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“Sustainable seafood” was listed on the National Restaurant Association’s Guide of Top Ten Trends for What’s Hot for 2014. What is sustainable seafood and why should restaurants be concerned with this? Charles Clover, environment editor for London’s Daily Telegraph and author of The End of the Line states that 80 per cent of the world’s fish supplies are fully exploited or over exploited and some have made it to the critically endangered list. A growing number of consumers are appearing at restaurants with their pocket guides to sustainable seafood or are seeking restaurants that have been rated by Fish2fork.

Will you have to sacrifice your winning recipe for lobster frittata or swordfish kabobs to satisfy these 2014 diners?  Is there a way to be conscientious about protecting aquaculture and still have a diverse seafood menu?

What is sustainable seafood? 

Sustainable seafood has to do with understanding that our harvesting practices and overconsumption of fish has had consequences on the ecosystem. It has to do with realizing that the ocean is not an ever replenishing supply of fish for people, Sustainable seafood has to do with replenishing our oceans and managing their resources for future generations. The health of our oceans impacts our health—both physical health and our financial sustainability. A growing number of consumers who eat seafood want to consciously choose sustainable seafood.

According to Washington D.C. chef and conservationist, Barton Seaver, there needs to be a shift in our perception.  In his appearance on TED Talks, Seaver says that we need to “shift our perception of seafood away from a commodity to an opportunity to restore our ecosystem.” He calls this restorative seafood. Offering selections on your menu that have made the “greenlist” is just not enough. You have to consider where the fish is on the food chain. Pole-caught yellowfin tuna has made the green list, but it’s a predator of the sea, high on the food chain, and does not replenish quickly. Seavor encourages restaurants to diversify the species offered, selecting those lower on the food chain that reproduce quickly.

Seafood Decision Guide is available through National Geographic to assist with selection and rating of seafood. Another option is to refer to the guides on Fish2fork or, better yet, have your restaurant reviewed by them.  Fish2fork is a resource for consumers, chefs, restaurant owners who want to serve and eat fish sustainably. It’s known to be the very first attempt to rate restaurants that not only serve fish as a quality item on their menu, but also for the effect they are having on seas and marine life.  It not only offers a listing of restaurants who are committed to sustainability, a listing of seafood guides (scoring on food chain level, mercury level, omega 3 content, sustainability ranking), it also has recipes, chef talks and more.

A new twist on sustainable seafood in the freshwater ecosystem is in many central U.S. states. Asian Carp—an invasive species that poses threats to native fish in U.S. waterways–have been reaching overpopulation in the many areas. They can weigh up to 100 lbs and release 100,000 to 3 million eggs per spawning season. Asian Carp were imported from China to introduce to the fish farm ponds in central Midwest and after a flooding situation escaped into the Mississippi River in 1970’s. According to an article by ABC Local news “ If Asian carp ever reached the Great Lakes — breaching electric fish barriers near Chicago — they could decimate food supplies and starve out native species, disrupting a $7 billion fishing industry.”  In an effort to reduce the numbers and satisfy hungry fish consumers, there’s been an attempt at an image makeover for the fish so it could be offered as a delicacy at restaurants. Asian Carp is already a delicacy in China. They’re low in mercury and high in Omega-3 fatty acids and supposedly taste similar to cod or tilapia. The fish’s name is part of the trouble.  It’s confused with the common carp which is a bottom feeder and is not endeared by water sports enthusiast because of its propensity for jumping into kayaks and canoes when startled.  Louisiana Chef Philippe Parola advised in Louisiana Food News, “If you can’t beat it, eat it. The flesh of Asian carp is light, mild and flaky, akin to delicate crabmeat or some compare it to tilapia.”

As we head into 2014 it’s important for restaurant owners to consider how their seafood offerings are affecting the aquastructure. Will your restaurant be hooked on sustainable seafood?

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