Good Fish, Bad Fish
A sustainable foods festival at the Aquarium teaches how to eat right and help the environment.
Thursday, May 29, 2003
Ever stop and ask how the shrimp you just threw on the barbie dined before it became dinner? What would it do for your appetite if you knew those juicy, jumbo tiger prawns curling up nicely on your grill were raised on chicken manure in a Southeast Asian mangrove pond, a pond on its way to becoming an abandoned, pollutant-filled swamp?
Here''s another fun fact: More antibiotics are administered to salmon farms by weight than any other livestock. And what about the rosy, pink blush on that nice, fat farmed fillet? Nothing like a mouth-watering injection of red food dye to fix it right up!
Before we decline into a clinical culinary depression, the good news is that some mighty forces are mad as hell and not gonna take it any more. This Friday and Saturday the Monterey Bay Aquarium hosts its second annual Cooking for Solutions celebration of sustainable cuisine, a consciousness-raising cookfest championed by celebrity chefs whose names adorn the best cookbook shelves. Diana Kennedy, the Madonna of regional Mexican cuisine, will be honored for her life''s work in exploring Mexico''s colorful and varied cooking cultures, most notably in the south-of-the- border cooking bible Diana Kennedy''s Mexican Kitchen. Kennedy is joined by Martin Yan of Yan Can Cook, along with Narsai David and ten more celebrity chefs from around the country who will be hosted by a lineup of MoCo''s own celebrity chefs, many of whom are members of Chefs Collaborative, one of several sponsors of the event.
This star-studded entourage will embark on small group tours Saturday, open to the public, that will explore every corner of the Monterey Bay from Earthbound Farm, Carmel Valley''s little backyard farm that grew to 13,000 certified organic acres with 100 products available in two-thirds of US supermarkets, to Heller Estates/Durney Vineyards, part of only 1 percent of California vineyards certified as organically grown and produced. Then to Arroyo Seco Ranch and Jekel Vineyards in the Salinas Valley, the Monterey Bay Abalone Company on Monterey''s commercial wharf, up to Watsonville''s VB Farms, a place that''s passionate about growing strawberries that taste like the ones you wish you remembered, and finally to Whole Foods Market, where all the seafood and meat must first pass a rigorous selection process that monitors growing and harvesting practices. Cooking demonstrations will commence at the Aquarium on Friday evening and won''t let up until almost midnight Saturday, when the last sustainably inspired sashimi is served.
The original inspiration for the weekend-long festive display of eco-friendly dining was the Aquarium''s Seafood Watch program, a running list of "good, bad, and watch-it" seafood that is regularly updated at www.montereybay aquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.asp. Seafood Watch creates an awareness of the dining choices that exist, making it as easy as pulling a card out of one''s wallet for an on-the-spot confirmation. Listed species are categorized as green for "go ahead," indicating a best choice for sustainable fishing, yellow to suggest "caution", or inherent problems with a particular fishery or farm, and red, for "avoid."
Several local restaurants participate in Seafood Watch (see sidebar), headed up by chefs who are passionate about following program guidelines. "Stunning," is how Kurt Grasing, chef/owner of Grasing''s in Carmel, describes his realization of what is happening with some fish populations. "The real bottom line for me was wondering what my son Aaron was going to eat when he grows up. I have three salmon dishes on my menu at lunchtime, but only when it''s in season. That means salmon goes off the menu for five and a half months, which means that I get asked by my customers a lot ''What happened to my favorite dish''? But I''ve found that when you explain it to them, people understand." At Friday evening''s Cooking for Solutions Gala, Grasing will team up with Judy Rogers of San Francisco''s Zuni Cafe in a collaboration featuring fresh anchovies.
"The more people that get involved, the more the program is viewed as viable," says Terry Teplitzky, chef and owner of Michael''s Catering and Wild Thyme Delicatessen. "Public acceptance becomes high," he continues. "I just had a client call us up for catering who happened to be a donor to the Aquarium. When they learned that we adhere to the Seafood Watch program, they felt really good about that. As a chef, that''s very validating." At Friday''s gala, Teplitzky will be teamed with visiting chef Ann Cooper of The Ross School in New York, the author of Bitter Harvest: A Chef''s Perspective on the Hidden Dangers of the Food We Eat and What We Can Do About It.
In order to be effective and accepted by the public, program guidelines must be easy. Chef Wendy Brodie, the host of KION''s Art of Food show, which airs Thursdays at noon, says; "What I like so much is that instead of just being an advocacy group, there is supportive outreach. The program strives to work with the fishing industry, so that there''s enough for everyone. Instead of just saying ''Don''t eat this or that'', it provides lists that are changed and updated. It becomes a tool to buy responsibly." Brodie and Jim Dodge, chef of The Getty Center and author of The American Baker, will together execute a white chocolate lemon tart that will also star on Brodie''s cooking show.
"It means getting the right information," adds Rick Edge from the Highlands Inn. "Learning the difference between Atlantic swordfish--an ''avoid'' product--and Pacific swordfish--a ''caution'' product--and asking your purveyor." Edge will be paired for Friday''s gala with Susan Spicer of Bayona and Herbsaint in New Orleans.
"And investigating whether or not your sea scallops are hand-harvested with no bycatch, as are the dayboat scallops I get in at Montrio," continues chef Tony Baker. "Or the difference between wild shrimp, caught by trawling nets that scoop up everything on the sea floor including endangered sea turtles, and the ecologically farmed Georgia shrimp that I chose for my menu." Baker and Suzanne Goin of Lucques, in Los Angeles, will be whipping up some Monterey Bay abalone sushi at the gala.
The upshot is, be brave enough to ask where your salmon was caught and your shrimp was farmed. Keep a current Seafood Watch card in your wallet, and pull it out before buying. "Just Say No" to Chilean sea bass. If everybody did these things, maybe we wouldn''t have to worry about what our kids are going to eat in the future.