One of the most inspiring aspects of cooking in Chicago, and the United States, today is the many chances I’ve had to make common cause with chefs who are actively changing cuisine for the better. By better, I mean taking it to a new level of consciousness. By “consciousness” I mean an awareness of the consequences of our actions and buying decisions and how they impact the future in which our children and grandchildren will live. For seven years, I’ve been a member of Chefs Collaborative, and have had the chance to meet revolutionary chefs who understand our food system is broken and aren’t waiting for anyone else to change it – we are making change every day.
A few years ago, the seafood industry and its customers (including chefs) were shocked by a UN report that estimated the world’s oceans could be completely depleted of fish within 40 years, a truly apocalyptic projection. While most grocery stores, restaurants, and chefs shook their heads at the possibility, some of us heard a call to action and did the only thing we know how to do: step up to make the change we want to see. If the world’s oceanic fish species are in danger of disappearing, they will not do so on our watch.
One of the major challenges the oceans face is the relentless targeting of a few popular species, which are often actually called “target species” in the business. Boats go out looking for tuna, swordfish, cod, yellowtail, or what not, and with modern technology have gotten very good at finding the fish and bringing them in, causing their numbers to plummet and threaten those species’ survival. At the same time, nets and lines often catch “non-target” species, which are not considered marketable and thus considered “trash fish.” Millions of tons of fish are brought on boats every year only to be trashed in pursuit of an ever-dwindling number of popular fish. Our taste for cod threatens not only cod, but dozens of other species which are sacrificed in pursuit of cod.
One of the best tools we have to fight – and beat – overfishing is to utilize these species that are being discarded in pursuit of a few popular targets. The funny thing is, tastes change and it is largely driven by tastemakers, which includes chefs. Redfish was once considered garbage until Paul Prudhomme popularized it in the 1980’s, and even lobster and crawfish were once just fed to slaves and indentured servants, so abundant the wealthy couldn’t even imagine they were worth anything. But guess what? They are all delicious. And so, on May 18 at The Kitchen, 316 North Clark Street, I will join six wonderful chefs I admire deeply to bring you a taste of seven fish species you may not have tried, but are just as delicious as any.
The Trash Fish Dinners by Chefs Collaborative serve two purposes – one, we promote these non-target species (also called by-catch) so that we can learn to cook with them, inspire other chefs to cook with them, and show you how tasty they are. This helps fishermen by better utilizing, and helping to market, every fish they catch rather than selling a few out of the bunch and trashing the rest. Additionally, Trash Fish dinners help raise funds for Chefs Collaborative‘s mission to empower chefs with just this kind of information to do their part to change the seafood industry and save the oceans’ fish.
The future of seafood should look to the lessons of the farm-to-table movement: as some chefs led, and others caught on, to eaters’ growing desire for fresh local market-driven food, we learned to change our menus seasonally to the extent that now, many of us even change our menus daily as the availability of produce from small, local farms drives our cooking. The same can and should go with seafood: just as we no longer look for asparagus year-round or every day, we shouldn’t look for or expect salmon, or cod, or tuna every day. The principal is somewhat different, but given that up to one-third of caught fish are discarded, we can better utilize our natural resources and reduce the overall volume taken from the sea when we learn to cook “at the market” and utilize everything available. This means shopping off the beaten path.
May 18, join us for a delicious taste of the future:
Johnny Anderes, The Kitchen
Paul Fehribach, Big Jones
Brian Huston, Boltwood
Nicole Pederson, Found
Nico Romo, Fish, Charleston
Stephen Stryjewski, Cochon, Butcher, and Peche, New Orleans
Paul Virant, Vie, Perennial Virant, Vistro
We’re cooking up these fish you might not have tried. Join us and taste the possibilities:
If we are successful, this dinner will be the beginning of the end of the term “trash fish” and begin a new chapter in our relationship with the seas, in which we view every gift of the ocean for what they are – delicious and nutritious food upon which civilization can stand anew, in which species such as bluefin tuna, red snapper, and yellowtail can take a break from runaway demand as we learn to cook and enjoy our abundant stocks of fish such as the ones we are preparing for dinner.
Take a look again at that roster of chefs. I’m humbled that these proven badasses are eager to share this story with you, but I’m not surprised. These chefs care and time and again, they’ve put their precious time and resources on the line to make a difference. Please join us as we plot a new course for the future of seafood.
Tickets are available here. The dinner will sell out quickly, so get your tickets now!