Marine Harvest Canada in Campbell River, British Columbia,
it was an eye-opening experience for me. The visual effect of
watching the process from the feed production to hatcheries, the
clean water and the pens was amazing.”
He started researching other farms, including Regal Springs
Tilapia, Miramar, Florida. He watched the videos on YouTube
and read the assessment reports. “I realized there is another side
to all the stories,” he says.
Gruel is now chef at Slapfish, a seafood restaurant chain
with eight locations in Southern California and Utah, and
he’s proud that aquaculture represents 60% of his menu. The
mix of domestic and imported farmed fish includes shrimp,
barramundi, arctic char, salmon, tilapia, oysters and clams, and
Gruel believes in full disclosure to guests. “All the seafood is
listed on a board that tells you where it comes from and if it’s
farmed or wild, and we put point-of-sale materials up around
the restaurant and at the register explaining why we support a
particular farm or species,” he says.
He’s fastidious when it comes to selection, and believes research
is key. “When I choose a species, I want to know the feed ratio,
the alternate options, Best Aquaculture Practice certifications,”
he says. “I like to visit the farm, if possible, or see pictures.” He
also uses third-party organizations that have done research on that
species’ sustainability and environmental friendliness.
“Like any industry, there’s good and bad players on both
sides, and it’s not binary,” he says. “Chefs need to find a product
they like and be proud of the farm it comes from and the producer.
Then, be honest with your guests about why you’re using farmed
fish. Tell them why you love it.”
One of Gruel’s favorite dishes at Slapfish is the crusted
tilapia sandwich, which menus for $11. “I like it because it’s a
rich, meaty protein with a clean flavor,” he says. “We sear the
tilapia, brush it with a light mustard, and crust it with corn chips
and fresh herbs.” It’s served it on a toasted brioche bun layered
with thick slices of fresh tomato, pickled cabbage and seasonal
vegetables. Slapfish sells up to 100 of its fish sandwiches daily
at each location, and the cost of ingredients is 28%, a ratio that
works well for the restaurant group.
Slapfish diners can choose from a selection of fish species
listed on a board in the restaurant, and can also determine the
format of their meal—whether they want their fish as a sandwich,
on a plate, in a bowl with rice and vegetables, or in a salad.
“If it’s served with a good sauce and between a bun, I can get
a lot of people to eat fish,” Gruel says.
At Cull & Pistol Oyster Bar in New York, the grilled farm
fjord trout from Norway, served in a poke preparation, became a
top seller the moment it hit the menu 18 months ago. “We clean the
fillets, remove the skin, dice it into ½-inch cubes and marinate it
in a proprietary sauce to order,” says executive chef David Seigal.
He adds that trout is a great species for this application
because it’s firm, fatty, and has great color, texture and flavor. A
4-ounce portion costs $11.50 on the takeout menu, and the dish,
served with sushi rice, achieves consistent sales year-round.
“Up and down the supply chain, there’s traceability of this
product,” says Seigal, who has visited trout farms in Norway and
is a strong believer in traceability. “We don’t preach that people
should eat wild or farmed fish. Instead, we provide both and let
people vote with their dollars.”
FIND THE BALANCE
For Marilyn Schlossbach, a chef/restaurateur with five restaurants in New Jersey, including Langosta Lounge in Asbury Park
and Russell & Bette’s in Rumson, it’s important that diners know
she’s using responsibly farmed seafood. It’s why she belongs to the
Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, and why she
makes sure that new seafood products fit her sustainability model.
At upscale casual restaurant Langosta Lounge, the farm-raised Shrimp Haliíimaile served in a cilantro/macadamia pesto
cream sauce with pico de gallo, rigatoni and aged Gouda is a
regular feature. So, too, is the farm-to-sea-to-table sustainable
catch of the day served with seasonal vegetables.
Russell & Bette’s serves a bouillabaisse of farm-raised
shrimp, catch of the day and sustainable Prince Edward Island
mussels in a saffron fennel broth over saffron rice.
Diners are interested in where their food comes from,
Schlossbach says, but as a restaurateur, her challenge is finding
the balance between a product customers are willing to pay for
and one on which she can still make a margin.
“People on the Jersey Shore will pay $34 for scallops, but I
can’t menu salmon or tilapia for that price because diners think
they can get those species for a cheap price at the grocery store,”
she says. “They don’t understand that at our restaurant, they’re
getting an organic product from a good source.”
ABOVE AND OPPOSITE, LEFT TO RIGHT: 1) Russell & Bette’s offers moules frites
on the menu. 2) Slapfish’s Power Burrito. 3) Farm-raised Shrimp Haliíimaile at