Gourmet Dining in the Woods

  • Chef Ben Bebenroth and his crew plate mushroom dishes for their dinner guests. (Photo by Julie Grant)

Most people don’t spend a lot of
time thinking about where their food was
grown. Even fewer actually go out and forage
in the woods for it. But that’s what one
chef is trying to get people to do. Julie
Grant reports this chef wants people to
connect the dots between the environment
and their food:

Transcript

Most people don’t spend a lot of
time thinking about where their food was
grown. Even fewer actually go out and forage
in the woods for it. But that’s what one
chef is trying to get people to do. Julie
Grant reports this chef wants people to
connect the dots between the environment
and their food:

(sound of gathering)

The threat of rain has passed. Cars are pulling in the grassy
drive at Killbuck Valley Mushroom Farm. And Chef Ben
Bebenroth cuts big leafy greens from the garden as a visiting
dog chases a chicken through the yard. He’s starting
preparations for a six course meal.

(sound of chopping and sizzling)

“The menu is going to be a loose guideline tonight, at best.”

Most of the guests have driven an hour from the city and the
suburbs of Cleveland. They’re dressed for a dinner party,
not for hiking. But, a hike in the woods is exactly where
some of them are going.

Tom Wiandt: “Anyone who wants to see wild mushrooms,
come hither.”

Guest: “Question – how far and how rough?”
Tom: “Not too rough. We’re just going along the bottom of
the hollow here.”

(sound of hiking)

Farm owners Tom and Wendy Wiandt show their 20 guests
honey mushrooms growing on a log. They stop to explain
the difference between puff balls – some are poisonous,
others delicious. Each person carries a paper lunch bag to
fill with fungus.

Guest: “It’s a gold mine up there.”

Tom: “Oh, did this big stump produce this year?”

Wendy: “Yeah.”

Tom: “Holy moley did it ever. That’s the great thing about
dead trees.”

Guest: “Look at that. Wow.”

Tom: “That’s dinner tonight.”

The guests carry their bounty back to the chef. They’re
rewarded with a glass of wine. And they learn a little more
about the Wiandt’s farm – how they cultivate bright yellow
oyster mushrooms, fuzzy lion’s manes, shitakes, and more.

(sound of kitchen)

Chef Bebenroth and his crew are at work in his outdoor
makeshift kitchen. He’s using the mushrooms in various
dishes.
Some of the guests are excited about getting involved in
finding food for the meal. Others are a little skeptical.

Guest: “This is really farm to table, literally. We’re a part of
that movement, right Tony?”

Guest: “I’m a Wendy’s kind of guy.”

But that Wendy’s guy was impressed once dinner was being
served.

“Your first course is going to be a shittake and truffle tea,
with antelope tartar.”

After courses of cooked greens and mushrooms, squash
with local goat cheese, steaks, desserts and lots of wine –
the party was down right festive.

(sound of laughing and music)

Guest: “It is surreal to be here, under the stars, the dog on
stage, the exquisite cuisine.”

Chef Bebenroth creates these dinners at farms around the
region through the summer and fall. And despite what
seems like a high price – this event was $150 a plate – it’s
still tough for him to break even on them. But it’s important
to him. It’s taking that idea of farm to table that guests say
they want to be involved in – and showing them what it really
means.

“We’re so divorced from how our food becomes our food
anymore. You’re empowering people to say, ‘pick this,’ or
they’re watching me pick it. That, to me is really completing
that circle. And they’re starting to understand it does matter
what I put in the air, what I put in the ground, in the water.
This is going into my body, it’s going into my kids.”

Bebenroth hatched this whole plated landscape idea
because he wanted to be outdoors. Now, as his guests
drive back to the city and the suburbs, he hopes he’s made a
few converts – made people see small local farms and the
woods as essential to their dinner.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

Related Links

Facebook for Farmers’ Food

  • Bob Gavlak and his partners organize freshly-harvested produce in their cooling truck. (Photo by Julie Grant)

Most twenty year olds use online
networking sites. But most farmers don’t.
Until now. A team of recent college grads
is using their internet savvy to connect
farms and restaurants. Julie Grant reports:

Transcript

Most twenty year olds use online
networking sites. But most farmers don’t.
Until now. A team of recent college grads
is using their internet savvy to connect
farms and restaurants. Julie Grant reports:

Last summer Matt Szugye entered a college business school
competition. His team needed to make a plan for a new
business. They started throwing around ideas.

