Sea Change

The message is being taken to heart that the seafood you purchase and menu should be of the sustainable variety. Meanwhile, operators also agree that simple seasoning and preparation is often the best hook to reel in the customers.

Sustainability means different things to different parts of foodservice. With respect to seafood, it means not buying species that are endangered, and not sourcing product from harvesters known to overfish certain species or abuse bycatch (everything else that comes up in the net).

Much more than a ripple effect occurred earlier this year when Compass Group announced that it would shift the company’s purchases away from endangered fish species and toward sustainably sourced supplies. The Compass policy impacts approximately one million pounds of fish it purchases annually.

For ‘healthy oceans’: The Compass Group policy is expected to be fully implemented throughout all its divisions within the next three years. Development of purchasing standards, internal compliance mechanisms and chef training will be managed by the Packard Foundation–funded Making Waves Project, a non-profit partnership between Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch Program and the Bon Appetit Management Company Foundation.

Seafood Watch publishes lists of seafood, specific to geographic regions of the country, that are currently “best choices,” “good alternatives” and those to “avoid,” in order to empower consumers and businesses to make choices for “healthy oceans.” (For latest versions of regional guides as well as information on whether it’s farmed or wild-caught, how it was caught and more, visit (

Today, given the growing understanding that menuing only sustainable seafood is the mandate, many operators rely on their seafood purveyor partners to steer them to the “best choices” and “good alternatives,” and they’re finding their customers have also become more knowledgeable consumers. But operators also know that when it comes to seafood preparation, “simple” is usually best.

Leading the way: Bon Appetit, a division of Compass, preceded its parent owner in establishing its own sustainable seafood practices. As such, Jennifer McGann, the firm’s general manager overseeing four Nordstrom department store cafés in Seattle, has few questions about which seafood should be menued.

“Each café is overseen by a sous chef who writes the menus each week based on fresh, seasonal, local and customer requests,” McGann says. “We do what’s on our Seafood Watch list and (procure what’s) available through our seafood company. That’s why we have to plan the menu one week ahead because not everything is available. Now, in Seattle, there’s been a ban on local shellfish—mussels and oysters—because of the red tide (a harmful algal bloom that contains toxins), but shrimp are OK. Salmon is just going out of season so we don’t do it year-round.” Nor is farm-raised salmon served in cafés.

Tilapia, salsa team up: Tilapia, farmed in the United States, is not restricted, and it’s high on the list of favorites among her approximately 700 daily lunchtime customers, McGann reports. “We use a lot of it and it’s very cost effective,” she says. “Tilapia is like a chameleon and will take on other flavors. We have one dish on the line at the Expo station that’s very basic. It’s sautéed to order in olive oil with shallots, then served with an heirloom tomato salad with basil. But every time we do tilapia or halibut with a mango or other fruit salsa on it—typically in the summer—it’s a sell-out. It’s so ‘old school’ to me, but customers love it.”

McGann, originally trained as a chef, is a fan of black cod—sable fish from Alaska and British Columbia—and is pleased that black cod from California, Oregon and Washington is also on the “good alternatives” Seafood Watch list. One week per month she serves the same dish Monday through Friday—menued as “The Dish”—chosen from one of the fish on the “best choices” list.

“We recently did kasu-marinated black cod as ‘The Dish,’” she says, explaining that kasu is a by-product of saki production. “A thick, fermented rice sludge is left in the barrels. There’s enough sugar and acid in the kasu to tenderize the fish without adding anything else. Then we grill or sauté the three-to-four-ounce portions of cod.

We’ve served it with baby bok choy sprinkled with sesame seeds and drizzled sesame oil.”

Kudos for crab cakes: Come Dec. 1, Dungeness crab—from Dungeness, Wash.—will be in season (through Sept. 15) and McGann knows her crab cakes will be solid sellers. “Dungeness crab is some of the best in the world,” she points out. “It’s cost prohibitive but that’s why a crab cake is perfect, since it’s a mixture and a relatively small portion.”

Usually, she plates two small cakes or one large one for lunch, to serve with a remoulade—perhaps of celery root—along with a vegetable or minced greens, from a local farm, served with a vinaigrette, all priced to sell at $6.29 in this subsidized account.

