Q&A: Seafood 101

Published on
November 8, 2009

As an educator and foodservice director at Joliet Junior College in Joliet, Ill., chef Michael McGreal knows the importance of sourcing seafood from around the world. Still, McGreal, who is also department chair of the college's culinary arts and hospitality management program, received an education himself during a recent trip to Prince Edward Island, sponsored by the Canadian government.

Blank: What is your culinary background?
McGreal: I attended Washburn Culinary Institute in Chicago, then started work as a banquet chef at Northern Illinois University. I worked at the Fairmont hotel and several other hotels in Chicago, then had a restaurant myself — Joe Bailley's — for six years. I started here in 1996. Our students and our chefs do all of the cooking for the college and our two restaurants.

What did you learn about seafood in Prince Edward Island?
I was an international guest chef at the PEI Fall Food Festival and had tours of local farms, including lobster [pounds]. As a chef, we know about the mussels and oysters from PEI, but they represent only about 5 percent of the seafood business that comes from PEI. Lobsters make up about 25 percent of production, and they have beautiful scallops, although they are not really known for them yet.

Why is it important to source seafood from Prince Edward Island and other areas of the world?
To educate our students, we will bring in mussels from PEI, for example, and from other areas of the world, such as New Zealand. They can compare different tastes and textures, and it keeps our students focused more on international sourcing. For example, maybe when they look at lobsters, they will not just look at Maine; instead, they will look at other areas where there may be more availability, quality or [a better] price, depending on the time of year.

How much of a role does seafood play in foodservice at Joliet Junior College?
About 50 percent of what we teach and what we use in our banquets and dining rooms, is seafood. The consumer is focusing more on health-conscious foods. If you eat the right kinds of seafood, you don't need omega-3 fatty acid supplements.

Where do you source your seafood?
We have three great distributors here: Fortune Fish, Plitt Seafood and Supreme Lobster. They tell you when a good time to buy that particular fish is.

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