The Monterey Bay Aquarium hosted its 10th “Cooking for Solutions” conference last weekend, bringing together chefs; food purveyors; marine scientists; fishermen; government officials; and celebrities such as Isabella Rossellini, Alton Brown and Ted Turner; as well as journalists such as yours truly, to learn about environmental issues gripping our oceans and planet.
There was good news: Experts from the Environmental Defense Fund don’t expect to see any health issues arising from Gulf seafood resulting from the dispersants used to combat the oil disaster.
Alarming news: Former Gourmet magazine editor Barry Estabrook and creator of the James Beard award-winning Politics of the Plate blog, uncovers in his new book, “Tomatoland” (Andrews McMeel), how many of the popular grape tomatoes sold in supermarkets are picked primarily by women of child-bearing-age who are exposed to pesticides regularly.
Troubling statistics: In California, cotton and rice make up only 3 percent of crops grown, but receive 44 percent of federal subsidies doled out in the state. That leaves the bulk of the farmers, who grow fruits and veggies, with few subsidies.
News to use every day: Experts agreed that of all the ecolabels out in the marketplace now, the most trustworthy ones are — Certified Humane, Free Trade, Certified Organic, Marine Stewardship Council, Country of Origin, and Seafood Watch.
And charming moments: Rossellini — who attended the conference with her son, who is studying marine biology — talked about her educational yet humorous “Green Pornos.” Rossellini produced, directed and stars in these short films, produced for the Sundance Channel, which highlight the reproductive lives of marine animals. These offbeat films are memorable with their sets made of paper and Rossellini portraying each species in costume. If you’ve never seen a “Green Porno,” they are definitely worth checking out.
Of course, there was a grand gala, too, with top toques cooking up a myriad of sustainable seafood. Attendees posed for pics with “Top Chef” contestants, Casey Thompson, who was cooking up “Rice-Crispy Mackerel”; and Bryan Voltaggio, who was applying a little liquid nitrogen action to smoked sablefish with dehydrated capers, apple wood smoking dust and flash-frozen creme fraiche.
Chris Cosentino of San Francisco’s Incanto took time out from making crostini with marinated sardines and nduja to show me his special shirt — a gift from fellow chef, Tom Colicchio. If you’re a foodie, no doubt you’ll recognize the font on his shirt and know what he’s poking a little fun at.
The team from Tataki, the sustainable sushi restaurant in San Francisco, created a daring nibble — abalone sushi topped with a sauce made from the abalone’s liver and not at all overpowering as one might fear.
Which just goes to show that there’s a whole other world of seafood beyond the usual salmon and tuna worth exploring that’s not only sustainable but delectable.