Edible Monterey Bay

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From left to right: Roy Yamaguchi, Roy’s; Ed Kenny, Town Kaimuki;
Mark Pomaski, Roy’s; Pablo Mellin, Roy’s; Dave Caldiero, Town Kaimuki.  

It was only fitting that amid the dozens of special meals held as part of the 2011 Pebble Beach Food & Wine extravaganza, the one that focused on sustainable seafood was also the one that shone a light on our region’s home team of talented chefs and vintners.

Representing the Monterey Bay area for the featured lunch, “Sustainable Delicacies from the Sea,” held on Friday, April 29, were Jeff Rogers, the Monterey Bay Aquarium executive chef, and Ted Walter, chef of Passionfish in Pacific Grove. And present to introduce his wine was Randall Grahm, founder of Bonny Doon Vineyard of Santa Cruz.

Ted Walter and Randall Grahm
Ted Walter and Randall Grahm

What’s more, Roy Yamaguchi, who is more often at his namesake restaurant in Honolulu but also owns a Pebble Beach outpost at Spanish Bay, the very location of the event, was also on hand to cook.

Like chefs living next to any ocean fishery, the Monterey Bay chefs have watched from front-row seats the devastation of sea life that has made sustainability an issue.

When Passionfish first opened in the late 1990s, “we got 80% of our fish from the Bay, and had 10 different fish dishes on the menu,” Walter said after the lunch.

“Now sometimes we have as few as five on the menu and nothing from here,” because at times so little fish that meets the restaurant’s strict standards for sustainability can be found—or it is simply too expensive for customers to stomach, Walter said.

Indeed, in her remarks at the lunch, Sheila Bowman, senior outreach manager for the Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, noted that 90% of popular, large predatory fish like salmon and tuna have already been lost.

The Aquarium has responded to the crisis on several fronts, including research, lobbying and the outreach programs run by Seafood Watch, which promotes awareness of the plight of the oceans and ways to help. (The Aquarium has also has for 10 years been organizing its own local food and wine event, Cooking for Solutions, which is devoted exclusively to sustainability and will take place this year from May 20–22.)

But the mood at the lunch was anything but gloomy, and the chefs managed to come up with an array of delectable and inventive fish dishes to pass Seafood Watch’s muster.

“It’s not about giving up seafood,” Bowman said. “It’s about making the right choices.”

“This is the first year that we did something to highlight the hard work that [the Monterey Bay Aquarium and the participating local chefs] do all year long, nationally, all from our own backyard,” said David Bernahl, co-founder and partner of Coastal Luxury Management, the event organizer. “These guys don’t just do this now because it’s topical.”

While winds kicked up whitecaps on the ocean below, the lunch started with appetizers prepared by the Aquarium’s Rogers on the sunny terrace outside Roy’s. Among them, spot prawns were served in tiny cups of fragrant saffron-fennel broth, and olive oil–poached Pacific cod became the succulent star of tiny tostadas.

Ed Kenny of Town Kaimuki in Honolulu followed up with buttery local Morro Bay black cod—and paired it with his own local Hawaiian hand-pounded pa’i ‘ai, or hand-made poi, a food which has become something of touchstone in the movement to reclaim Hawaii’s culinary heritage. The dish also included limu, an algae that has been used as a seasoning in Hawaiian cooking since ancient times.

Walter’s offering, which he developed especially for the Pebble Beach event, combines delicate Alaskan halibut with bright spring vegetables and an Asian-inflected, explosively vibrant sauce. The recipe, which gets its pop from tamarind, tangerines and ginger, can be found below.

For his dish, Yamaguchi served swordfish over a rich Chinese-style pepeiao mushroom and pork shank cassoulet. To ensure that the dish was sustainable, he brought his fish along with him from Hawaii.

“Sustainability is extremely important to me. What we’re trying to do is make people more aware of sustainability,” Yamaguchi said.

