Under the Sea
From coast to coast, seafood is growing in popularity.
The average American consumed nearly 16 pounds of fish and shellfish in 2009, according to the NOAA Fisheries Service, with shrimp leading the way at 4.1 pounds per capita. But if you are a foodservice operator at a company or institution on the East or West coasts, chances are your customers’ consumption is way above that average.
“New Englanders love their seafood,” says Joe Stanislaw, foodservice director at Elliot Hospital in Manchester, N.H. “We offer everything from fresh salmon to haddock, clams, scallops and shrimp. We also use a lot of tilapia, flounders and, depending on the price, swordfish.”
On Elliot’s patient room service menu, grilled salmon and baked scrod are available every day, while in the cafeteria seafood entrées are menued two or three times a week.
“Customers love our fresh clam chowder,” Stanislaw notes. “We have people who will buy it by the quart to take home with them.”
On the West Coast, too, seafood is an important part of the menu at many institutions, particularly at universities where the customer mix is so diverse.
“We do a lot of seafood, and from a lot of different cultures because of our student population,” says Ida Shen,
executive chef and associate director of Cal Dining at the University of California at Berkeley. “Salmon is the most popular and we have a variety of recipes for it, like ginger scallion and teriyaki. We do a snapper Vera Cruz. We do a lot of mussels, such as in a Thai curry sauce.
“Tilapia is also popular, although we do request that our tilapia come from American farms,” Shen adds. “We recently had an African night, and we offered tilapia—which is an African fish—in a West African spice mix, served with a simple cucumber and tomato salad.”
Hunger for health: At the law firm of Cadwalader, Wickersham & Taft, LLP, in New York City, seafood is popular not only with attorneys and executives but also with other staff members as well—again, in large measure because of health reasons.
“Red meat consumption is down, and more of our customers are turning to fish,” says Carlos Rivera, director of dining services for CulinArt at this account. “We menu it at least two times a week. The most popular items are tilapia, halibut, flounder and scrod.
“The great thing about fish is that you can do so many different things with it,” Rivera adds. “Customers like simple preparations, like a grilled salmon or halibut over field greens with a nice champagne vinaigrette. Sometimes we’ll put a poached salmon out on the carving station instead of a roast turkey.”
Lenny DeMartino, foodservice director for Parkhurst Dining Services at Highmark, a Pittsburgh health insurance provider, says seafood has always been popular at this account.
“People just think it is healthier,” says DeMartino. “We serve fish every Friday, both baked and fried, and we’ve always offered a baked fish on our catering menu. Our prices are generally reasonable and competitive, but even when we do something upscale and charge, say, $6.25, our customers don’t balk.”
Among the seafood items on Highmark’s menu cycle are shrimp Creole, steamed mussels or clams over pasta, salmon, tuna, mahi-mahi and crab. DeMartino says two items that are big sellers are items his chefs have developed: hazelnut- or almond-crusted cod, and wasabi dusted red snapper.
Beyond fishsticks: Operators on the East and West coasts expect that seafood will be a hot seller. But even in the Heartland, as customers develop more sophisticated palates and concern over eating healthfully grows, seafood is rising in popularity.
“When I arrived here four years ago,” says Nancy Levandowski, director of dining services at Iowa State University in Ames, “seafood was pretty much confined to fishsticks and fried catfish. Now, the taste of our customers is growing and our chefs are talking more about health, and so more varieties of fish, such as tilapia and cod, are winding up on the menu.”
Among the seafood items found in campus operations are salmon (poached and placed atop to-go salads and as a sandwich item on ciabatta bread), shrimp (very popular on the Mongolian grill station) and mahi-mahi (used in fish tacos).
At Legacy Retirement Communities in Lincoln, Neb., Foodservice Director Robert Darrah menus fish four nights as an entrée. Cod and salmon can be found as à la carte entrées every night.
“Healthy eating has always been a focus here, and so we’d put fish on the menu for that reason,” Darrah explains. “But our customers are asking for it more and more often these days.”
Walleye and trout are two fish that are popular with residents who grew up in the Midwest, he notes. “Most of the time, when we get requests for things like lobster or crab, they come from people who grew up on the East Coast.”
Most residents like their fish simple and plain, Darrah adds. “When we do scallops, we might do a citrus glaze or a scampi. But a lot of items we broil or bake as is. Residents enjoy the taste, texture and flavor of the fish, and we don’t have to do a lot to it.”