"It's like kissing a mermaid," said intrepid Chef Javier Plascencia and restaurateur (Mision 19) as he waxed poetic about his sustainable dish of Mexican wild shrimp and percebes in a shiso agua chile broth with pickled avocado, served at the fourth annual Ocean-to-Table Luncheon, one of the highlights of the San Diego Bay Wine & Food Festival. Discriminating foodies and culinary rock stars rubbed elbows in the packed-as-sardines Marine Room in La Jolla Nov. 14, while celebrating the bounty from our oceans and seas.
Executive Chef Bernard Guillas at the helm of the pescavore's paradise navigated guests through a feast of responsibly harvested fresh seafood. Each dish prepared with excitingly creative flavors paired with zesty rosé wines from Chef Bernard's motherland (France), and an enlightening educational tutorial. A sustainably-minded crew of master chefs talked about the importance of oceanic stewardship to prevent certain "watch list" species of fish from extinction so future generations would not be deprived of this essential (and delicious) nutrition, along with utilizing the entire fish following the "nose to tail" principle to prevent wastage.
Sophisticated gourmets first nibbled on artistically plated seafood hors d'oeuvres with locally-, domestically-, and globally-sourced sustainable ingredients, including tender crayfish and smoked mackerel on crisp eggplant crackers created by Evan Cruz of Arterra. Chef Claudia Sandoval (Master Chef season 6 winner) delighted palates with smoked bonito croquettes paired with caviar and chipotle aioli, while Flor Franco, aka, "The Cross-Border Chef" surprised guests with a mouth-watering ceviche tostada of gooseneck barnacles, pancetta and baby greens.
For the sit-down luncheon we were regaled with a friendly competition by San Diego's exclusive pair of Maître Cuisiniers de France, Chefs Bernard Guillas and Patrick Ponsaty's amuse bouche of silver painted eggshell filled with such indulgences as smoked eel from Holland, caviar, and 24-karat gold flakes posed next to a bourbon-vanilla-infused lobster yuzu with Spanish trout pearls.
Other participating chefs went overboard, presenting such main dishes as seared diver scallops with Brussels sprout stoemp, horseradish beet sauce, and pickled matsutake mushrooms (Dean James Max, DJM Restaurants); corn meal-crusted white sturgeon with rutabaga fondant (Amy DiBiase, Vistal); and for sweet endings, a toothsome plate of eye candy in a peacock blue macaroon and epicurean Belgian chocolate seahorse replicating the Marine Room's iconic logo handcrafted by Michele Coulon.
The feast was accompanied by illuminating commentaries from master of ceremonies Andrew Spurgin, founder of Bespoke Events, who informed the group of alarming statistics that 91 percent of fish products are imported into this country, many of which are off the FDA inspection grid. Pushing the sustainable seafood boat for 20 years, Spurgin urged fellow chefs to write menus that can actually make a difference in society.
Chef Claudia Sandoval, poster chef for responsible sourcing, who couldn't find sustainable marlin for her dish, swapped it out for bonito. She suggested that consumers become acquainted with their fishmongers to know what fish to eat, and which to avoid, especially those being overfished.
For Chef Flor Franco the key to living in a sustainable community is learning how to preserve foods, whether fermenting, pickling, freezing or drying. She also recommends a diet with only light, sustainable proteins.
A fifth generation chef raised in a French village south of Toulouse, Patrick Ponsaty advises consumers to use small seafood purveyors, ask questions, and make sure you know the provenance of your fish before buying, especially caviar.
To Jason McLeod (CH-Projects.com), trash fish is the sustainability trend of the future. Consumers need to eat fish that no one else is eating, like tasty Thresher Shark. On the same vein, Chef Bernard believes that: "humans are creatures of habit, but it's essential to broaden our horizons and introduce new species that are plentiful in our seas. As chefs and restaurateurs, our duty is to be caretakers of our oceans and educators to our customers."
Recipe: Roasted Lobster Tails
• Ingredients: 1 cup unsalted butter, room temperature; 1/4 cup chopped chives; 1 teaspoon orange zest; 2 tablespoons chopped Thai basil; 4 cloves garlic, minced; 1 small scotch bonnet pepper, diced; 6 spiny lobster tails (8 ounces each); 2 lemons, cut in wedges; sprigs Thai basil.
• Method: Preheat oven to 425-degrees F. In small bowl, blend butter, chives, zest, basil, garlic, scotch bonnet pepper, salt and pepper. Set aside. Make lengthwise cuts at top of each lobster shell using kitchen shears, careful not to cut through the lobster meat. Press shell open. Pull out meat and place on top of shell. Transfer to baking sheet. Generously coat tails with herb butter.
Cook 10 minutes or until meat turns opaque. Transfer tails to serving platter. Melt remaining butter and spoon atop lobsters. Garnish with lemon wedges, basil sprigs. (Serves 6)
• Recipe courtesy of Executive Chef Bernard Guillas, The Marine Room, La Jolla
— Catharine Kaufman can be reached by e-mail: email@example.com and see more recipes at freerangeclub.com