Chefs and environmentalists are not usually lumped together into the same category of professionals. Yet these days everyone is starting to pay more attention to sustainability, and those on top of their culinary game are wising up to the issue of green cuisine. In particular, sustainable seafood has popped up for the third year in a row as one of the top restaurant trends, according to National Restaurant News. It seems as though the tides are turning., and timing couldn’t have come sooner. According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, about 70 percent of the world’s fisheries are either in decline or already fished to capacity.
Monterey Bay Aquarium, one of the nation’s largest advocates for sustainable seafood awareness, has been creating consumer guides for the public for years now. Only recently have they released one of their greatest efforts yet, an iPhone app that lets users plug a seafood option into their search engine from any location and read all about its origin and how sustainable it may or may not be. Other aquariums are doing their part by partnering up with local seafood purveyors and chefs to bring more sustainable options to the table. Shedd Aquarium, South Carolina Aquarium, and Aquarium of the Pacific are just a few of many in the country that are working with culinary professionals to source “green-listed” seafood menu options.
Chefs across the globe are catching on to this phenomenon and are making substantial efforts to become a part of the sustainable seafood movement. Thomas Keller, renowned chef, food writer, and James Beard Award winner, was awarded a Cooking for Solutions Conservancy Leadership Award in 2009 for his sustainable seafood advocacy efforts. Global and national culinary associations, such as Relais & Chateaux, National Restaurant Association, and Les Dames d’Escoffier International have joined up with consumer and environmental groups to support the cause and educate their own members on these issues.
Cookbooks are popping up left and right in praise of sustainable seafood. Voted one of the year’s best new cookbooks is Blue Water Café Seafood Cookbook, written by Frank Pabst, which includes a chapter entitled “Unsung Heroes,” entirely dedicated to the promotion of underutilized but abundant seafood options. Another highly regarded cookbook recently released, C Food, was done by Robert Clark and Harry Kambolis of Vancouver, and it, too, showcases an array of sustainable seafood recipes.
Clearly, sustainable cuisine has hit mainstream and it is here to stay. The biggest challenge chefs face will be satisfying their customers’ palates while keeping in consideration the environmental cost of that preference. Bluefin tuna is one example of a culinary delicacy, as the going rate for a single tuna can runs anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000. Why so expensive? Because the highly sought after species has become so overfished — to less than 10% its original population. Most restaurateurs will face difficulty in not only sourcing the tuna, but also convincing an ever-savvy customer base that it is morally and socially acceptable to serve the tuna.
But culinary enthusiasts need not worry. While high-profile restaurants like Shaw’s Crab House, Harbour, and Fishtail are all aboard the sustainable seafood boat, corporate chains are also on board. Wal-Mart, Target, Long John’s Silver, and Olive Garden have all made global commitments to start sourcing sustainably. With a little luck, and perhaps some sea salt and a twist of lemon, we may be able to save our fishes and eat them too.