Blue Ribbon Task Force Conference- Portland, OR
One of my favorite things about being a chef is the opportunity to connect with people from all over the world. Today’s complex network of farmers and fishermen, purveyors and producers, chefs and restaurateurs, means that what we eat and how we eat it connects us all in an intricate and fascinating way. Our tiny little restaurant in the middle of the country, hundreds of miles from any coast, has deep ties to auctioneers at the Honolulu Fish Market, family fishermen on the Taku River in Alaska, and third generation oyster farmers on the Chesapeake Bay. When we prepare and serve a dish, we are supporting those people, their local economies, and in some cases their ancestral cultures. As a chef, it is very cool to be able to honor their hard work by showcasing their catches at our restaurant. Especially today, when sustainability is more important than ever. It’s more expensive to fish sustainably—the gear costs more, it takes more time, and you don’t catch as much. But in the long run it means the coastal habitats survive, the fish that we enjoy so much today will be enjoyed by the next generation, and the beautiful waterways that make up so much of our country can stay that way for a time longer. It is an honor to be part of this system of so many like minded people, who work tirelessly to preserve these precious, wonderful things we’re so lucky to enjoy. Each dish we serve is a testament to that network, to our neighbors on the coast, and to the next generation that we are working so hard to provide for.
An integral part of this collaborative system is an amazing organization called the Blue Ribbon Task Force. It is part of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program, and like all of their efforts it aims to educate, connect, and help create a stronger, more sustainable food system. As a member of this task force, I get to work with other chefs and food industry leaders from across the country. We share the very latest information on the state of our global fish stocks as well as the most progressive use of seafood in our restaurants. Last summer I even had the opportunity to travel to D.C. to meet with senators and congressmen to talk about sustainability, the state of our oceans, and the importance of several key environmental policies.
Our most recent conference, held in Portland, OR, shed light on several crucial issues and was a huge success in many ways. First of all, it was really encouraging to get feedback from our policy team about all the work we did last year on our trip to DC. They shared the results of all the votes cast on the Magnuson–Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act—which we were pulling for—and it looks like our voices were heard and that we had a powerful impact on policymakers. What a great feeling!
We also worked with Monterey Bay Aquarium’s science and policy teams on a new project called Chefs for Fish. Together we drafted a pact, called the Portland Pact for Sustainable Seafood, which chefs from all over the country are starting to sign. It basically pledges our support of the Magnuson–Stevens Act as it stands and reaffirms our commitment to serving only sustainably-sourced produce. The project launched just a couple of weeks ago, and already we have over 100 participating chefs—with over a dozen from Colorado! Eventually, the pact will be presented to Congress to show our support and help preserve the Magnuson–Stevens Act.
Another big focus at this year’s conference was single use plastic and all the garbage in the ocean. There are literal islands of plastic just floating around, which is not only disgusting but also very destructive for marine life. In the restaurant industry—and in most industries today—we go through a lot of single use plastic, whether that’s in shipping or storing our produce. A big focus for us and other like-minded chefs is to find a way around those methods. For instance, we’ve stopped using plastic straws at Jax and Lola. It’s a small step, but when chefs all over the country act with the same focused intent, you can see tangible, positive results.
We also discussed new technology and opportunities for frozen fish. Of course when it comes to cooking and serving the best seafood, frozen stuff has a bad rap. But it’s no longer true. Modern fishing vessels have special freezers on their boats, so the catch goes directly from the water into a deep freeze. We ate a bunch of sushi that had been frozen in this way and you honestly could not tell the difference! I’ve been working with seafood my whole life, so it really blew my mind. And not only does this new methods preserve the quality of the fish, it is far less wasteful and has a smaller carbon footprint. I think it is going to become more and more prevalent in restaurants across the country as we try to find new ways to save the environment.
At Jax, our goal from day one has always been to serve the best, most delicious seafood in the world. In our mind, that also means the most responsibly sourced. Organizations like Monterey Bay Aquarium have helped us hone those skills and connect us with other chefs and restaurateurs with the same goals. It’s very rewarding to see tangible, positive results of our combined effort—thriving fish markets, sustainable fishing methods becoming customary, damaged coastal regions brought back from the brink. We only do well when our neighbors do well. We are only as healthy as the system as a whole.
The next step for us is to get Lola Coastal Mexican Restaurant certified by MBA’s Seafood Watch, which should be a shoe-in since we’re almost there. It will be also really cool to discover and connect with more sustainable fishermen from down south. Our little seafood family is getting bigger and bigger. We are all very excited. Stay tuned for more adventures!