Customers are particularly health-conscious at the Vancouver, WA, headquarters of Nautilus, the fitness equipment manufacturer, also a Bon Appetit account. Executive chef Robert Harper finds that although he does menu cheeseburgers and other traditional American comfort foods at The Training Table dining room, his approximately 250 customers really enjoy seafood, notably salmon burgers with dill aioli on locally baked ciabatta served with a side of bistro fries prepared from organic fingerling potatoes.

Salmon burgers a cinch: “I get a whole nine-pound side of salmon, skin and fillet it, then chunk it into three-pound fillets,” he reports. “I put a few chunks at a time into a food processor along with onions, garlic, celery, scallions and parsley, then pulse it with a bit of olive oil, egg, salt and pepper. Using a five-ounce scoop to portion, I form burgers to be grilled, baked or barbecued to order. We’ll warm the bread on the grill or flat top, spread it with dill aioli, add green leaf, tomato and sometimes onion, then serve with the fries from the oven plus cole slaw.”

Black cod, a very buttery, flaky white fish, is a  cinch to prepare, seasoned with just a pinch of salt and pepper. erved over braised local greens, people really go for it. “Just keep it simple,” Harper asserts.

For the Eat Local Challenge that Bon Appetit ran early last month Harper menued local coho salmon from Gherabaldi, Ore. “We served it with a wild mushroom compound butter from a local creamery,” he recalls. “I used chanterelles from Esta Cada, Ore, and lobster mushrooms—they’re red and taste a bit like lobster—from Clatsop County in Oregon. The five-ounce portions of salmon were baked five to eight minutes and served over red chard from Oregon City, Ore.”

Salmon is also a popular omelet ingredient and Harper menus it for breakfast—a good deal priced at $4.95—with béarnaise sauce and hash brown potatoes. The salmon is typically baked ahead of service, crumbled, chilled, then heated on the flat-top grill as needed. To prepare, he makes the omelet, tops it with salmon and a cheese blend of Cheddar and Monterey Jack, plus raw green onions, then folds it in half and pours the sauce on top.

Catfish in NYC: There’s always one seafood item on the grill and often one at the station for sustainable cuisine within the International Café at Merrill Lynch, a Sodexho account in New York that serves 1,500 to 1,600 daily lunchtime customers. According to executive chef Guillermo Tellez, a lot of shrimp is menued here and generally incorporated into pastas and salads. He finds that farm-raised catfish is growing in popularity and compares it to chicken, since its taste is mild and it quickly takes on the flavors of other ingredients.

“We try to keep it very simple and find that Cajun-style goes over well,” he says. “We’ll make a marinade with Cajun seasoning, then give it a nut or grain crust and pan-sear it—everything is very simple in order not to mask the flavors. Sometimes we’ll top it with a beurre blanc or a really nice herb vinaigrette—very simple stuff.”

Tellez and his customers are fans of a wide array of seafood including Copper River (Alaska) salmon, halibut from Alaska and California, and farm-raised sea bass. “We were using farm-raised salmon but now we’re serving it only for dinner.” he says. “At lunch, it’s the Copper River salmon—because of the fat content, it melts in your mouth.

“I really like to submerge the fish in a container with olive oil, spices, fresh herbs and garlic,” he continues. “I place it in a 250°F to 275°F oven and cook it very slowly for about 40 minutes to an hour as it slowly picks up the flavors. Then I take it out and plate it up with a grain salad or with creamy truffle mashed potatoes, one of my favorites. Some things, like butter and cream, you should never skimp on. These potatoes have to have the fat. But we offer a lot of options, including grains, for the health-conscious. And the Cajun catfish can be served with stir-fried vegetables, plus brown rice is always on hand. So we change things around to give options.”

Tellez believes that mahi mahi, grilled tuna and farm-raised salmon are more popular than Copper River salmon at his location simply because of their lower fat content, since his customers want to save calories and fat grams so they can enjoy cookies after their meal. “We go through 300 to 400 cookies a day,” he reports. “I think everything in moderation (is OK). I, myself, am trying to learn to eat like a normal person instead of tasting everything. But I do love seafood.”

