For three years, the single most popular “foodie” event in Sarasota was called Trash Fish Dinner. Lots of us liked the name. It was short, catchy, and easy to remember. But some people couldn’t get past the moniker, as if we were suggesting they dine on fish that belong in the garbage. So it came time to drop the name and the Trash Fish Dinner is now the Sustainable Seafood Dinner, and more popular than ever!
The Sustainable Seafood Dinner is a charity event organized by local members of The Chef’s Collaborative – a national nonprofit network of Chefs and professionals in the food industry with a mission to inspire, educate and celebrate building a better food system. In a nutshell, the Chef’s Collaborative works to encourage sustainable cooking and dining practices that will one day be second nature for every single chef (and diner!) in the United States.
And what is sustainable seafood? In Sarasota that entails locally caught seafood OR seafood that is farmed and cooked beautifully by our local chefs. By using more plentiful fish on their menus, diners are now ordering more sustainable fish, allowing the wild versions of the typically most popular fish to replenish themselves naturally. Additionally, invasive species, like lionfish, which no one thought was edible, has become one of the more requested fish on the menu. Save the good fish, enjoy eating the invasive fish . . . sustainable at its finest!
So with no more ado, your SarasotaFoodies present some of the amazing dishes sampled at the 4th Annual Sustainable Seafood Dinner, which took place (as always) at Louies Modern, downtown Sarasota.
It all started in The Francis Ballroom . . . and for us, the first time we’ve ever tasted stingray. Chef Gerard Jesse from the Seafood Shack in Bradenton presented a bite sized appetizer featuring a Southern Stingray Roulade, dulse, fried shallot and mayhaw jelly. Knowing we had a lot of food ahead of us, we still had seconds. One of my favorite bites of the evening.
Chef Mark Woodruff of M.A.D.E. Restaurant had a lot up his sleeve this evening, as you’ll learn about later. He presented his rendition of a childhood favorite of mine – fish sticks – but his were cooked sous vide and made of Mangrove Snapper, with a sundried tomato chipotle, and billionaire bacon tartar sauce. This dish does not taste anything like the fish sticks mom used to serve our family of six. The texture and flavor were beyond what I initially expected. Additionally, M.A.D.E. served a beet cured Smoked Bonita stuffed in a hard boiled egg with local micro greens and pickled jalapeno bacon jam. (Chef Woodruff is known for his bacon, so I was thrilled he included tastes of it!)
Also a big hit in the Francis Ballroom was a Watermelon Salad and Smoked Eggplant Pâté from Libby’s Cafe. Neither contained fish but were so well paired with the other tasting, I’m glad they were included.
We didn’t get a good photo of Chef Gino Callega’s Seared North Atlantic Scallop with lobster mushroom confit, bacon jam and shaved truffle . . . but trust me . . . that should be one their menu.
Taking a seat in the dining room of Louies Modern we prepared to enjoy a 6-course family style dinner cooked collaboratively by all 11 of the participating chefs. Wine and beer were donated by Southern Glazer Wine & Spirits, who have always been supportive of local causes that educate the public, with the staff of Louies Modern taking control of the service.
First up was Chef Evan Gastman from The Cottage on Siesta Key. His Sunburst Trout is a farmed fish from North Carolina, and about as flavor-filled as any trout you’d ever want. Topped with wood fired, locally sourced mushrooms and fingerling potatoes in a Darwin Brewing citrus Beer blanc, the smoky taste really came through this dish. Sitting on a stunning summer pea purée, and topped with a bit of crunch from a sun choke salad, this was a great start to the dinner. (Thank goodness for family style serving, as we could pace ourselves.)
Saying that, portion control wasn’t easy. Our second course, presented by Chef Steven Phelps’ Everglades Bake was irresistible and virtually impossible to take only a small portion. Two Docks Clams, Beeliners (a little snapper that grows in the wild in the Gulf of Mexico) and the aforementioned invasive Lionfish made up the seafood stars of the Everglades Bake. The fish, potatoes, white wine, and garlic were dressed with Chef’s Everglades butter; essentially whipped butter, lime, fresh garlic, parsley, tarragon and that Everglades spice you can buy at the local grocery store. No wonder his restaurant’s name is Indigenous! Everything in this dish can be found in Southwest Florida! (This is cute: Chef Phelps bought every single casserole dish from The Women’s Exchange, a local women’s charity, in order to serve the 30 or more portions featured!)
For the third course, our friends at the Sandbar, located right on Bradenton Beach, sent Chef Eric Walker to present a beautiful Golden Tilefish with ratatouille and wild mushrooms. The Tilefish, a local gulf fish, was salt crusted and baked in a cast iron skillet, making for a delightful presentation. I especially like the paper thin slices of cucumber on the ratatouille . . . the layering of the cucumber resembled the scales of a fish. Awesome!
Course number 4 was present by Veronica Fish and Oyster Bar’s Chef Mark Majorie. One of the simplest presentations, his Brandade crusted Barramundi was anything but basic. Pan seared and then baked to the perfect, flaky consistency typically found in sea bass, the barramundi is actually known as Asian sea bass and is quite popular in Thai cooking. Being farm raised in San Diego, this dish delivers on that flavor and texture so many of us like, expertly dressed with Chef Majorie’s persillade (a green French parsley sauce) and scallions.
One of my favorite dishes, course number 5, came from Louies Modern. And why not! Chef Jose Rojas took locally sourced Mullet and served it Goan style, curried with coconut and tamarind inside an acorn squash. You could scrape down the sides of the squash into the curry broth, or spoon the broth over the basmati rice. A little cilantro always brightens a dish for me, and the mango raita ( an Indian yogurt dish) really brought a hint of sweetness to the curry seasoning. How I wished I could take some of this dish home with me, but alas . . . not a morsel remained at our table. I didn’t waste a moment asking Chef Rojas to PLEASE add this dish to their regular menu and let everyone know when he does.
The final dish of the night was the most surprising, namely a Squid Ink Black Chocolate Cake with a layer of Hazelnut Crunch, presented by Mattison’s Chef Ray Lajoie. I would suggest this cake to anyone planning a special occasion, especially a wedding with a seaside theme. Every bit of it was edible, and every bite of it delicious. Such fun, as well. I can just envision a bride and her fisherman groom perched on top of a tiered version of this cake, surrounded by blue splashes of the sea and little gold fish!
Speaking of weddings, Chef Mark Woodruff was brought up to talk about the popularity of sustainable fishing over the past few years, and at the end of his talk, he mentioned all the chefs, organizers, sponsors and guests who make the Sustainable Seafood Dinner possible. He then asked Katelyn Prisco, his girlfriend of four years, what he called “the most important question I’ll ever ask,” then taking a knee he asked her to be his wife. Naturally, Katelyn said yes! Who wouldn’t want a award winning chef for a husband? Congratulations were certainly in order!
I always end every
Trash Fish Sustainable Seafood Dinner with a special shout out to Edible Sarasota and Nikki Logan from Hitched and Honey. These ladies and their husbands are becoming local legends in all things related to sustainable farming, fishing, and dining. The hours they put into this event isn’t lost on us. Every year their dinner sells out. Every year more and more award winning chefs want to participate, and more importantly, every year more of our local fish get an opportunity to rebound from overfishing as we learn new ways to enjoy the bounty of the sea.
Thanks for teaching us to eat sustainable! We’re hooked! See you next year!