The Taste of Tomorrow
  • Aquaculture 2.0
  • April23rd

     

    Barton Seaver is my favorite chef. 

    It’s not necessarily because of his food.  I’ve never been to Cafe Saint-Ex or Bar Pilar or Blue Ridge or Hook, his DC-restaurant that had 78 species of seafood on the menu in one year.  And I haven’t had a mind-blowing, life-altering experience with his cookbook, For Cod And Country. 

    No, the reason why Barton Seaver is my favorite chef is because he’s about as rare as a California condor in the foodie world — he’s sensible about sustainability.   

    I first discovered Seaver two years ago  – I was driving to a party in Kenosha, Wisconsin, when I heard him on Here on Earth, a show on Wisconsin Public Radio. Initially, I was just captivated because here was this enthusiastic, hyper-articulate guy talking about fish, especially lesser-known species of fish (a particular interest of mine).  Americans only eat about 10 species of seafood, even though the ocean offers hundreds of varieties, and Seaver argues that we need to take advantage of the huge variety of fauna out there. Amen. He struck me — with his energy and passion and gift at seafood porn —as a kind of Rick Bayless of seafood.

    But what really made me fall in love with Seaver — what created the NPR driveway moment (specifically, it was the parking lot of Pic-n-Save on 63rd Street) — was hearing his answers to questions like:  “Should I eat wild or farmed fish?”  (You can hear his answer to that on  at around 9:49 of the Here on Earth interview.)

    My point: here was a chef with some of the foodiest bona-fides possible —hailed as Chef of the Year by Esquire’s John Mariani — who talks the importance of INDUSTRIAL aquaculture.  “It’s our patriotic duty to eat farm-raised mussels, clams, and oysters,” he says.

    Why is this such a huge deal? Why was it so exciting to hear a chef talk about the importance of industrial-scale fish-farming?  We live in the age of Pollan, and for so many chefs — local, organic, wild-caught  = sustainable — has gone from a well-intended ideal into an inflexible dictate. Too many chefs have a view of the world in which the definition of sustainable is organic, local, artisanal.  End of story.

    Seaver, by contrast, talks about sustainability in a refreshingly nuanced way. 

    “You and I could rent a canoe and harpoon a blue whale,” he says. “Just because it’s local, that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.”

    He talks about seasonality and diet— when is the right season to eat your sablefish or your halibut, why you should eat smaller portions, why you should eat species that are lower on the food chain. Yet he also talks, with equal passion, about the virtues of canned fish (yes, industrially-produced canned fish)  He even explains that a sustainable choice can involve shopping at Walmart —  yes, Walmart, that paragon of industrial scale, globavorism can be part of “restorative seafood.”

    That’s why Barton Seaver is my favorite chef. It was exhilarating to hear a guy who shared a kitchen with Jose Andres, a guy who can make you literally ache for a crab cake,  talk so pragmatically about sustainability.

    The reason I’m enthusing about Seaver right now, today, is because I just stumbled upon an old interview with him on another radio program, The Splendid Table.  Here, in a show titled, “Seasonal Seafood,” that was recently rebroadcast, is a little taste of my favorite chef talking about the virtues of canned products — and a suggestion for how to work with canned pink salmon.  

    Then look at some of the other canned products: sardines, mackerel, herring, pink salmon, clams, mussels, oysters, and my favorite, anchovies. I mean these are nearly across the board some of the very best things we should be eating. And talk about ease of Tuesday night, when you’re coming home from ballet and soccer and you’ve got a report due. Pull out two 7-ounce cans of pink salmon; drain it off; add a little bit of mayonnaise, fresh dill, bread crumbs, and lemon juice; throw it in the oven under a broiler; and in 10 minutes you’ve got a beautiful, pink, salmon cake, crisp and crunchy on one side, soft and moist all the way throughout, perfectly cooked. You’ve got your protein portion for four people for $4 or $5, you’re ready to roll with your broccoli and there you go.

    Check out the Splendid Table site for two of his recipes for Pacific cod and mackerel.

    ALSO… a promise to TofT readers. One of these days…  when I get back to DC, I will try to meet and interview Seaver… And if I do, I will post the interview , along with a collection of canned tuna/salmon/anchovy/sardine recipes, right here on the TofT site.

