Photo by Derek Kouyoumjian
Old Frog Pond Farm apples? Check. Berkshires pork chop? Check. Maine alewives — wait, what? Alewives, a northeastern herring, are not a fish often found on one’s plate? Eating with the Ecosystem — a traveling dinner series that unites chefs, commercial fishermen, marine scientists and diners — hopes to change that by encouraging diners to ditch cod and try conche. Or alewives.
Organized by fisherwoman and environmental activist Sarah Schumann, Rhode Island-based Eating with the Ecosystem’s three-part Boston dine-around began in September at Henrietta’s Table in Harvard Square. Throughout the evening, Henrietta’s chef Peter Davis said he struggled with guests’ demands for halibut and cod over local fish. “I’ve had a monkfish sandwich on the lunch menu for a while; it’s really good and, slowly, it’s catching on,” he says. “More people are ordering monkfish compared to a few years ago, but it’s been a hard sell.”
Newport fisherman Ted Platz told diners he exports most of his monkfish to South Korea, which is the antithesis of local eating and small footprint living, and he’d like to change that.
“It’s the same for me with the conch I catch,” says Schumann. “I sell them to a wholesaler, who ships them to China, because that’s who buys them.”
Research scientist Kristin Kleisner, of the Nature Conservancy and NOAA’s Northeast Fisheries Science Center, provided data on the distribution of northeastern fish. Her findings were less than appetizing — we are not eating as locally as we might.
Hopefully, pioneering chefs like Davis will usher in much-needed change. At the dinner, he won over diners with his southern New England waters-sourced menu, which featured a clambake of steamers, razors and mussels with local sweet corn and potatoes; smoked blue fish pate; and seared monkfish with scallop roe (a delicacy in Europe akin to foie gras). As it turns out, eating locally and sustainably is quite delicious.