16 The NaTioNal CuliNary review • JaNuary 2018
sustainaBiLity underutilized? lesser-known?
Pulapaka sources much of his seafood from Sea to Table, a Brooklyn, New
York-based sustainable supplier. He regularly hosts pairing dinners and cooking
demonstrations at his 35-seat restaurant to get diners excited about undervalued
sheepshead and invasive lionfish and blue catfish.
He adds that the education piece is important, especially for the average person
who is buying something that doesn’t look familiar. “That’s the small space where
chefs and restaurants have a role, in making these fish tasty and telling the story of
what they’re about.”
The importance of storytelling
Authentic storytelling on the plate comes largely through an innately deep
connection to the surrounding area’s ecosystem—something that comes naturally
to Ned Baldwin, a lifelong Long Island sport fisherman who opened Houseman
restaurant in 2015 in Lower Manhattan. He fishes off Long Island 100 miles from
his small independent restaurant, and sources underused regional fish directly from
a small commercial fisherman, Blue Moon Fish in Mattituck, New York.
Baldwin delights in menuing unconventional preparations of these historically
unsung fish. He lightly pickles locally caught bluefish—a species native New
Yorkers tend to loathe as “bloody and smelly”—with housemade sour cream,
7-minute egg, cucumber, radish and dill. He also challenges diners to embrace
bycatch scup by serving it raw, dressed with a touch of acid, “because it’s such a
reach for people who have inhibitions about it.”
He does source with conservation in mind, but he admits his reasoning for dishing up these
lesser-known fish is more aesthetic. “Fish is better when it hasn’t traveled far,” he says. “I’m more
inspired to cook things I have firsthand experience with, thinking about when and where they swim.”
Resonating beyond the echo chamber
Indeed, Pulapaka wonders how much small chef/operators like him and Baldwin can move
the needle. He’s proud of the trust he’s built among patrons, and he regularly connects to chefs
associated with wider efforts, such as Chefs Collaborative and Monterey Bay Seafood Watch, but
he’s fairly isolated in Central Florida, he says. “We know how we’re doing, but it’s not clear how
the movement is doing.”
Advocates try to put lesser-known species in the context of countering pressing issues beyond
conservation, such as unregulated seafood processing in Third World countries, and furthering
regional U.S. economies through job creation and tourism. Meanwhile, Chefs Collaborative is
honing in on the purchasing-power aspect of sustainable seafood, showing smaller operations that
they have collective power and a voice.
“Money makes the world go ’round,” Wagner says. “Decisions even on a micro level in
restaurants, shops and foodservice operations have the ability to move the dial in a good direction.”
That logic applies on a bigger scale, too. If restaurant groups or hotel chains bought even 10%
less imported shrimp and shifted that to domestic seafood, for example, “think about how many
dollars you’re putting in the right buckets—and that’s something that’s achievable,” Wagner adds.
Such a proposition requires a clear-cut case for why sourcing sustainably makes economic
sense. “How you can do better, but not have a fear of having a smaller margin, if you will,”
High-volume buying power
Two-year-old fast-casual chain Brown Bag Seafood Co. in Chicago has been a Monterey Bay
Seafood Watch partner since its inception, selling 100% sustainable seafood in sandwich, salad,
aBove: coriander fluke with radishes,
turnips, beetroot, citrus, pea greens and
tangerine vin at nick’s on Broadway.
oPPosite, toP: north atlantic seared
scallops with lobster mushroom confit,
tomato bacon jam and shaved truffle,
served at chefs collaborative’s 4th
annual sustainable seafood dinner,
from gino callega, chef at sKoB,
oPPosite, Bottom: Lionfish tacos
at cress restaurant.