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Overfishing: Five Chefs Talk Sustainable Seafood

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Welcome to Hot Topics, in which chefs chime in on a recent issue in food.

[Image: David McCandless]

This week we asked Sean Brock (Husk, Charleston, SC), Laurent Manrique (Millesime, NYC), Troy Guard (TAG, Denver, CO), Spike Gjerde (Woodberry Kitchen, Baltimore, MD), and Jacob Sessoms (Table, Asheville, NC) to react to the above graphic which shows the degree to which overfishing has affected our oceans. Here's what the chefs had to say:


Sean Brock

Restaurants: Husk and McCrady's, Charleston, South Carolina

It scares the shit out of me. It's completely ridiculous. I was just cooking a guest chef dinner at Coi in California, and I only wanted to use ingredients from that area. And there was nothing!

We have a system set up in Charleston where we have one guy that has a small 39-foot boat, and he is as sustainable as it gets. That's the only fish we use. We are using what he brings us because we know that it's the right fish to be using. And what that is is a ton of fish we never used before, which is pretty cool. They are so wonderful, delicious, and unique. For example, we're now cooking triggerfish, and it is my favorite. It's a really big pain in the ass to clean, but we make that sacrifice. Because that's the fish we should be cooking.

We also occasionally get some fish, lubina, from Spain (Veta La Palma), where they have the system down. Why? Because we need to spread the word. Just to raise awareness. It is the future.

We have to react. We can't sit back.

[Photo: Terry Manier]


Troy Guard

Restaurants: TAG and TAG | RAW BAR, Denver, Colorado

Certainly 100% of restaurants will be affected in the future, but we have been starting to do the right thing by building more awareness.We only buy sustainable fish and although guests may question why we don't carry certain species, we are doing our part. We also continuously educate or staff in regards to these matters so they can pass this information along to our guests.
[Photo credit]


Spike Gjerde

Restaurant: Woodberry Kitchen, Baltimore, Maryland

This information is nothing new: this has been happening for maybe more than a thousand years. But now we are down to the end, potentially. It used to be that if a river got fished out, you could go to a bay, and then when that got fished out you could go to the ocean, and so on and so forth. There is no place to go anymore.

People look to Alaska and say it's a well-managed system. And it is, but I think it's a mistake to conflate management with sustainability. I feel very uncomfortable with any restaurant (mine included) declaring that it is sustainable.

The first step is to look at it from an ecological standpoint. You need to consider the relationship between where you are and where the fish you are serving comes from. If I want to serve sockeye salmon from Alaska, for example, what connection do I have to that fish? None. I have to look locally, to limit myself to my surroundings, and then I will care about that community and environment more and be invested in preserving it.

If you live in Kansas, I have no answer for you...that's where the conversation gets interesting. But one thing is for sure, we need to erase the "I'll fly it in mentality."
[Photo credit]


Jacob Sessoms

Restaurant: Table, Asheville, North Carolina

Given the multifaceted problem of ocean fish (most notably overfishing & mercury poisoning), I do believe that with our lifetime we will see a move towards menus focusing on farmed fresh water aquaculture species.

Start thinking about a lot of trout, catfish, tilapia or give up and eat land and sky-bound animals. Although, some strong voices would make the call for vegetarianism.
[Photo credit]


Laurent Manrique

Restaurant: Millesime, New York

This issue is a tremendous concern for the entire industry. At my restaurants, we take great care and effort regarding where our fish and seafood is sourced from, choosing sustainable options, which hopefully will result in little or no impact from this. Education is the most important thing—a chef must be aware of where they are getting their fish and where it is being sourced. I often work with a company which is great, called CleanFish, based on the West Coast.

Just as chefs must be educated on the topic, they are also responsible for the education of their diners. It is important as a chef to introduce our guests to new fish, through different preparations, getting them excited about what they are eating, while also making sure they are comfortable. As a chef it is our talent to create a successful and delicious alternative. Diners may request Chilean Sea Bass or Blue Fin Tuna, but there are other options which are not only better for the environment but delicious too!
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