South of the border snapper: Originally from Mexico, Tellez menued an authentic Snapper a la Veracruzana (i.e., Vera Cruz-style) during the Mexican week-long celebration for Hispanic Heritage month (which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15).

To prepare, sauté red, green and yellow bell peppers, olives, onions, garlic, capers, tomatoes and lemon juice. Pan-sear the snapper—seasoned with olive oil, salt and pepper—on medium-high heat to crisp the skin, then flip it and remove from the pan after a few minutes. He suggests serving snapper with refried beans that have been cooked for a long time—long enough for them to become the consistency of mashed potatoes.

“More and more we’re trying to do our part here in offering healthy cuisine,” Tellez points out. “You speak to a purveyor and they tell you whether they can get the fish you want. We try to stay away from endangered species such as Chilean sea bass and swordfish. I do a lot of reading since you have to know where your stuff is coming from.”

On college campuses across the country, “especially in more environmentally sensitive schools,” the Chartwells Higher Education division of Compass Group is “enjoying a very good notoriety…since we said we were switching to sustainable seafood,” notes Jim Bressi, the division’s corporate executive chef.

“But some students don’t understand why we’d go to wild cod, for example, when we’d been serving farm-raised. Of course, there are farms that are doing exceptional jobs with tilapia, catfish, certain species of shrimp and also salmon. Today, we find students are being more creative in their eating habits and enjoying the health benefits of these fish. Sure, fish sticks will always be popular and often we do our own, generally using pollock.”

Fish ’n chips substitution: In several campus pub–style locations where traditional fish and chips are menued, the switch has been made from cod to pollock after providing students with the reasons why this was environmentally appropriate. “Atlantic cod is very sweet because of how it feeds on larger fish, but in a blind taste-testing in our kitchens, only the gentlemen from the U.K.—who were brought up on cod—were able to tell the difference,” Bressi points out.

At numerous exhibition stations at Chartwells locations across the country, including Marywood University in Scranton, Penn., tilapia, catfish or salmon are often prepared in a very simple, straightforward way with an orange and horseradish crust. Panko breadcrumbs, blended with butter, are incorporated with orange juice and seasonings, then packed lightly on top of the fillet and baked in the oven.

About 200 pounds of salmon are served every day in the residential dining hall as well as in a retail grab-and-go area on campus at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore. Michael Gueiss, Aramark’s resident executive chef on campus, underscores the emphasis placed on healthful preparation with high quality and smaller portions.

“In residential dining, there’s a grilled concept with salmon or tuna—we serve about 175 pounds of tuna every third day—to top a salad,” Gueiss explains. “Also, sides of salmon are marinated with herbs and oil, roasted, then thin-carved for about a four-ounce portion. We receive our salmon from the distributor and we’re working on (procuring from) local, sustainable sources—some farm-raised is considered sustainable. We order whatever is considered safe and we depend upon the distributor—it’s a partnership. You really have to trust who you’re buying from.”

Local sourcing: Gueiss says he also is sourcing local rock fish, a.k.a. striped bass, which were still running in the Baltimore/Chesapeake Bay area. “It’s a very mild, clean-tasting fish with firm flesh,” he says. “I’d grill it or do a nice pan-sear on a flat-top grill to serve with a salad or incorporate it in the retail operation, perhaps as a sandwich or in a stir-fry.”

Since February, a different country is the focus of Eating Around the World every Tuesday in the cafeteria at 120-bed Feather River Hospital in Paradise, Calf. It’s a program that chef Ira Poritzky finds the approximately 350 to 400 lunchtime café customers really look forward to so he’s happy to do the research and solicit recipes from the staff. And seafood has been the featured entrée on several occasions.

A Portuguese Bacalao: “When we ‘visited’ Portugal, where they use a lot of dry salt cod, I prepared Bacalao, using fresh cod instead,” Poritzky explains. “You combine tomato sauce with red onion, red and green bell pepper, celery, sliced tomatoes, garlic and extra virgin olive oil. All ingredients, including the raw fish, are baked in a 350°F oven for about an hour-and-a-half.

“Since it’s covered with foil, the flavors marry for a very moist and tasty dish,” he adds. “I served it with a mushroom risotto and a vegetable ratatouille. Typically our lunchtime customers—including about 5% to 10% walk-ins from the neighborhood—are always looking for something different.”

