What if I told you there was an invasive creature living on the East Coast with spectacular orange coloring who is preying on opponents – and everything seems to be an opponent. A creature bent on destroying ecosystems. A creature, with an iconic name, who is so nasty, it gets poisonous.
Now what if I told you there was something we can do to stop it.
That news emerged from the second annual Monterey Peninsula Chef Summit at Monterey Bay Aquarium Nov. 14, hosted by Seafood Watch and attended by chefs includingJohnny DeVivo, Pam Burns, Esteban Jimenez, Paul Lee and Soerke Peters.
MBA Exec Chef Matt Beaudin presented a compelling way to combat said creature – the lionfish – and why that’s so important. The voracious hunters can consume 10 times their body weight daily. Their stomachs can expand 30 times over. One was once found with 60 different seafood species in its stomach. Females produce up to 40,000 eggs every few days. Because of 18 poisonous spines, they have no predators. After Florida pet owners released them in the wild, they’ve taken to speed-eating their way through reefs where the resident species don’t recognize a threat, and get wiped out. Graham Maddocks, president-founder of Ocean Support Foundation, told CNN the invasion is “probably the worst environmental disaster the Atlantic will ever face.”
But then there’s this: These devils are tasty as hell. “They’re delicious,” Beaudin says. For his tastes, their meaty, flaky filet is best pan-fried – as opposed to handled without gloves.
“I have found that when people say lionfish will make your fingers puff up,” he says, “they’re 100-percent right.”
Because of lagging laws, it’s illegal to fish them here with anything other than spears or lobster traps (and the traps are OK only two months out of the year). In Bermuda, where they’re a similar menace, it’s not only legal to fish them, locals wear “Eat ’Em to Beat ’Em” T-shirts, stage hunting tournament-fish frys, and eat them as quickly as they can.
But Beaudin has seen what impact chefs like those in attendance can have, bringing previously ignored or unknown fish to prime places on their menu. While we might not have the same two-way effect on suppliers and eaters as chefs, diners can have a huge impact too. We exert that by supporting Seafood Watch chefs, downloading the app, eating green-list fish and asking questions. (Get the list of local restaurant partners on the blog.)
“We all have the ability to heavily influence the market and the policy,” Beaudin says. “It’s a matter of demand. If we ask for it, they’ll start catching it.”
Other good news – at times, even miraculous news – followed from there.
The Aquarium has relocated $1 million in buying power from San Francisco to Monterey Bay in a year and a half, visiting Fisherman’s Wharf three or four times a week. It has partnered with a 50-acre chef-influenced Evergreen Acres near Hollister, drawing all sorts of milk and eggs from 250 goats, 350 ducks and a pig they love too much to slaughter, even as he’s weighing 650 pounds after a year. Eleven spitting-mean “guard” alpacas and nine huge Italian sheepdogs keep watch.
Then there’s the miracle member of a tiny flock directly owned by the Aquarium (like the pig): Puddleduck Ringo, of an ancient breed of ovine called Jacob’s sheep that grows four to six horns. He not only has his three ewes expecting in four months, he recently fought off an attack from a mountain lion.
To go with the sheep’s milk cheese, Beaudin’s working closely with outlets like Far West Fungi, Big Sur Salt and Real Good Fish, and raising bees in a partnership with CSU Monterey Bay. (The Otters use half for research and medicine, the Aquarium uses half in its cooking.)
He’s loving the product he’s getting from the rare sustainable fish farms, including sturgeon from a place in Concord. Meanwhile, over the next five years, he’s helping build aquaponics farms to feed Tijuana’s 150 orphanages.
Back in his kitchen, the lone freezer only holds fries. An absurd 99-ish percent of things are made from scratch, including the stock that’s been simmering for 12 months, with every bone from the chickens, cows, pigs, lambs or goats they butcher. “My pride and joy,” he says, “the most fortified broth you’ve tasted.”
Seafood Watch continues to extend its impact, now active in around 30 countries and working through 150,000 business partner locations. In what was unthinkable a decade ago, iffy suppliers and producers on the red list are reaching out to them for advice.
“We are so much more than little [best-choices] cards,” business engagement chief Simone Jones says. “That’s so 15 years ago.” Local goals are clear: Transform Monterey region as the center of sustainable seafood. Create a set of benefits for regional partners. Promote Monterey as eco-tourist destination. Amplify impact through new partnership initiatives.
Lead Seafood Watch strategist Sheila Bowman is eager to dispense resources to still more chefs. “Like eHarmony,” she says, “tell me your interests and I can hook you up with what’s going on.”
Next came Tijuana clams with chorizo, silky roasted salmon, pan-fried abalone with sweet breads, country pâté with uni butter and pickled red onions, trout mousse with candied lemon, all against a backdrop of drifting jellies, with ostrich-egg meringue for dessert. The only thing missing was lionfish and chips.
~ Quickbites ~
- Monster props to Neumeier Poma Investments of Carmel. They just earned the number one ranking in the country for small cap firms. They also help anchor the Monterey County Gives! fundraising drive, which every local citizen should take a peek at (p. 18 has the first of our recurring profiles for the drive).
- Fresh off a triumphant reboot, Big Sur Food & Wine is already planning pop-up events in the new year.
- Chef-owner Bhupender Singh is awaiting final inspections and estimates Aabha Indian will soft open in The Barnyard Carmel by the end of this month or the first week of December, in the former Bahama Billy’s.
- A Carmel dog owner says the chicken strips from the dog menu at Forge in the Forest (624-2233) are so good that staff recommends them for humans.
- Sweet Elena’s (393-2063) hosts a fall pie tasting noon-4pm Saturday, Nov. 19: $7 for a tasting of six different pies.
- Ratel Cider’s second batch release party happens at Melville Tavern 5:30-7:30pm Saturday, Nov. 26. Partygoers enjoy a complimentary glass, small bites, raffle prizes and giveaways.
- Arguably the best wine tasting of the season happens 2-4:30pm Saturday, Nov. 19, at Fifi’s, with dozens of wines at great price points ($25, RSVP to 372-5325). Beaujolais Nouveau release dinner Thursday, Nov. 17, too ($45).
- Trio Carmel and owner Karl Empey host a paella-winetasting party with Jerome Viel on the food and Pelerin and Mesa Del Sol on the vino 6-8pm Friday, Nov. 18, at PatriciaQualls Art Studio ($25, RSVP at www.triocarmel.com), to celebrate the new exhibit.
- The menu at brand new Lovers Point Beach Cafe (now open 9am-4pm) includes items like bacon-Belgian waffles ($7.75), strawberry-banana açai bowls ($9.90) and the cheesy green goddess panini ($7.90).
- At Joyce Vineyards’ Carmel Valley Road tasting room (before it moves up Carmel Valley Road) there’s a sweet arts benefit Saturday, Nov. 19 (p. 35).
- Flavors of Pacific Grove returns Saturday, Nov. 19 (p. 33).
- Samuel Johnson: “Kindness is in our power, even when fondness is not.”