Survey: Local seafood remains a hot U.S. culinary trend
While restaurant operators know that consumers want more local and sustainable seafood, the trend has reached a new pinnacle. In its annual survey of nearly 1,300 professional chefs, the National Restaurant Association found that the top U.S. food trend for 2015 is “locally sourced seafood and meats.” “Sustainable seafood” is listed as the eighth major trend for 2015 and “hyper-local sourcing” is ranked seventh.
“Consumers are much savvier, especially the younger generation. Millennials, to a great regard, have driven the conservation about transparency and more labeling,” Ralph Rubio, co-founder of Carlsbad, Calif.-based Rubio’s Fresh Mexican Grill, a 190-unit restaurant chain, told SeafoodSource. “Consumers are much more knowledgeable about sustainable seafood, whether it is wild or farmed.”
John Mooney, chef/owner of the recently opened Bidwell Restaurant at Union Market in Washington, D.C., and chef/partner of Bell Book and Candle in New York, agrees that consumer awareness of local and sustainable seafood is on the rise. “In D.C., there are a lot of young families who are trying to protect themselves and their families,” he said. “In general, the awareness is higher and there is stronger interest in exactly where their food comes from, including seafood, vegetables and cheeses.”
Sourcing doesn’t get much more local and sustainable than at Bidwell Restaurant, which utilizes oysters, fluke and rockfish from Chesapeake Bay in dishes such as Roasted Oysters with Garlic Butter and Parmesan and Marinated Fluke Sashimi with grapefruit, mint, chives and cilantro.
Bidwell sources much of its local and sustainable seafood from Washington, D.C.-based distributor ProFish, which Mooney appreciates because it is a “family-owned business and the father is actually a fisherman.” In addition, “everything is direct from the fishery and totally traceable,” he said.
Meanwhile, more than 60 percent of the restaurant’s fresh herbs and greens that are paired with seafood are raised year-round on the restaurant’s roof, utilizing vertical aeroponic towers by Future Growing. “It is not just financially beneficial; it’s a quality thing. I can control everything,” Mooney said. “The tomatoes never see a refrigerator, and the tenderness of the kale is unbelievable. I pull it when I want it, trim it and it grows back again.”
Mooney also sources sustainable and local seafood for Bell Book and Candle via Dock to Dish, which is both a community supported fishery (CSF) and restaurant supported fishery (RSF). Depending on the time of year, Mooney is able to get bluefin tuna, yellowfin tuna, cod, octopus and various shellfish from the RSF.
Meanwhile, Rubio’s relies on sustainably farmed seafood in order to keep its costs and quality consistent across the chain. “There is such a demand for seafood in general; it is cost-effective to grow quality seafood. We rely on frozen seafood, which means we can source globally, such as shrimp from the South Pacific, Indonesia, India, Vietnam and occasionally Ecuador,” Rubio said.
Rubio’s educates its customers on both its farmed and wild sustainable seafood, including wild Alaska pollock, “our No. 1 seafood protein,” Rubio said. To that end, a “sustainability” icon is featured next to sustainable seafood dishes on its menu board. The only protein the chain is using that is not fully sustainable is mahi, but Rubio said its supplier is working towards Marine Stewardship Council certification.