Yamaguchi noted that sustainability was actually a big part of traditional Hawaiian culture, reinforced by Ahupua’a, or traditional triangle-shaped subdivisions of land that created communities which lived in harmony with nature and, because they ran from the sides of volcanoes down to the sea, included all the resources and climatic zones needed to be self-sufficient.

“Culture, food and sustainability were all tied together,” he said.

Yamaguchi believes that culture and food continue to be inseparable, and he’s seeking to help showcase and revive traditional ways through the first Hawaii Food & Wine Festival, which he’ll co-chair in September.

Looking ahead, Passionfish’s Walter fears that the day could come when the decline of wild fish populations and subsequent price hikes could force restaurants like his to stop serving wild fish entirely.

But there is also good news. Each year brings improved legislation and there is better knowledge of fishery management than there used to be, Walter said. Marine sanctuaries are also helping to revive fish stocks.

And locally, organizations like the Aquarium and restaurants like Passionfish will continue to do their part.

Cindy Walter, Ted’s wife and the head of the restaurant’s business operations, spearheaded the passage of a sustainable seafood ordinance in Pacific Grove and remains a passionate advocate for improved fisheries legislation at the state and national level.

And the Walters would rather serve something else than purchase wild fish unless it comes from a healthy fish stock and was caught with a method that neither damages ocean habitat nor inadvertently destroys other kinds of sea life.

The efforts have won the Walters accolades for their public service as well as their cuisine and wine list.

“I’m hoping we maintain our fishery so we’re able to enjoy it in the future,” Walter said.



Courtesy of chef Ted Walter
Passionfish, Pacific Grove

Four servings

2 cloves garlic, chopped
1-inch knob of ginger, chopped
1 tablespoon fish sauce
1 tablespoon lime juice
1 tablespoon tamarind paste*
1/2 cup tangerine juice
1 cup tangerine segments

4 6-ounce portions halibut
1 cup snap peas, diced
1 cup asparagus, diced
1/2 cup radishes, chopped
1/4 cup chicken broth
2 tablespoons butter

For the sauce, combine first seven ingredients in a blender. Season to taste.

Grill the halibut until done. Season. While the halibut is cooking, boil the chicken broth and then add the vegetables and butter. Cook just until just heated through. Season.

Divide vegetables between four plates, placing them to one side of each plate. Place sauce next to vegetables and position fish on top. (See accompanying photo.)

*Walter uses block-style, Dragon 88 Brand seedless tamarind to make his tamarind paste. He first soaks the tamarind in warm water, and then works it into a soft paste. Various brands of cellophane-wrapped blocks of tamarind, also known as “wet” tamarind, can be found in Asian markets. Avoid using bottled tamarind paste or bottled tamarind concentrate, as their flavor and color are very different from the freshly prepared. If bottled must be used, it will also need to be diluted and should be used sparingly and added gradually.

About the author

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SARAH WOOD—founding editor and publisher of Edible Monterey Bay—has had a life-long passion for food, cooking, people and our planet.

She planted her first organic garden and cared for her first chicken when she was in elementary school in a farming region of Upstate New York.

Wood spent the early part of her career based in Ottawa, Canada, working in international development and international education. After considering culinary school, she opted to pursue her loves for writing, learning about the world and helping make it a better place by obtaining a fellowship and an MA in Journalism from New York University.

While working for a daily newspaper in New Jersey, she wrote stories that helped farmers fend off development and won a state-wide public service award from the New Jersey Press Association for an investigative series of articles about a slumlord who had hoodwinked ratings agencies and investment banks into propping him up with some early commercial mortgage securitizations. The series led Wood to spend several years in financial journalism, most recently, as editor-in-chief of the leading magazine covering the U.S. hedge-fund industry.

Wood could not be happier to now be writing and editing articles about the Monterey Bay foodshed and the amazing people who help make it so vibrant and diverse. And, after spending much of her adult life gardening on fire escapes, she’s very glad to be planting in the ground again.

Wood lives with her husband, Rob Fisher, a fourth-generation Californian, and young daughter in Carmel Valley. Their favorite meal is a picnic dinner at Pt. Lobos State Reserve.