By Meghan MacGillivray
A sushi-loving chef finds redemption in a sustainable fish supplier.
I was born and raised in Laguna Beach, California and went to both undergrad and grad school in Southern California. In 2010 my husband was transferred to Austin, Texas and I was accepted to the Escoffier School of Culinary Arts for the 2010-2011 term. This experience both opened my eyes to new preparations of foods, and greatly increased my knowledge of the culinary arts. Ever since completing the program last September I’ve remained zealous about cooking and am currently in the process of creating a cookbook dedicated to sustainable and healthy eating. This passion has only increased as I moved back to Laguna Beach, have become more involved in the One World One Ocean campaign and continue to learn more about sustainable seafood.
Four years ago I was given a challenge by a friend that I wouldn’t be able to go 3 days without eating meat. Flash-forward to 2012 and I’m still not eating meat, instead devoting myself to being a “pescetarian” or one who chooses to not eat meat, but eats fish. During my year-long experience in culinary school this became very difficult. I couldn’t taste the meats I was preparing, and had to rely on sight and feel to know when the correct temperature and firmness was reached. I soon realized that completing culinary school without eating meat or poultry was going to be impossible, so I decided to be a “demi-pescetarian.”
Because my greatest aversion health-wise is to red meat, I decided I would stay away from meat, but allow myself to taste the sauce, to know that the flavor was correct; I would allow myself to taste the chicken if necessary, and to use stock in my sauces. It allowed me to complete culinary school with the confidence that I do know my product and know how to cook food correctly, without depleting my sense of self. It has made me realize the importance of fish as a food source, and how crucial it is to know how to use it in different and interesting ways.
One of my favorite foods is sushi. Growing up in Laguna Beach I enjoyed this delicacy almost three times a week. However, since learning about sustainability issues like declining fish populations, I made the choice three years ago to only eat sustainable and responsibly-caught fish, relying on my trusty Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Guide. So my already limited options (I have a serious shellfish allergy) became even more limited. I soon realized I would have to get creative in order to produce new and interesting dishes that used sustainable fish. Being a demi-pescetarian has had its challenges, but it led to a great discovery.
By chance I found a website dedicated to providing delicious, sustainable, sushi-grade fish delivered to your door. Discovering this site was like a ray of sunlight in my sushi-barren life. It’s called I Love Blue Sea and is based in San Francisco. It’s pricey (fish can range from $15.00 a pound to $34.00 a pound), but if you are a sushi fanatic like me, it’s well worth it to enjoy this delicacy that is becoming limited in the wild, and know that you are not hurting the ocean in the process. The company finds sustainable fisheries all over the world and does extensive checks to make sure all of the fish supplied are responsibly and sustainably caught or farmed. They offer next-day delivery service, and the fish arrives packed in a cooler, fresh, and ready to be devoured.
Since it was my aspiration to have a sushi making party I needed a variety of fish that would make easy and delectable sushi rolls. I chose varieties of fish I haven’t had in years to make the selection interesting and diverse. I decided to order Albacore Loin which was caught with pole and line in the Pacific Northwest. The Hawaiian Albacore I ordered, called Tombo in restaurants is one of my favorite fish for sushi and was caught with hook and line off of Hawaii. The last fish I ordered was Hawaiian Yellowtail, also called Kampachi, which was sustainably and responsibly farmed off the coast of Kona, Hawaii. The website assures that these fish are “raised in ocean pens… at a depth of 200 feet, with fast moving currents that ensure that the aquaculture operations do not affect water quality or damage coral reef habitats.”
I Love Blue Sea also offers clams, mussels and oysters. Having recently discovered that I can eat mussels, I purchased New Zealand Green Lipped Mussels which are sustainably raised and delivered live, pre-cleaned. They are extremely user-friendly as you simply have to empty the bag into the pot, add your sauce ingredients, and voila! Instant mussel dish. Combining wine, vermouth, shallots, spicy mustard, mustard powder, horseradish, salt and pepper this mussel sauce turned out to be delicious. I served it on top of French fries – a true French specialty. Martin Reed, the founder of I Love Blue Sea communicated to me that he loves “promoting shellfish because they come from the West Coast (local) and are filter feeders so they actually clean the surrounding water” making them essential to a healthy eco-system as well as being sustainable. He also expressed that the “US does a very good job of regulating fisheries and he is a huge believer in eating locally so he tries to source domestically as much as possible.”
Along with the mussel dish, I offered many different options for sushi rolls for my guests. I prepped carrots, cucumber, mango, avocado, seaweed sheets, sticky rice, asparagus and a variety of freshly prepared sauces to complement the different rolls. The guests were able to roll their own sushi, most of them declaring that they had never done so before. They were so excited to eat and share their own sushi that no one sat down to eat. The rolls were devoured standing up, as everyone passed them around and sampled each other’s creations.
Watch our first episode of Boat to Belly a series tracing sustainable seafood through the sourcing process.
Because the fish was so delicious and fresh, I questioned Reed on his ability to confirm sustainability. He stated that they have been using the Monterey Bay Aquarium guide as protocol for their fish, but in an effort to heighten their standards, are conducting first hand evaluations of suppliers operations, and are eliminating any products with questionable alternatives. For example, although they currently source Yellowfin from a sustainable fishery in the Philippines, they are removing it because of the controversy surrounding it.
Although all of the products on the website are confirmed sustainable, they are going through a companywide change in the near future; removing about half of them in order to completely assure the traceability of the fish they supply. Reed said they are shifting to “focus exclusively on seasonal products” and very limits frozen products. He wants to focus on local and domestic fish, working “directly with producers” to obtain the fish right after the catch is landed, in order to assure it was sustainably harvested.
Reed wants to be on the cutting edge of sustainability, and focuses on Monterey Bay’s green items that are sourced domestically and in season. He grew up in the San Francisco Bay and after attending school in Arizona, realized that most of the country was lacking in selection and quality of sustainable seafood that could be ordered and shipped online. He believes that most companies selling “sustainable” options are not verifying their products, and it’s difficult to get consumers to pay more for quality seafood despite the added health benefits. Although I Love Blue Sea would not have struggled as much if they sold staples like farmed salmon and farmed shrimp from Asia, Reed stated that he “didn’t start the business to make money as much as (he) did to build awareness and show that environmental sustainability and economic sustainability are not mutually exclusive.” He hopes to move the “sustainable ball down the field” and continue to raise awareness about sustainability while providing the public with a delicious and healthy alternative.
After experiencing first-hand the quality of I Love Blue Sea’s product and hearing from the founder about his passion for sustainability, I fully recommend anyone to try out the company’s delicious merchandise. I promise you, you will not be disappointed.
To find out more go to Ilovebluesea.com