“It just happened, that the night before I was at a restaurant
talking with an owner, and they were telling me about the
trials and tribulations of starting their restaurant with the idea
that they would serve seasonal, local produce.”

But the restaurant owner couldn’t get food like onions,
zucchini or tomatoes directly from local farms. Szugye’s
team studied the idea. Lots of people in the food business
were saying the same things. Things like this:

“So I’m getting things shipped in from other states.”

That’s Donna Chriszt. She’s the owner and chef at Dish Deli
and Catering. It’s a small, gourmet deli in a downtown
Cleveland neighborhood.

“And the amount of fossil fuels that are coming out of that,
we hated. So, it’s not what I wanted to do for my
community.”

So now that the college team knew there was demand for a
product, they contacted farmers. Eureka. There was also a
supply. Lots of farmers wanted new ways to sell their fruits
and vegetables locally.

The team put together a plan for a distribution business – to
pickup produce from farms and deliver it to nearby
restaurants.

They decided they could use the internet.

It would work a little like an online dating service. Each
farmer could list what’s available and set the price. The
restaurant owners could browse through the list and place
their orders. The college students’ business plan would be
the match-maker.

The team won their business school contest.

After graduation this Spring, they launched an actual
business based on their model.

They call it Fresh Fork.

Donna Chriszt was thrilled.

“I was like hallelujah. Thank God someone will be able to
help a small place like me by doing all the foot work.”

(sound of a factory)

After picking up produce from farmers, Fresh Fork Team
member Bob Gavlak is finally getting back to the distribution
center. It’s 10 p.m. It could have gone a lot sooner, but he
got caught up talking with the farmers about what they’re
growing and how their kids are doing, you know, forging
relationships.

(sound of a cooling truck)

The team now has to move racks of produce in a cooling
truck. Then they organize it all.

“This is where we’re going tomorrow, is Dish Deli and
Catering. And you can see Knoble Farms. They have some
corn.”

When Gavlak and his partners started planning this
business, they didn’t quite get why there was such a fuss
about local food.

They were still college students fueled by Ramen and fast
food.

So they spent some time on the food prep line at an upscale
local restaurant – cutting onions, stirring soup – for hours.
Not pouring soup out of a bag like a lot of places. Gavlak
says he started to understand.

“I would go to the store and I’d have strawberries, and I’d be
like, ‘oh, these are so good’. But then, when we had
strawberries here in the spring and early summer, it’s like I’d
never had a strawberry before. It’s just seeing the difference
that happens between a product that’s fresh and homegrown
and the product that isn’t.”

The team finishes sorting all their fresh produce at midnight.
They’ve got to get up at the crack of dawn to deliver to 8
restaurants, a grocery store, and a hospital.

(sound of Dish Deli)

When Gavlak brings her order, deli owner Donna Chriszt
inspects the cucumbers, rhubarb, and red skin potatoes.

“And our big bushel of corn. And everything looks great. It’s
always exciting when it comes in, because we’re like, ‘what
are we going to do with this?’”

This week, they’re planning rhubarb cobbler, potato salad
and fresh pickles for a neighborhood festival.

Gavlak smiles. He’s says it makes him feel good that the
business he and his college buddies designed, Fresh Fork,
is connecting farms and restaurants and getting people
fresh, locally grown food.

He finishes the order, and then walks into Chriszt’s deli to
have some lunch.

