On the spot: Eric Sayers, CQ’s Restaurant
Eric Sayers, executive chef at CQ’s Restaurant in Hilton Head Island, S.C., has been advocating sustainability of ocean life for years. Recently, however, the South Carolina Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SSI), which emphasizes responsible management and consumption of the world’s seafood populations, named Sayers as a “platinum partner,” because nearly all of the restaurant’s seafood offerings are sustainable. Sayers has completely revamped CQ’s menu over the last five years, adding sustainable species such as wreckfish and Atlantic shrimp.
On the spot recently talked with Sayers about local and sustainable seafood, along with his seafood cooking philosophy.
Blank: Which local and sustainable seafood items does CQ’s typically serve?
Sayers: The Sustainable Seafood Initiative, put on by the South Carolina Aquarium, turned me on to wreckfish, which is found off the coast of South Carolina. It is now one of the most popular items on the menu. It is super fresh — it is caught about two hours away. A lot of my business is tourists, and they know that they can have a typical fillet at any other restaurant, or they can try wreckfish. I try to serve as much local as possible, but I don’t want to limit myself to just local. For example, when wild Alaska halibut is in season, I bring that in because it is sustainable and it is delicious. I am getting Atlantic swordfish and get barrelfish on occasion — it is a big seller.
Where do you source local and sustainable seafood from?
Pure Fish is the leading one that I have been dealing with, and they do a fantastic job. Blue Marlin is a company here that gets all my wild American shrimp and wreckfish — they are doing a great job.
Has offering almost entirely sustainable seafood items helped or hurt your business?
Before I was part of the SSI, I had Chilean sea bass, and it was the top seller. When I took it off the menu, people would ask where it was and left because of it. I feel like there are other items out there that are as good, if not better, so I like to educate them about those species. I think more people than not appreciate what I do. If we stop catching certain species for right now, future generations will be able to catch them.
What is your seafood preparation philosophy?
The seasons play a huge role in how I develop things. In the winter, I think of heartier fishes such as swordfish that can stand up to squashes and maple sauces, for example. I like the seafood to stand out for itself and really speak for itself. The less I do to adulterate it, the better. I have gone into a lighter, more nutritious method to how I cook. I think the days of using heavy sauces are over, and purees and lighter things are on the rise. Some of my heroes — like Charlie Trotter — have paved the road for that. I have seen a trend of more fish overall being sold. I remember back in the late ‘90s that a lot of golfers wanted steak. I have now seen golfers ordering “steakier” fish. About 75 percent of my menu is seafood.