More than 1,500 professional chefs say sustainable seafood will be a trend in 2011 and evident on restaurant menus. Barton Seaver, a Washington, D.C.-based chef and National Geographic fellow, says now is the “tipping point” and chefs have an enormous opportunity to be a part of the story that combines ocean conservation, how we interact with each other through food and the larger context.
“People don’t understand the ease of the switch,” says Seaver. You don’t need to personally know the fishermen, or the number of boats and days on the water — though he did when he worked full time as the chef at Hook — but it helps to have curious cooks and servers who sell the backstory. Other steps to start selling Arctic char, sablefish, tilapia and other species:
- Look for quality characteristics. With virtually no training, you can save money tonight by choosing barramundi over snapper. They both have a white and flaky flesh.
- It’s in the sauce. Offering and preparing sustainable seafood allows chefs to make their mark. Creating a pecan sauce for the Chesapeake rockfish sets your dish apart.
- Portion size. If you have shrimp at an all-you-can-eat buffet, that is not sustainable. Complement the 5 ounces of protein with local, in-season vegetables.
- Put it on the menu. When designing the menu that guests will read, make the font size of the protein the same as the food you will serve with it.
“The value is not in a coupon or a discount,” said Seaver. “It comes from products that you already have. It’s welcomed when the bill comes.” Other resources include websites and iPhone apps from the Blue Ocean Institute and the Monterey Bay Aquarium.
Suppliers can even be a resource. Travis Croxton, a co-owner of Rappahannock River Oysters in Tappahannock, Va., has made it his mission to put Chesapeake Bay oysters back on the map. Croxton’s tips for a profitable sustainable seafood business:
- Check the harvest date. Every box of oysters comes with a stock tag, which should be between one to three days old.
- Get the kitchen staff and servers excited. Rappahannock River Oysters hosts demo days about twice a week, and it hosted a chef day in August. Croxton has gone out of his way to meet everyone in the kitchen, especially the sous chef.
- The best chefs take chances. Rappahannock oysters ended up in famed New York restaurant Le Bernardin before the owners even knew how to shuck and price their goods.
What are your New Year’s resolutions related to a sustainable seafood business? Join the conversation in the comments.