For The Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

Related Links

Locally Grown Food Sprouts in Restaurants

  • More people want to get locally grown food. Restaurants are picking up on the trend, but there's a shortage of farmers growing local produce. (Photo by Lester Graham)

One of the hot trends expected in restaurants this year is
the use of locally-grown, seasonal foods. But finding those
products can be challenging for chefs, even in the middle of
farm country. Julie Grant tells the story of one restaurant
that’s closing after years of seeking out local meats and
vegetables:

Transcript

One of the hot trends expected in restaurants this year is
the use of locally-grown, seasonal foods. But finding those
products can be challenging for chefs, even in the middle of
farm country. Julie Grant tells the story of one restaurant
that’s closing after years of seeking out local meats and
vegetables:


All Parker Bosley ever wanted was food that tasted good.
He’s a chef and he wanted his food to be satisfying, but
when he got into the restaurant business more than twenty
years ago he thought something was wrong with the food he
was cooking:


“I thought, there’s something wrong with this business in that
I don’t think my food was that great, even though I’m cooking very well.”


Bosley decided the problem was that he wasn’t starting with
good enough ingredients, and that mediocre ingredients
couldn’t create great-tasting food:


“And I thought about it, and I thought, I don’t have real chickens,
I don’t have good tomatoes, I don’t have good lettuce, and so forth…
it’s coming through a commercial source, so I thought, something’s wrong here.
I used to have wonderful chickens and wonderful tomatoes and strawberries when I was
growing up on a farm in Ohio…what happened to that?”


Bosley is probably Cleveland most highly-renown gourmet, but he decided
to put on his boots and headed home to the farm. Well, it wasn’t exactly his farm, but
he started driving around unnamed country roads. He was looking for small farms and road-side stands.
He’d use the chickens, eggs, tomatoes he brought back to
create dishes at his restaurant, and he liked the results:


“Once I got started and into that and realized, I was right, I was correct
your food cannot be better then the food with
which you begin.”


Bosley built his reputation, his restaurants, and his menu by
building relationships with farmers. And now nearly every
ingredient in almost every dish – from the squash and bacon
soup with hazelnuts, the mixed greens with goat cheese and
honey-thyme dressing, and even the beef medallions with
mushrooms and wine sauce – they all come from local farms.


Parker’s restaurant has been recognized more than once by
Gourmet magazine as one of the top 50 in the country, but
it’s not always easy to gather those ingredients. Sometimes
farmers just don’t have as much as the restaurant needs.
Jeff Jaskiel is Bosley’s business partner:


“We have our little qualifier in our menu, if you read it, it says ‘Sorry, we’re out
of this tonight.’ And we’ve gone through periods where we don’t have chicken on the menu for three
or four days and if you go to a restaurant and couldn’t find chicken on the menu, people would think you’re
a little bit strange.”


So, they get a lot of complaints:


“‘Why are you out of this?’ The later tables come in at 9, 9:30 and we’re out of three or four things
and they’re a little bit disappointed and we were only able to get so much in this week and I think they
try to understand and they do come back so I guess what we’re doing still means something to them.”


It’s starting to mean enough to enough people that the
National Restaurant Association expects local, seasonal
foods to be one of the hottest trends in restaurants this
year.


Lots of restaurants in New York or California already identify
exactly where each ingredient on the menu comes from, what
farm it came from, and how it was produced. But as his long-time passion
becomes hot, Parker’s restaurant is closing.


(Sound of talking)


Today Bosley is standing in the wind and cold, but it’s
still sunny outside. He’s at one of Cleveland’s newly budding farm
markets. It’s set up in the parking lot of a new outdoor
shopping mall and it’s near a new upscale neighborhood. There are
about 20 stands, with things like heritage chickens and turkeys, cheese from grass-fed cows,
and lots with apples. All the products come from nearby farms. Bosley’s call for
local produce was a big part of creating what’s now a
network of markets like this throughout the region:


“I’m doing a lot more than just making good food and maybe buying direct from a farmer. I am
doing the right thing for the environment, I am doing the right thing for rural
communities, I am doing the right thing for urban communities. I never start out, oh, I want to
be an environmentalist, and I’m going to out and hug trees and save the countryside. I just
want good food, which, if you pursue it correctly, you will be
an environmentalist.”


Bosley’s 68 now and he sees the next phase of his career in
encouraging more farmers to grow gourmet mushrooms, make
goat cheese, or build greenhouses so that there’s lettuce other
produce available for the growing market of chefs and other
people who want good local food year round.