Affordable purchasing shifts: The Compass Group sustainable seafood policy is just now being rolled out to Morrison accounts. At this juncture, management personnel, including Lenny Scranton, vice president of culinary and vending services for Morrison Healthcare Food Service, are “working closely with purveyors to get there,” Scranton says.

“Atlantic cod is still one of the most popular species among our guests but Pacific cod and Alaskan pollock are similar and sustainable,” he notes. “So we’re trying to get Atlantic cod off our menus while keeping in mind that customer satisfaction is one of our biggest objectives. We’re also trying to reduce the amount of farm-raised salmon purchased and convert to Alaskan salmon. It’s not more costly when you can make the commitment to a large volume. Converting to Alaskan pollock (from Atlantic cod) will be financially beneficial and will offset the financial impact of other species.”

It would be hard to name a type of seafood that’s not menued at one time or another at Shannondell at Valley Forge, a continuing care retirement community (CCRC) in Audubon, Penn. In fact, the four dining venues, serving 780 independent living residents, menu 21 to 23 entrees nightly; of these, more than 25% are seafood-based, according to Craig Brown, senior director of dining at this Sodexho location.

Old-time Imperial choice: “Generally, we always try to have a simply-prepared dish among the selections, and broiled flounder is available every night along with crab cakes and a shrimp fry,” Brown reports. “A typical menu might include such selections as crab imperial stuffed flounder, pan-broiled salmon, lump crab cake and a fried shrimp platter. Crab imperial stuffed flounder is very popular here because it’s something that generation (the average age of residents here is 73-1/2) is used to.”

Salmon, in any version, is the most popular seafood overall, and Brown finds he can’t menu it enough.

Depending upon what’s available from his purveyors, he might serve Chilean or West Coast salmon prepared with sun-dried tomato butter or perhaps an Asian-style barbecued salmon with fresh sliced mango.

Since there are so many entrees menued, keeping enough stock on hand could pose a challenge, but Brown is adept at second-guessing how many residents will choose which entrée. “Ninety percent of our seafood is fresh and it’s delivered seven days a week,” he says. “That’s a lot easier since the seafood company is built to store it properly. Basically, we’re operating a day behind, so there’s a one day turnaround.”     

Hyatt Brings ‘Zest’ to Seniors

Last May, Classic Residence by Hyatt presented a month-long World of Citrus Flavors promotion, introducing new citrus dishes—including several featuring seafood—to residents in seven of its luxury senior living communities in Florida.

Chefs combined fresh citrus with the colors and aromas of Mediterranean, Latin American, Asian and American Comfort cuisine, each for a one-week focus. So successful was the promo that it will run again in February 2007, but this time in all of the 18 Classic Residence by Hyatt locations throughout the country, notes Don Clawson, the chain’s assistant vice president for food and beverage.

Natural choice: Seafood—which comprises 40% of all entrées regularly menued in the Residences—was a natural, paired with various types of citrus. “We did grouper with grapefruit ceviche during the Latin American week,” Clawson says, “using a recipe from Sunkist Growers that was adapted by Allen Susser of the well-known Chef Allen’s restaurant in Aventura, Fla. Since it’s nearby our Aventura community, he visited and demonstrated several of his citrus specialties.”

Tangelo and rum-glazed shrimp was also featured that week. To prepare, tangelo oranges were juiced and whisked together with minced garlic, thyme, bay leaves, dark rum, brown sugar and vinegar. The shrimp (16/20 count, shelled and deveined) are marinated for five minutes on each side, then cooked and stirred until the liquid is reduced to a glaze.

To plate, the shrimp are arranged with orange sections or slices, along with a Caribbean ratatouille. The Asian seafood selection featured Satsuma seared tuna, a baked dish complemented by mandarin oranges, while a Mediterranean week entrée was grilled balsamic and Sunkist grapefruit glazed salmon.

Getting fresh: “For the coming promotion in February, I’m going to allow our local chefs to adapt recipes and selections of seafood to local tastes,” Clawson says. “In the Midwest, there’s a lot of trout and fresh-water fish (available to our accounts), while on the West Coast you see salmon, Petrale sole and yellow fin tuna. So the menu really changes by locale.”