Q&A: John Regan, Founding Farmers

Published on
September 20, 2009

John Regan, the new executive chef at Founding Farmers in Washington, D.C., an LEED-certified restaurant owned by a collective of family farmers, is sticking with the one-year-old restaurant’s sustainability initiatives. The upscale-casual eatery, near the White House, features entrées made from sustainably farmed and harvested seafood as well as local seafood. To that end, Founding Farmers and its sister restaurant, Agraria Farmers & Fishers, also in Washington, have built strong relationships with sustainable seafood suppliers and distributors.

Regan talked to SeafoodSource recently about his passion for sustainable seafood.

Blank: How is the restaurant able to source only sustainable seafood? Is there enough variety?
Regan: We have a variety of fish at a given time, usually three different fish at three different price points on our menus, and those rotate with availability. If it does not fit into our mission to provide sustainably harvested products, we won’t do it. We get fish prices every week, and one vendor’s fish is rated by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, with the red, yellow and green labels to help guide good choices. As a chef, I would like to take the time to research each boat but cannot. By working with vendor partners like this and educating ourselves via Seafood Watch, I can be assured that I’m using things that are keeping with our sustainability philosophy. Profish [a Washington, D.C., seafood distributor] is ahead of the curve on this. They conduct seminars, and I see their mark on sustainability issues, which is a big reason why we use them.

Do you source local and regional seafood?
We are looking at the carbon footprint it may create if we don’t. If you can get something from family fishers and sustainable fish farms from the East Coast, instead of having it flown in on jets [you should do it]. When there is less fuel used and local businesses are used, there are a lot of benefits.

Right now, we are selling a tilefish from Ocean City, Md. In West Virginia, there is a new aquaculture company, Blue Ridge Aquaculture, and they are farming trout and salmon. It is naturally filtered water and they are using local springs.

How are you successful in this challenging economy?
At Founding Farmers, we have made a conscious effort to keep prices low, to have tight controls on our food costs and are very focused to not waste things. We are LEED-certified restaurant, and we operate as a very green restaurant beyond the physical energy consumption. We compost all our leftover food products. We recycle our used cooking oil into bio-fuel. We have a huge menu, but we don’t do unnecessary preparation. I don’t put a spring of rosemary on the plate that you are not going to eat.

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