For the Environment Report, I’m Julie Grant.

Related Links

Urban Vegetable Farm Takes Root in Brownfield

  • Just outside the Greensgrow compound (photo by Brad Linder)

A farm is a strange thing to see in the middle of a gritty, urban area.
But the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Brad Linder recently visited a small
farm on what used to be a polluted site in an industrial neighborhood:

Transcript

A farm is a strange thing to see in the middle of an gritty, urban area.
But the Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Brad Linder recently visited a
small farm on what used to be a polluted site in an industrial
neighborhood:


One of the first things you notice about this one-acre plot in
Philadelphia is how out of place the farm looks. About a block away is a
busy interstate highway that jams up with rush hour traffic twice a day.


The farm itself is surrounded by rowhouses, a steel galvanizing plant, and
an auto detail shop.


Chino Rosatto runs the auto shop. About 8 years ago, he first met his new
neighbors – a small group of farmers.


”It was weird at first, you don’t see no farm in the city.”


But Rosatto says he got used to the farm started by Mary Seton Corboy
pretty quickly.


“It was an empty lot. Nothing there. Just fenced up, and that was it. She
came up, did something with it.”


Before it was an empty lot, this city block was a steel plant. In 1988
the building was demolished, and the EPA declared the site hazardous.


It was cleaned up, but Rosatto says it was nothing but concrete slabs
until Mary Seton Corboy and her small group of volunteers came and started
the farm they call Greensgrow.


Corboy moved to Philadelphia from the suburbs nearly a decade ago. With a
background as a chef, she’d always been concerned about how hard it was to
find fresh produce. So she decided to grow it herself.


“The question that just kept coming up over and over again was, is there
any reason why you have to be in a rural area to grow food, given the fact
that the market for the food, the largest market for the food, is in the
urban area?”


Corboy says usually food travels an average of 1500 miles from its source
to wind up on most Americans plates. And she says when it comes to flavor
– nothing is more important than how fresh the food is.


“If you eat strawberries that are commercially available,
you have no taste recognition of something that people 40 years ago would
say is a strawberry, because of the refrigeration, because of the way they
are picked underripe, because of the things they are sprayed with to give
them a longer shelf life.”


Corboy says her first choice for a farm wouldn’t have been an abandoned
industrial site. But the rent was cheaper than it would be at almost any
other spot in the city.


And even though the EPA and scientists from Penn State University
confirmed that there were no toxic chemicals left, Corboy doesn’t plant
anything edible in the ground.


She grows some plants in greenhouses. Others are planted in raised soil
beds. And she grows lettuce in PVC pipes that deliver nutrients to the
plants without any soil at all.


Corboy still regularly sends plant samples out for testing. The results?


“At one point Penn State sent us back a report, we talked to
them on the phone about it, and they said your stuff is actually cleaner
than stuff that we’ve seen grown on farms. Go figure that. We feel very, very comfortable
with the produce that we grow. Because, you know, I’ve been living on it
myself for 8 years.”


And restaurant owners say they’re happy to buy some of the freshest
produce available.


Judy Wicks is owner the White Dog Cafe, a Philadelphia
restaurant that specializes in locally grown foods and meat from animals
raised in humane conditions. She’s been a loyal Greensgrow customer for 8
years.


“As soon as we heard about Greensgrow, we were really excited
about the idea of supporting an urban farm on a brownfield – what a
dream! To you know, take an unsightly, unused block, and turn it into a
farm. It’s just a really exciting concept.”


Wicks says she’s never had a concern about the quality of the food,
because of the care taken to prevent it from touching the soil.


In addition to its restaurant business, Greensgrow sells fruit and
vegetables to Philadelphia residents at a farmer’s market twice a week.
The farm also operates one of the only nurseries in the city, which begins
selling plants this spring.


Mary Seton Corboy says running the farm has taught her a lot about food,
the environment, and waste. She says she doesn’t look at empty lots the
same way anymore. She’s learned to squeeze fruits, vegetables and flowers
out of every space of this city block. And she sees value in the things
other people throw out.


On a recent night Corboy was driving home with her farm manager Beth Kean,
and they spotted a pile of trash beside a building.