    Till then.. have some canned sardines or anchovies tonight and watch this Ted Talk “Sustainable Seafood — Let’s Get Smart.”

  • March1st

    One of the unique challenges in writing a book —  for a short and middle-distance journalist like myself — is time.

    Everything takes exponentially longer — the reporting stage, the drafting stage, the revising stage, the editor feedback stage, the legal review stage.   And then, when The Book is done, you enter this next-production stage that operates at a seemingly 19th Century pace.

    Meanwhile…. while The Book slouches towards completion, the book’s characters do things  — they’re opening new restaurants,  finding new species of fish, experimenting with new herbs, using anaerobic digesters to increase the efficiency of waste, trying new growth media to spawn pork stem cells.

    One of the missions of the ToT: The Zine is to provide updates on some of the book’s star characters and issues  (of course, since only about 30 people have read the advance copy of the book, these updates are not that meaningful to many as of March 2012…)

    BUT, we’ll start keeping track now.

    Open Blue's cobia

    Not to totally blow the suspense of the book…. but two men named Dan Benetti and Brian O’Hanlon, a fish called called cobia, and a method of fish farming called open ocean aquaculture figure prominently in the story.  Benetti is, you might say, Patient Zero — he piqued my fascination in the world of marine aquaculture, and, ultimately, in the world of food innovation.

    The big news is that his protege,  Brian O’Hanlon, one of the first cobia farmers in North America, and one of the first to try open ocean aquaculture,  has been doing very well since I last met him.  He’s now the leading supplier of cobia in North America.  And he’s going to the International Boston Seafood Show next week.

    (Teaser for book:  the fact that O’Hanlon’s Open Blue Sea Farms has a booth, and is selling fish, at Boston is a big deal. )

    We’ll keep you posted on the progress of cobia, and ecologically-sensitive methods of aquaculture,  on this site.

    Meantime, here’s some background — a link to the Open Blue site,  and a Miami New Times story “A Fish Farmer’s Tale” from five years ago.

    One other update on people, places, food in the book (for the 32 people who have read the book so far)

    Remember Jacky’s, the bistro-like restaurant featured in chapter 10, p175? It’s the site of a fateful moment where the mano-a-mano taste test of cobia and barramundi occurs. Jacky’s, beloved by the author, has changed names. It’s now called Hota.  We’ll have more on the new Jacky’s in a follow-up post.

  • February3rd

    Quick: What food is highly nutritional, abundant, renewable and possibly the answer to global warming?

    Quick #2:   What was the foodstuff that the ToT author most regretted not featuring in the book with its own chapter? (see previous mea culpa posts, & “About Us”)

     

    Seaweed, the perfect sustainable food, has long been a staple in Asia but has yet to show up on most American plates.

    That’s why we’re excited to see a recent spate of interest from the mainstream media.

    Fast Company profiles efforts to use algae to make, among other things, baked goods such as cookies, Omega-3 oil supplements, infant formula and jet fuel. Time names algae food among its top 20 green tech ideas. Both FC and Time mention Solazyme. While it hopes to ultimately sell algae-based biofuels, the San Francisco-area startup is marketing algae as a low-fat, high-protein replacement for eggs, butter and oil. (NOTE: we’ve tried algae sugar cookies – yum)  The Atlantic points to seaweed as a pollution sponge, and cites a Dutch professor who claims a seaweed farm the size of Washington state could satisfy all the world’s protein needs.

    The jury is still out on seaweed. An Associated Press story outlines concerns about seaweed as a panacea. Is it harvested too quickly to measure or control its effect as a carbon sink? Will removing water during the fuel conversion process require lots of energy?

    It may be a while before the algae biofuel market heats up. In the meantime, T of T taste kitchen staff are going to run out to the nearest upscale market for some Maine Coast Sea Vegetables or Ocean Approved laver (Atlantic Ocean version of nori), kelp (large brown seaweed) and dulse (red leaf algae).

    Stay tuned for the results….

    Meanwhile, if you’re interested in seeing the extraordinary diversity of “seaweed,” check out this brilliant site curated by Irish seaweed expert Michael Guiry.

    – Rob Jordan

  • December8th

    We have some really great news from Wisconsin (ancestral home of the TofT author) – and it has nothing to do with the Packers, the Badgers,  or the effort to recall governor Scott Walker.

