More club chefs are menuing sustainable fish in delicious, ocean-friendly ways.
Chefs play an important role in the sustainable-seafood movement, introducing members and guests to products that prioritize the long-term life of the species along with the well-being of the oceans.
In supporting sustainability, chefs can call on their unique ability to showcase how lesser-known sealife can be as delicious as mainstream species. Even so, club chefs often face challenges with supply chains, member demand and cost controls.
Where’s the Beef?
Located in the Texas panhandle, Amarillo Country Club is in a typical Texas beef town. So when Colby Newman—a self-described “seafood guy”—came to the club two years ago as Executive Chef, he faced a number of obstacles as he turned the members onto fish.
“At first, they kept telling me my fish specials wouldn’t succeed here,” says Newman. “But I knew we had to gain their trust. Every Friday we feature fresh fish, and at first we only sold two or three pounds. Now, I go through between 30 and 45 specials on a Friday night.”
Getting from there to here took a lot of passion, patience and careful planning.
“Amarillo isn’t close to any major city or waterway, so it’s hard to get good product,” says Newman. But Newman persisted and eventually pathed his way to a supplier out of New Mexico who shares a similar passion about sustainable seafood. “He gives me a fresh list three times a week, and he usually knows what I want before I know it,” Newman reports.
Newman now orders seafood at least once, if not twice, a week, and always opts for sustainable fish when possible.
“We buy sockeye salmon as well as a u10 chemical-free scallop,” he says. “Both are sustainable and popular with members.
“About half of the seafood that we serve is sustainable,” adds Newman, whose club does about $2.2 million in total F&B. “And for this part of Texas, that’s really progressive.”
Pacific halibut is another popular dish at Amarillo CC. Newman pan-sears it, basted with thyme and brown butter, then serves it with fingerling potatoes, radishes, snow peas and asparagus, and tops it with beurre blanc and crawfish tails.
“It’s a beautiful dish,” says Newman. “It screams spring.”
For The Arbutus Club in Vancouver, B.C., local seafood abounds—and members love it. So much so that Executive Chef Michael Couzelis, CCC, orders it six days a week.
“Sockeye salmon usually comes in every day for all parts of the dining operation,” says Couzelis, who gets $5.5 million in food-and-beverage revenues from the 1,550 family memberships at Arbutus. “Even during our steakhouse promotions, the fish dish is usually our best-seller.”
At Arbutus, menus change frequently—at least eight times a year, so there are lots of opportunities to highlight different types of fish.
“Instead of revising menus, we tend to transform the whole operation every month,” Couzelis says. “April was Viva L’Italia, so we featured appetizers, fresh pastas, entrees and dessert as if we were an Italian restaurant. May was Steakhouse Month, and June was Lobster Month. This way of doing our menus is a lot of work for my staff, but everyone learns and nothing is the same month-to-month, which is great for the members.”
No matter what the theme, sablefish, ling cod and fresh halibut (when in season) are the biggest sustainable sellers at Arbutus.
“We sell fresh halibut as our ‘Chef’s Creation Halibut’ in the summer in the fireside grille, and it’s always our best seller by a landslide,” says Couzelis. “My chefs get to write their own specials every day, and they always try to top the sales of the last popular halibut special. We also go through a lot of albacore tuna, which we use in sushi and in our tuna avocado salad.”
Arbutus is part of Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program, which helps members and guests identify ocean-friendly choices with an Ocean Wise symbol.
“Members appreciate this partnership—especially millennial members,” says Couzelis. Like many chefs, he notes that his biggest challenge in supporting sustainable seafood is price.
All in the Family
Finding a trustworthy supplier is a key piece of the puzzle for club chefs as they menu more sustainable seafood species. It’s been a critical part of Executive Chef Greg Masset’s success at Yakima (Wash.) Country Club, where he features two seafood specials each week.
“My fish monger has a storefront downtown and also supplies to restaurants,” says Masset, who grew up in his parents’ restaurant before attending culinary school and moving into the club world. “Every Tuesday, I call him up and ask him first what he’s caught, and second if it’s sustainable.”
Masset relies on this supplier to provide him with products that are not only the highest-quality, but also the most environmentally responsible.
“My father bought fish from his father, so we go back a really long way,” says Masset. “Having a person you can trust, who knows you and your operation, and will provide you with the best and most sustainable product is really important.”
At Yakima, salmon—either sockeye or Copper River—is the top seller, and Masset offers it in a number of ways. The most popular option is first brined in a bath of water, honey, tarragon and salt, then roasted on a cedar plank. Rock fish, also a popular sustainable choice, is prepared in ways that range from either a simple sauté to a more complex stuffed version, with dungeness crab, asparagus and red bell peppers.
“The biggest challenge is consistency,” says Masset. “When it’s wild, you don’t know if you’re going to get one 20-pound fish or ten two-pound fish.”
Hook, Line and Sinker
Educating service staff about responsible choices has been critical to the success of the sustainable seafood program at Cartersville (Ga.) Country Club.
“The prices are higher on some of these products, but our biggest challenge at first was making the staff aware of what we are doing, why and how it’s a better-quality product,” says Executive Chef Blake Beason, who came to the club two years ago and immediately set about clearing the freezer of frozen product.
“The quality is up because of our efforts in the back of the house,” Beason reports. “More members are ordering fish because the front of the house is informed and better-prepared to tell them about the dishes, where they came from, and what they taste like.”