“But what they had dumped were all these pallets. And Beth
was with me in the car, and we both turned and looked at them and went,
Look at those pallets! Let’s come back and get them, they’re in great
shape!”


Urban farming is tough. Corboy originally had lofty goals for her farm.
Greensgrow was going to be a pilot project, something she’d expand to
include 10 farms throughout Philadelphia.


8 years later, Greensgrow is still anchored on its original one-acre site.
But by keeping her costs low and selling to loyal customers, Corboy sold
200-thousand dollars worth of produce last year. That was enough to make
2004 the farm’s first profitable year.


For the GLRC, I’m Brad Linder.

Related Links

Organic Farmers Look for New Recruits

  • A neighbor feeds Sir Herman, a calf at Beaver Creek Ranch. Herman is a Scottish Highland bull. Highland cattle are raised in the Midwest for their lean meat. (MPR Photo/Cynthia Johnson)

Organic food has become so popular, it’s hard to keep up with demand. For organic farmers, that booming market is a mixed blessing. When they can’t supply as much as the customers want, it puts pressure on the farmers. Some farmers are trying creative ways to fill the demand. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:

Transcript

Organic food has become so popular, it’s hard to keep up with demand. For organic farmers, that booming market is a mixed blessing. When they can’t supply as much as the customers want, it puts pressure on the farmers. Some farmers are trying creative ways to fill the demand. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Stephanie Hemphill reports:


About a year ago, chef Kirk Bratrud and his family built a small restaurant near the harbor in Superior, Wisconsin. It’s called The Boathouse, and it features fresh-caught fish, local vegetables, and — Scottish Highland beef.


“It’s a very lean but tender piece of meat, it has a slightly peppery flavor, something approaching elk but more like beef.”


Bratrud says his customers love Scottish Highland beef.


“Our problem with beef however is that we wish more of it was available.”


He has to take it off the menu when he runs out. It’s hard to find, and the only way he can get it at all is because three farmers in the area raise it. One of them is Doug Anderson, owner of Beaver Creek Ranch. He says Highlands offer plenty of advantages to a farmer.


“There is no waste in the animal, as the fat is on the back of the animal rather than a heavy marbling. And our animals are not grained at all. We don’t even have a feedlot. When we’re ready to take an animal to processing, it will just be picked out of the herd, put in a trailer, and go for processing.”


The animals graze in pastures. They don’t need the antibiotics that are routinely fed to animals in feedlots. Anderson has nearly 50 Highlands. The herd is growing, but it takes time to raise cattle. About 20 steers are ready for market each year.


When he started selling to The Boathouse in Superior, he realized there was a bigger market out there than he could supply. He’s recruiting his neighbors to help out. Three nearby farmers have bought brood cows and bulls. Anderson says when their animals are ready to butcher, he’ll put them in touch with The Boathouse and his other markets.


Three miles away, another organic farm has a different specialty – aged cheese made from sheep milk. Mary and David Falk milk about 100 sheep, and make about four dozen cheeses a week. The aging cave is a concrete silo, built into a hillside.


(sound of door opening)


Inside, it’s dark and cool. Nearly a thousand cheeses are resting on cedar planks. Mary Falk enjoys the different molds growing on the rinds of the cheese.


“We’ve got a gold mold, there’s a mauve colored mold, there’s a blue mold, there’s a soft green. So each one of those little molds adds a a hint of flavor and complexity to the cheese.”


The Falks used to sell their Love Tree cheeses to restaurants in New York and San Francisco. But after September 11th, the orders dropped off suddenly, and the Falks found new customers at a local farmer’s market. Now, they don’t have enough cheese to satisfy their local retail customers AND supply restaurants and cheese shops.


To boost her production, Mary Falk tried buying sheep milk from other farmers, but it didn’t taste the same as milk from the flock on her Love Tree Farm. So she tried to recruit farmers to buy some of her sheep and sell her the milk. A couple of neighbors tried it, but quit after awhile.


Her latest idea is what she calls the Love Tree Farm extended label program.