    The first anaerobic dry fermentation biodigester in the United States is up and running at the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh.

    Now, the three words dry fermentation biodigester might not immediately electrify most Americans.  But the upside is revolutionary, Holy Graily.

    According to a post in one of our favorite blogs, Seedstock, the alternative power system has been producing clean, renewable electricity from plant and food waste to supply electricity and heat for the university campus since Oct. 3. The site reported that UW-O staff and students had been stockpiling agricultural plant and food waste as feedstock in airless chambers and feeding it into the dry anaerobic biodigester since last summer in anticipation of bringing it online.

    A steady, source of clean renewable electricity would be a tremendous breakthrough for the type of clean, environmentally-friendly indoor fish farming that is profiled in The Taste of Tomorrow, the book.

    A short description of the science as culled from Seedstock:

    Anaerobic digestion consists of a series of processes in which microorganisms break down biodegradable material in the absence of oxygen. Anaerobic digestion reduces the emission of methane gas, CO2, and “non-methane organic compounds” or NMOCs into the atmosphere.  Anaerobic digestion is also used as a renewable energy source as the process produces a methane and carbon dioxide rich biogas suitable for energy production. As the name indicates, ‘dry,’ as opposed to ‘wet,’ anaerobic digesters break down dry organic materials with moisture content of less than 75%, such as agricultural waste and plant material traditionally left over after harvesting a crop.

    For a fuller description of the work at Oshkosh, please check out the post on Seedstock’s site and the University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh report.

    Folks at Oshkosh expect the anaerobic digester to generate enough electricity in the start-up phase alone to meet 5% of the university’s electricity and heating needs. This is great news: as it demonstrates that clean, renewable energy can be produced from throwaways like corn stalks, husks, leaves, and discarded food.  According to the University, a second anaerobic digester is being planned for a dairy farm, and generate electricity from the methane produced by the decomposition of dairy cow poop.

     

  • November23rd

    Consider the fact du jour, on October 30, 2011, the day the world’s population breached 7 billion:

    Oceans cover 70 percent of the Earth, yet yield two percent of our total food. 2 percent? That’s puny, and that’s not because oceans are unproductive. It’s because they’re untapped. We humanoids don’t use what the ocean offers us — and I’m not talking about obscure fish or shellfish species.

    The roughly 80 million metric tons of fish landed each year by the world’s commercial fisheries derive from over 10,000 million metric tons of phytoplankton. In other words, phytoplankton —aka seaweed aka kelp — represents the overwhelming majority of the ocean’s food.

    With demographers predicting 9.1 billion people by 2050, with limited fresh water and arable land, marine plants — yes, that’s seaweeds — must become the primary crop for food, feed and other applications.

    This is an argument that I first heard from John Forster, a well-respected aquaculture scientist and consultant based in Port Angeles, Washington. Forster, a Brit, who worked for years in the farmed salmon industry, makes his case in a fascinating post “Towards a Marine Agronomy.” As those of you who read the “About Us” section might recall, this short talk with Forster was one of the reasons this site was created — to continue to investigate new food sources.

    As Forster points out in his essay “Towards a Marine Agronomy,” the only countries that farm seaweed at any significant scale are in Asia; the Chinese, the world leaders, produce about 10 million tons of seaweed each year. But according to Forster, the potential for growth is astronomical.

    Consider fact du jour #2:

    Laminaria, a seaweed species, can average nearly 20 metric tons of per hectare per year, according to data from Chinese aquaculturists.

    Pulling from this data, Forster offers that “only one percent of the Earth’s ocean surface would be needed to grow and amount of seaweed equal to all the food plants currently farmed on land.”

    The idea of marine agronomy isn’t new — kelp is widely believed to be the world’s fastest growing plants — but it’s an idea that has gained little traction in the United States. One of the few examples is Ocean Approved, a small Maine-company that is believed to be America’s only commercial kelp farm. Three years ago, two guys started cultivating kelp in Casco Bay and began marketing it as an exotic vegetable. They’re the first we’ve found that are pitching the idea of kelp noodles, kelp salad, kelp slaw.

    Next month:
    Beyond Seaweed Salad. What do marine vegetables taste like?