Ocean to Table: Journey of a Fish
Just 4 hours earlier, this grouper arrived in Denver on a refrigerated truck from Miami after a fisherman named Jason long-line caught it off the Gulf of Mexico.
When authentic Italian Chef Andrea Frizzi receives the fish at his restaurant, he knows none of this.
The fish is just boxed and wrapped in plastic on ice to preserve its freshness, but as Frizzi opens the bag, the fish’s journey is about to unfold.
Chef Andrea receives his fish from Denver’s own Seattle Fish Company which, in addition to serving small restaurants like Frizzi’s Il Posto, also supplies 10 million lbs of fish to supermarkets and restaurants in Colorado, Arizona, Kansas, and other states each year. Many restaurants and supermarkets have standing orders, but Seattle Fish Company can also get smaller batches of seasonal fish per availability and the chef’s wishes.
In addition to the grouper, today Chef Andrea receives a new fish from Seattle fish company: a gorgeous whole golden snapper, bright red in color.
He pulls both fish out of their boxes, feeling them, inspecting their texture. The grouper has a bar code on it, pulled from the whole fish before Seattle Fish Company’s professionals cut precise filets. Here, Chef Andrea can learn the method and location of his fish’s catch, and even the name of the fisherman who caught it.
The bar code doesn’t tell Chef Andrea that his fish was meticulously inspected for freshness in oxidized water-sanitized facilities upon its arrival in Denver this morning. The fish’s gills checked for bright red color, the temperatures regulated to a chilly 34° F, the fish handled on tables designated for the species’ histamine levels — these practices Chef Andrea has to take on trust with his vendor. But as he smells and feels the fish, the freshness is apparent.
The snapper – descaled but still whole – inspires Chef Andrea, who never knows exactly what he’ll do until he gets his ingredient day-of.
“I start to think about what kind of mood I’m in, the weather, the fish… and then it comes together, what I’m going to do.”
In this case, Chef Andrea is feeling light and he’s got a light fish – it’s got to be a crudo. He takes delicate slices of the snapper and flash soaks them in lemon juice. Plated with a bright green fava bean purée and beautifully grilled trumpet mushrooms, the dish is not only light – it screams spring.
The grouper that was fileted with such skill by Seattle Fish Company’s Cesar Marquez gets a clean sear and a bed of fresh pasta at the hands of Chef Andrea. It’s an unusual choice, but one that completely works. The grouper is almost buttery, melting in your mouth.
Chef Andrea goes back to the snapper. His mind is in Venice now with his venetian mother, making a fish and risotto pairing in a traditional venetian “saour” style. The fish is light and acidic, the risotto creamy and ever slightly sweetened with peas. This is an Italian sweet-and-sour risotto with a New Zealand fish served in Denver. All I can think when I see this is: “food is awesome.”
A Pesce-Diner Call to Arms
Seafood hasn’t yet gotten quite the same menu treatment as Farm-to-Table meats or produce. I see “tender belly” bacon or “fruition farms” ricotta called out on menus everywhere, but the muscles I order just get a point-of-origin label despite there being just as much craft involved in each step of the seafood process.
At the end of this day at Il Posto, I’ve eaten two fish from opposite oceans, handed from fishermen, to truckers, to Seattle Fish company’s inspectors, to their butchers, to their packagers, to drivers, to chefs, and finally to my plate.
As a diner, I’d like to know more about all the hands involved in my fish’s journey.
So ask your restaurants who supplies your fish, where they come from, and who caught them – who knows, tomorrow at a totally different restaurant in a completely different part of the world, you might also eat a wild grouper line-caught by our friend Jason off the Gulf of Mexico…
What are your thoughts about Ocean-to-Table dining? Are you interested in the journey of your seafood? Have you been to restaurants that call out their suppliers or fishing partners? Let me know in the comments!