“What Love Tree is known for is our grass-based milk. And if somebody is making a high quality cheese on their farm, we are willing to put that into our market for them. We would put the Lovetree label on their cheese, like “Love Tree introducing Johnny Smith.”


Falk says it would give customers a chance to learn about new cheeses from a name they trust, and it would give new farmers access to an established market.


It takes time and ingenuity to match producers and consumers. But more and more people want organic food. Farmers who’ve been successful are trying to recruit other farmers to join them in the organic producers movement… an effort that can be profitable and easier on the environment.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, I’m Stephanie Hemphill.

Related Links

Group Says Trendy Seafood Being Overharvested

  • Believe it or not, this is the hot new trend in seafood. The Patagonian Toothfish was given a more marketable name: Chilean Sea Bass. (Photo courtesy of National Environmental Trust)

A popular fish at restaurants has become too popular. According to one environmental group, Chilean Sea Bass is being illegally overharvested. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

A popular fish at restaurants has become too popular. According to one environmental
group, Chilean Sea Bass is being illegally overharvested. The Great Lakes Radio
Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:


Chilean Sea Bass has been the fish of choice for many chefs’ signature dishes. That has
driven up prices for the fish. Andrea Cavanaugh is with the environmental group the National
Environmental Trust. She says the group has found evidence that illegal Chilean Sea Bass is
ending up on your plate.


“Pirate boats that are out on the high seas flaunt the guidelines, [do] not listen to quotas,
they can take fish where they’re not supposed to take fish and nobody is out there monitoring
what’s going on on individual vessels.”


Cavanaugh says besides needing tighter international and national guidelines on fishing, the best
way to deal with the problem is to get people to stop ordering Chilean Sea Bass.


“There’s such a wide range of fish to choose from for American consumers that there should
be a healthy balance out there.”


Cavanaugh says the Chilean Sea Bass is only the latest species to be overharvested to meet a
hot trend in food.


For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

Related Links

Chefs Serve Up Fish Conservation

  • Rick Bayless, a co-founder of Chefs Collaborative, is working to persuade other chefs to think about the environment when they make their decisions about food.

Some restauranteurs are looking at the effect they’re having on the world’s ecology, and as a result their chefs are changing their menus and their recipes so that there’s less pressure on some kinds of fish species. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Some restaurateurs are looking at the effect they’re having on the world’s ecology. And as a result their chefs are changing their menus and their recipes so that there’s less pressure on some kinds of fish species. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

It’s the middle of the week and there’s already more than an hour wait to get a table at this trendy Chicago restaurant. The Frontera Grill is the domain of executive chef and owner Rick Bayless. Bayless is known for several things: a television show on public TV, redefining Mexican cuisine, and co-founding a group that’s concerned about the impact chefs’ decisions have on the environment. The group Chefs Collaborative is especially concerned about what it calls “ecologically responsible seafood procurement.” It’s calling on chefs to learn about which fish species are over-fished, to ask questions of fish providers about the size and quantity of the catch, and to think about what they can do about taking pressure off of depleted fish supplies. The problem is that many of the world’s more popular fish species have been in such high demand; they’re being fished nearly out of existence.

Chef Bayless says restaurants and their chefs play a major role in fish consumption. By making a particular type of fish popular to eat, chefs also help decide what people eat at home or demand from other restaurants. So a chef can make a difference. Bayless says instead of using a popular fish that’s seen its numbers decline due to over-fishing, the chef can substitute another kind of fish, or if necessary take it off the menu.

“I would say that we have taken off – we used to do Chilean sea bass; we no longer do it. We used to do a lot of blue fin tuna; we don’t do hardly any of that anymore. We rarely serve snapper because that’s become a pretty heavily fished species. There’s a lot of things we don’t do that we used to because we realize that diversity is going to be the answer to not over-fishing.”

But the effort to get chefs to think about the ecological consequences of their decisions isn’t embraced by everyone. Many chefs take pride in serving only the very best regardless of the financial or environmental cost. So, some chefs are not willing to take a popular fish off the menu. Bayless says they’ll keep using an over-fished species even though they know the fish’s population is being depleted.

