Chefs discuss the future of seafood

In light of the recession, seafood restaurant operators are focusing on differentiating their operations from their competitors and offering value menu items, according to a conference panel at today's International Boston Seafood Show.

"The Future of Seafood: How the Market and Landscape is Shaping Trends and Innovations," was moderated by Aaron Noveshen, founder and president of The Culinary Edge and President of Pacific Catch Restaurants. The panel of restaurant leaders was: Dan Enos, executive chef of The Oceanaire Seafood Room in Boston; Paula Vissing, senior VP of R&D and purchasing at Captain D's; Robert Novotny, head of purchasing at Bonefish Grill and Rich Vellante, executive chef and executive VP of operations at Legal Sea Foods.

When differentiating themselves from others in the industry, family-owned Legal Sea Foods emphasizes their focus on fish selection.

"We have a commissary and our fish is bought by fish buyers at the docks, tested at our in-house lab, portioned through cold chain and sent to our restaurants," said Vellante.

"Bonefish specializes in fresh hand-cut fish and we use a dedicated network of local vendors to buy our fish," said Novotny of Bonefish Grill. "Our daily specials set us apart and drive a majority of our sales."

"Oceanaire emphasizes large portions, service and guest retention. Each chef bases their menu on regional seasonality," said Oceanaire's Enos.

Captain D's highlighted its approach to shift the QSR perspective. "We launched our 'Sit-down Food at Fast-food Prices' advertising campaign to make people think differently about us," said Vissing.

When asked how their brands were addressing the weakened economy, panelists explained their actions in terms of menu approaches. Bonefish Grill, Oceanaire and Legal Sea Foods are adding variety to their appetizer and smaller portion categories, in addition to promoting menu combinations.

"We make sure that promotional offers contain multiple price points," Vissing said of Captain D's efforts to reach a broad customer base.

The panelists also mentioned sustainable seafood and sourcing as trends impacting menu decisions.

"Legal focuses on day-trip boats, which put less pressure on the environment and produce better quality fish," said Vellante. "We also stay away from certain species like Chilean sea bass. It's all about trusting the fish buyer."

"Trusting supply sources so you can speak intelligently to your guests about where you get your product from is important," Novotny said.


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