What James Beard-nominated seafood chefs do best
James Beard-nominated chefs at leading seafood restaurants have at least two things in common: they are consistently inventing new seafood dishes and working with only high quality, sustainable seafood.
“We are just playing with food,” said Trent Pierce, chef at Roe in Portland, Ore., one of the chefs nominated for a James Beard “Best Chef Northwest” award.
One of the playful but very well-executed dishes at Roe is the lobster foie gras. Pierce uses lobster heads for the base, and then “treat(s) it like regular foie gras,” Pierce said. He then adds kombu, shitake mushrooms, star anise and carmelized onions, ingredients that bring out the “beefy” flavor of regular foie gras.
Another innovative dish Roe features is a sea urchin mac ‘n cheese. “If you use fish sauce with sea urchin, it gives it a cheddar cheese flavor and you can get mac ‘n cheese out of it,” Pierce said.
While Pierce enjoys being creative with seafood, he aims to “treat it respectfully, so the fish isn’t lost in the dish itself. Instead, it is brought to the forefront and highlighted.”
Portland, Maine-based Eventide Oyster Co., which sports two James Beard nominees for "Best Chef Northeast," features new takes on classic seafood dishes. For example, its fish sandwich is reminiscent of McDonald’s Filet O’ Fish, said Mike Wiley, co-chef and owner of Eventide Oyster Co., Hugo’s and The Honey Paw, which is also nominated for James Beard’s Best New Restaurant this year.
Chefs at Eventide pound pollock, and then bread it and deep-fry it. It has become one of the most popular items on the menu.
“It’s like a McDonald’s Filet O’ Fish, but you don’t have to cringe when you think about where it comes from,” Wiley said.
At The Honey Paw, which opened April 2015, the restaurant features sustainable grilled sea bass from Veta La Palma seafood in Spain, an example of the world’s first “Sustainability Plus” fish farm, according to its distributor, Browne Trading Company of Portland, Maine.
Another common thread that runs between these two James Beard-nominated chefs is their staunch commitment to buying local and sustainable seafood.
“We are just trying to procure the best products possible. The quality has to be the best, but we are also pretty focused on picking things that are sustainable as best we can,” Pierce said.
Eventide Oyster Co. features 12 oysters from Maine and 12 from other U.S. locations in season. In the summer, the restaurant buys 500 lobsters a day from Maine Lobster Direct for its Maine lobster roll and other dishes. And it utilizes distributors Browne Trading Co., Upstream Trucking and Harbor Fish Market for local and sustainable seafood.