“There’s some great chefs in this country that have more or less made their reputations on dishes that involve Chilean sea bass. And they’re going to be the last ones to change because they think of these dishes as their signatures, so a lot of those guys will shy away from these kinds of discussions.”

And if the chefs demand a fish at any price, there will always be some commercial fishers who will provide it if they can.

Peter Jarvis operates Triar Seafood in Hollywood, Florida. He supplies fish to chefs across the nation. Jarvis says some of his chefs are concerned about over-fishing. They know that certain ocean fish have dropped in numbers and have dropped in size in the past. But sometimes their information is out-dated. Back in the 1980s the Reagan administration pushed the international boundary waters out to 200 miles off the coast.
Then federal agencies closed or restricted fishing for certain species. Some of those populations have rebounded. So, Jarvis says it’s important that chefs talk to their providers rather than make decisions on old information. But Jarvis says it’s a different story farther out in international waters, and along the coasts of other nations. There, he says, little is done to check over-harvesting.

“We don’t seem to have a very good handle on the over-fishing situation outside of our own borders. You know, you go two-hundred miles off into international waters and it’s all renegades out there with very large vessels that are just pillaging the waters.”

And some chefs resort to buying fish from those sources or from countries with weak conservation laws. Even more bothersome to Jarvis are huge trawlers taking tons of fish for fish sticks and fast food fish sandwiches. But Jarvis says the more sophisticated consumer, the kind who frequents upscale restaurants, seems to be willing to put up with some changes on the menu. Chefs tell him that many of their patrons are willing to be flexible.

At the Frontera Grill, the patrons we talked to seemed to agree. We asked Lyn Schroth how she would feel if her favorite restaurant dropped a dish from the menu because that fish was being over-harvested.

“I’d be very happy with them because I wouldn’t want to eat anything that – you know, I’m a big animal lover, okay? And, most the time I don’t know what’s endangered and what’s not. And, the restaurant takes it off the menu, I’m proud of them.”

While restaurant patrons might be willing to make changes for the sake of the environment, getting the message to chefs is harder. Chef Rick Bayless says the culinary schools aren’t talking about the source of foods or the pressure on stocks in the ocean or on the ground with their student chefs.

“I think that’s the biggest disservice this country is making to the next generation of chefs. They’re teaching young chefs mostly to say ‘I’m demanding the best quality,’ but they should be demanding the products that are going to ensure that we have a future. And, they’re not doing that. They’re not teaching them that kind of stuff, about how to be responsible.”

But, Bayless says that some of the young chefs are learning that responsibility on their own through professional organizations such as the Chefs Collaborative and talking with fellow-chefs who are concerned about the environment. And Bayless adds they’re also learning from consumers who put pressure on the restaurants to think about the ecological impact of what they put on the menu.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

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CHEFS SERVE UP FISH CONSERVATION (Short Version)

  • Rick Bayless, a co-founder of Chefs Collaborative, is working to persuade other chefs to think about the environment when they make their decisions about food.

Some chefs are working on campaigns to raise awareness about ocean fish conservation. Their efforts could mean some changes on your favorite restaurant’s menu. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Transcript

Some chefs are working on campaigns to raise awareness about ocean fish conservation. Their efforts could mean some changes on your favorite restaurant’s menu. The Great Lakes Radio Consortium’s Lester Graham reports:

Some celebrity chefs from across the nation are working together to stress the importance of conserving fish species. Several fish have been over-harvested and the chefs are calling on their colleagues and consumers to be more ecologically responsible. Rick Bayless is a chef in Chicago and has a television show on public TV. He says his restaurants and chefs have tried to keep informed about the fish they use.

“And then as we hear that certain things are stressed populations or if, for instance, tuna is not coming in as big as it used to be or marlin from Florida is getting smaller and smaller. And we can see that. And then we’ll all sort of get together and go ‘I think we should really not do this anymore because this doesn’t look very good.”

Bayless and other chefs involved in conservation programs are urging people to use fish in a way that doesn’t continue to cause pressure on the fish populations that are disappearing due to over-harvesting.

For the Great Lakes Radio Consortium, this is Lester Graham.

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