Appetite: Sustainable seafood with Gaston Acurio

Causas -- hearty, yet delicately flavored seafood appetizers at La Mar Cebicheria

The average American still doesn't know enough about sustainable fish. Most of us eat whatever is on the menu with little to regard to where it’s sourced, its health properties (or lack thereof) -- totally unaware if the creature we're eating is endangered or close to it. Consider this Appetite your 101 on the latest happenings in sustainable fish -- and a primer on how to make sure your seafood dinner is safe for the waters of the world. 

I was privileged to attend a recent intimate round-table discussion with Peru’s leading chef Gaston Acurio and management from Monterey Bay Aquarium, the number one seafood source in the nation on what is or isn’t safe to eat at any given time.

Naturally, we met in the offices of La Mar Cebicheria, Acurio’s first stateside restaurant and my top spot in SF for Peruvian (New York is also about to get its first La Mar outpost). As San Francisco’s breezy, bayside location of La Mar just went fully sustainable, it was an ideal time to discuss the necessity of planet-minded dining.

(Bait and) tackle these apps at Ki without fear of deprieving your grandkids of maritime meals

Acurio says chefs, cooks, and kitchen staff in general, are “the best weapons” in the struggle to change America's fish-eating habits. While many say consumers should educate themselves, Acurio rightly pinpoints a need for education among restaurant staff. He shared a story of a Peruvian restaurant relaying to diners that their children would not know what their beloved local river shrimp tasted like if over-fishing in the area continued. With this kind of schooling, consumers themselves began asking every restaurant they dined at not to serve the shrimp. Locals changed habits – and may have saved the shrimp based on information learned on a night out.

The Peruvian's commitment to sustainability is apparent. Acurio is working to take the message he's spread throughout his home country worldwide. “Restaurants are instruments for sharing our culture with the world,” he says. He prefers to train his staff by inspiration, getting them involved in a mission -- not just teaching them to perform a predetermined role.

Here are three things that restaurant staff and individual consumers can do to support sustainable seafood consumption, thus preserving the over-fished seafood we are at risk of losing like tuna and mahi mahi. (And remember, downloadable guides of what to eat and what to avoid avoid are available on the Monterey Aquarium website.)

1. Support local fisherman. Locally, buy sustainable fish at places like Royal Hawaiian in Potrero Hill or in the Ferry Plaza Building at San Francisco Fish Co.

2. Eat “down” the food chain – smaller fish need less time to mature, and make more sustainable catches. Try clams, anchovies, sardines, mussels, etc. 

3. Avoid aquaculture, farmed fish raised in controlled conditions.

Acurio believes more creativity happens when one cooks with what is fresh and available on a day-to-day basis. Rather than being limited by the diner who’s going to be upset that you didn’t serve tuna tartare, he challenges his chefs to “dream big”: to create dishes that will win customers over to a new way of looking at fish dinner. 

A few local restaurants serving only sustainable seafood:

1. Tataki and Tataki South, Pacific Heights and Noe Valley – The first fully-sustainable sushi restaurant in the US was Tataki, right here in our own backyard.

2. Ki, SoMa – Part of the funky, spacious “Zen Compound” that includes Temple Nightclub and a rooftop garden. Ki is an artsy new izakaya-sushi-drinks lounge.

3. Hecho, FiDi - Sustainable sushi sources called out by name – with tequila to accompany.

4. Pacific Catch, Marina - has elected June to be its sustainable shrimp month – it will be serving safe shrimp from various parts of the world.

And a little homework for those who'd like to learn more about keeping your sea meals safe for the ocean environment: don’t miss local resident Casson Trenor’s book, Sustainable Sushi (Trenor helped launch both Tataki and Ki). Also, the fabulous 18 Reasons is throwing a “Good Fish” event (cooking demo and lecture, $25-35) Sunday afternoon, June 12, sure to help you navigate the confusing terms that are involved in selecting a more sustainable fish.

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