the American Culinary Federation, James Beard Foundation, National Fisheries Institute, NOAA FishWatch, Seafood Nutrition Partnership, and Beaver Street Fisheries, which all assisted in producing the program.
The goal, Seaver told SeafoodSource, is to fill a void in the traditional culinary education system, which often overlooks teaching how to cook and source seafood.
“Given that seafood is a category of lower utilization and customer expectation than land animal proteins and now even vegetarian cuisine, the unique skillsets needed to be applied to seafood are simply not demanded by the traditional culinary industry,” Seaver said. “Thus, they’re not focused on in the training to the full degree they could.”
Typically, he added, a culinary program is going to focus on terrestrial proteins to an exhaustive degree, but barely touch the surface of the seafood industry.
“In post-secondary degree programs, a student will learn the difference between strip steak and ribeye, and filet mignon, and delmonico, and braise cuts and dry cuts … and then they will typically use a piece of salmon to learn how to sauté,” Seaver said. “That nuance of seafood literacy isn’t embedded in the culinary education process.”
The original vision for the program was small; perhaps a YouTube series on cooking. But after meeting people at Rouxbe, which has trained hundreds of thousands of cooks in 180 countries, the program was elevated to a full, comprehensive educational program.
“They took our vision and made it so much better than anything we ever imagined,” Seaver said.
The new program is intended to fill the gaps in traditional culinary education by offering a full set of videos, information, and interactive tasks that educate each student on everything from how to use all the parts of a fish effectively to what bycatch means for sustainability.
The core competencies of cooking seafood come through a set of video lessons that are separated into six units, broken down into various tasks. Students going through the course will learn how the cooking techniques they likely have already encountered will apply to seafood in different ways, how seafood is caught, and how to effectively purchase seafood. After watching videos students will then do quizzes, answer writing prompts, or even create their own dish and upload a photo that will be reviewed by one of 27 professional chefs on staff.
“We are not prescriptive in anything we teach in this, we are creating context and competence through which users will be able to make informed decisions, using any of the tools that they find most relevant,” Seaver said.
Throughout the creation of the new lessons, part of Seaver’s goal was to make sure that each piece was valuable to both seasoned chefs and the “front-line” cooks doing prep-work and high-volume cooking.
“It’s meant to talk to a very well-educated chef as well as to an ESL employee watching this on the subway on the way to work,” he said.
Making sure a breadth of the industry can get value out of the program is important, Seaver said, because the head chefs and leaders in a kitchen won’t pursue an innovative seafood dish if their staff doesn’t have the knowledge and skill to create it.
“If they don’t have skilled labor to pull off their inspiration, it will remain a category fraught with trepidation,” he said. “It’s not the chefs that are the drivers, it’s the sous chefs that are purchasing, and the line cooks that create the ceilings or the limitations of what the chef thinks is possible.”
Educating the workforce, he said, makes it more likely that a restaurant will carry a seafood dish as staff will have the skill and the knowhow to both create the dish itself, and source the seafood that it needs. More seafood in restaurants means more consumers in the U.S. are likely to encounter it, which in turn is an opportunity to promote seafood and expand consumption.
“With 70 percent, plus minus, of seafood in America eaten out of the house, culinarians are uniquely responsible to enable greater seafood consumption, and to promote it,” Seaver said. “And that 30 percent that’s eaten within the home also has incredible room to grow through competency and confidence in the retail sector.”
Seaver’s overarching goal with the new seafood literacy program is more than just educating cooks and chefs, it’s increasing the consumption of sustainable seafood to ensure the health and well-being of both the oceans and the people eating food from them. With the last 40 years showcasing how narrative can be important in promoting new food trends – Seaver pointed out the rising dominance of heirloom vegetables and farm-to-table as examples – showcasing the narrative of seafood through educated restauranteurs and chefs is a no-brainer in terms of promotion.
“Following the logic and the sex appeal of both of those trends, the next culinary horizon is actually below the horizon, underneath the water,” he said. “This is not evangelizing seafood, its evangelizing the culinary qualities of seafood and the narrative of the men and women.”