7/26/16 | Last week, some of Rhode Island’s finest chefs convened at food-business incubator Hope & Main in Warren, RI, to explore ways to better utilize plentiful but less popular seafood species.
The 9 chefs — including JWU alumni Derek Wagner '99 (Nicks on Broadway), Matt Varga '05 (Gracie’s), Ben Mayhew '10 (front-of-house at Garde de la Mer) and Aaron Thorpe '01 (Cook & Dagger) — were given an hour and a half to sample, cook and experiment with new or relatively unfamiliar seafood.
The chefs were more than up to the challenge as they thoughtfully picked through the gleaming display of freshly-caught seafood, including butterfish, conger eel, fluke, sea robin, spiny dogfish, squid, skate and whelk (conch).
The end goal? To rehab the unfair reputation of these so-called “trash” or “bycatch” species, and expand their market here in the Ocean State.
“We’re looking to introduce — or re-introduce, in some cases — RI chefs to the amazing seasonal product at our disposal,” noted Anna Malek Mercer, the director of the Commercial Fisheries Research Foundation (CFRF), which co-hosted the event with JWU Providence’s College of Culinary Arts. “Another goal is to connect fishermen with chefs, and foster collaboration between chefs.”
The CFRF shared a sobering statistic: While US fisheries are among the most sustainable in the world due to rigorous management practices, a shocking 84% of seafood consumed in the US is imported — and 63% of domestically harvested seafood is exported.
For Chef Bill Idell '89, College of Culinary Arts assistant dean, keeping more of Rhode Island’s foods in the state is a major priority.
Idell has been instrumental in developing JWU’s Wellness & Sustainability elective, which embeds multiple opportunities for culinary students to connect with local farmers, fishermen, chefs and purveyors. Educating and collaborating with chef-alumni and other members of the RI food community — including special events like this one — is a logical extension of that remit.
THEY DON’T CALL IT THE OCEAN STATE FOR NOTHING. SCUP IN ITS NATURAL HABITAT (TOP). BUTTERFISH + SCUP (BOTTOM). MAP + LIVE SCUP BY ANDREA FELDMAN; BUTTERFISH BY CFRF.
In Hope & Main’s development kitchen, the chefs were hard at work prepping their dishes.
Matt Gennuso of Chez Pascal chose conger eel, a species he’d never worked with before. Eager to test out its properties, he decided to cook the eel 3 ways: Encased in a salt crust, as steaks (whole sections), and as fillets or strips.
Derek Wagner quickly began filleting scup, while North Bakery’s Andrew Keintz experimented with whelk, which he hadn’t worked with before. (He also teamed up with Cook & Dagger’s Aaron Thorpe to create a marinated fluke and grilled fennel dish served in a quahog shell.)
JWU instructor Matthew Britt, who frequently works with Malek Mercer in his classroom, loved watching so many local chefs working together and swapping ideas.
“Chefs can be so heads-down, because it’s easy to get lost in work,” he explained. “This was a great opportunity for them to work with new product and stretch their skills. We can sometimes forget how important that is.”
Britt hopes to collaborate on more events with the CFRF — particularly in the fall, when local seafood is especially abundant. “The CFRF has been so generous in donating amazing seafood that our students would never otherwise be able to work with.”
All of the chefs who participated in the event have been given an open invitation to speak at JWU’s Providence Campus. Stay tuned.
- Rick Allaire, Metacom Kitchen: Dogfish escabeche
- Alan Bagley, Bacaro: Butterfish escabeche
- Matt Britt, JWU Providence: Maryland-style crab cakes
- Matt Gennuso, Chez Pascal: Salt-crusted eel
- Andy Kientz, North Bakery: Citrus whelk salad
- Ben Mayhew ‘10, Garde De La Mer/private chef: Corn husk-steamed sea robin served with pineapple-pepper salsa
- Joe Simone, Simone's: Calamari zamino
- Aaron Thorpe ‘01, Cook & Dagger
Andy Kientz: Marinated fluke and grilled fennel
- Matthew Varga ‘05, Gracie's: Skate wing puttanesca
- Derek Wagner ‘99, Nicks on Broadway: Scup roasted with mushrooms and capers
Sea Robin, Anyone? Chefs Get Acquainted with Local Seafood (RI NPR story by Kristin Gourlay)
2015 RI Seafood Challenge: What’s Scup?
How Do You Cook with Rhode Island’s Seasons? Ask North’s James Mark.
TWO FINISHED DISHES: SCUP WITH CORN AND ZUCCHINI RIBBONS (LEFT) / SPINY DOGFISH WITH TOMATO AND BASIL (RIGHT). PHOTOS: CFRF