Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Sea Change

"The sea, the great unifier, is man's only hope. Now, as never before, the old phrase has a literal meaning: we are all in the same boat. "
Jacques Yves Cousteau

When I attended the Culinary Institute of America, seven days were devoted to the identification, preparation, butchering, proper handling and storing of all things from the precious waters of our lands.  My instructor was a cantankerous and passionate former Marine by the name of Chef "Corky" Clarke.  He is legend at CIA.  To mishandle seafood in his kitchen was akin to hurling a tomato at a statue of the Virgin Mary.  I emerged from my seven days in a fog, as if I had been smacked in the gob repeatedly with cold mackerel.  I didn't so much have an aversion to delicacies of the sea as I did his abrasive style of teaching.  I didn't understand what fueled his love for the sea, so I was elated then to move on to the next block.  Imagine the irony when I landed my first job out of school as chef of a seafood restaurant.    It took all of one week for humility and reality to sink in:  the sea was my muse.   

On a typical restaurant menu, you'll likely see beef, chicken, lamb, pork and sometimes, veal, as sure as you'll see salads, soup, appetizers and dessert.  When a restaurant includes seafood, you're likely to see salmon, shrimp, crab (in this region) and if you're lucky scallops.  The closer to coastal areas you are, mussels and clams are likely to be available, with lobster the mother of all menu real estate. 

Imagine having an enormous, far-reaching palette of flavors and choices that encompasses dozens of textures and possible preparations.  While working with these various species you daily discover why each must be treated with respect and care to allow the ideal enjoyment.  It's a daunting responsibility.  I don't watch the show, but I heard about an episode when Iron Chef Morimoto chided Bobby Flay for his cavalier handling of a whole salmon fillet.  I get it, now.    

I'm a chef, and I write a blog about food and wine.  As is common, I discuss the symptoms of an industry anomaly, but generally champion the greater cause.  What troubling times these are.  The recent catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico is nothing short of a modern day Chernobyl.  Its effects are environmentally devastating and long-lasting.  Yet, it's only become the focus of the MSM within the last week or so.  We've focused on what we're fed in the headlines, easily distracted by a Hollywood divorce or viral YouTube video.  After over 40 days of hemorrhaging crude oil, the toppled Gulf oil rig has only just made it to the forefront of the news.  And, there are no signs of stanching the devastating flow, which many now acknowledge could continue into late summer.

Occasionally when ordering seafood, there can be a red tide or some other form of environmental threat that puts the availability of say, oysters, rockfish or other forms of seafood on temporary hold.  It passes, and we go back to ordering it again, mildly miffed at the setback.  The current oil spill will not only deplete the region of indigenous sea life, it ends the jobs of those who fish for it, process it, sell it, buy it, cook it and serve it.  And that's just seafood.

The time for thinking outside the box has passed.  This is not a potential threat, it's upon us with irreversible effects, and those effects are not just relegated to a loss of Louisiana shrimp and oil-soaked pelicans.  It doesn't take a degree in marine biology to follow the line of thinking that beyond the seafood industry, there are multiple other forms of collateral damage waiting to unfurl.  Beyond the wildlife, also affected are insects, marshes, beaches, boating, inlets, harbors, turtles, drinking water supplies and tourism; an entire ecology and economy is rocked to its core, not because of a spill, but because of an irresponsibility to devise solutions for inevitable disasters, not potential ones.

It's the duty of someone else other than me to attribute both the financial impact and political blame for this tragedy.  Unfortunately, that is how we rate disasters of this magnitude.  There will be far too few discussions about how this outcome is just one example of how far beyond oil-dependence we are as a planet.  From Chernobyl to 9/11, hurricane Katrina to the Gulf spill- whenever safety and preservation are pushed to the forefront of a national discussion, we continue to do nothing.  We are guilty of repeating the gravest error that man can commit against himself: indifference.

(end Part I)

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I guess I'll skip the part about planets safety and the indifference people tend to show (though all the time help is sent from all around the world and I'm not really sure what had to be done to stop Katrina) and all, and just go stright to eating and cooking :)
From all the fish I have caught (plaice, perch, carp and such) and which I have had the pleasure to eat (salmon, cat fish, trout) there is no better fish than the pike. Not even taking in account that everything tastes better if you have caught and prepared it yourself, the pike is the best fish cooked with no additional spices, except salt. Clean it, gut it, cut it, salt it, fry it. The interesting thing I have noticed (which may sound a little barbarian) one should not wash the fish after gutting. If everything is done right, there are no blood and other "unpleasenties", but only the taste is left.
So, yeah... Go pike!


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