Yeah, I know, I’m a slowpoke these day when it comes to getting event reviews up. Life overwhelms me, what can I say?
In any case, last Wednesday (November 2nd) was the 2nd annual Chowder Chowdown at the Royal York Hotel. Sponsored by Oceanwise, the premise is simple, restaurants create a chowder made with sustainable seafood, and pair it with a beer from Mill Street Brewery. A panel of judges chooses their favourite, but the crowd also gets to vote for a people’s choice selection.
And while Pangaea easily took the prize for both awards last year, there were a couple of upsets this time.
Newspaper, nutcrackers for the claws, big bowl of melted butter. Some bread and potato salad so you can pretend it’s a balanced meal. And of course, beer.
There’s none of this fancy-ass sauce or cheese or la-di-da accompaniments. Don’t get me wrong, I dig the fancy food. But sometimes you’ve just gotta keep it real.
If your favourite fish is salmon, tuna or cod (yes, sushi-eaters, I’m looking at you), you’re part of the problem.
It’s not so much of an over-fishing problem anymore, since fishers in most countries adhere to strict quotas. The problem is more that the quota system doesn’t really work.
Trawlers go out onto the ocean, drop net and scoop up everything that gets caught in that net. But they can only bring ashore anything that is within their quota. If they’ve already met their quota of cod, and there’s cod in that net, what happens to it? It gets dumped, usually dead, back into the sea. So besides doing absolutely nothing to stop the “overfishing” of cod, it wastes a lot of otherwise edible fish that could be going to feed people. In most cases, UK fishers are having to dump 50% of their catch because they are not legally allowed to bring it onto land. They can still *catch* it, they just can’t sell it.
We were lucky enough last week to be in on a delivery of Nova Scotia lobster. It seems that, once again, the supermarket chains are undercutting the fishers and are offering a dollar less per pound than it would cost to catch the things. So one enterprising fisher from Yarmouth decided to fill a truck with lobster and head to Toronto. Word went out through a local CSA network and at the appointed date and time, we all showed up, happy to pay $7 a pound – a couple of bucks less than the cheapest local price and $3 more per pound than the chains were offering the fishers. There were even some local restaurants getting in on the deal, and the general concensus was that it was the best lobster we’d ever had outside of the Maritimes.
Greg and I were relatively conservative, buying only a half dozen. Our plan was to eat a couple, put two more into risotto and freeze the meat from the last two to pair with fiddleheads in a quiche at a later date. That didn’t happen, of course, because last Saturday, despite having had lobster for dinner the night before, we both had a hankering for lobster rolls.
The lobster roll is a specialty of the Atlantic provinces. McDonald’s even offers them in Nova Scotia. They do show up in the occasional fancy restaurant, but they are, for the most part, a roadside treat, purchased while driving around places like Peggy’s Cove; sweet chunks of fresh lobster meat presented on a soft white bun.
Problem is, there are as many ways to prepare this simple dish as there are Maritimers. And none of us can agree on the correct way to do it.
Ocean Wise celebrated its 5 year anniversary this month by announcing a number of new restaurant partners across the country. Readers who haven’t heard of the Ocean Wise program need not feel out of the loop – it’s only been a year since a handful of Toronto restaurants signed on, and while this anniversary celebration included some of the newest Toronto-area restaurants to join, the total still numbers under a dozen.
Created as a conservation program by the Vancouver Aquarium, it makes sense that the majority of restaurants involved in the sustainable seafood program are in British Columbia. While Torontonians have been on the sustainability bandwagon for a few years now, that same diligence seems not to apply to fish, an item that regularly hits our plates without any concern as to how it got there or where it came from.
We had to take the dog in for surgery last week. We knew it was coming and planned it for the week before Christmas because we knew it would be a quiet time. With all of our shopping and baking and wrapping done ahead of time, we had nothing to do but sit around, watch movies and pamper a recovering pet.
Except things don’t always work out as planned and our pooch came home with a painkiller patch on his belly – that didn’t work. By the night of the 23rd, when the anaesthetic had worn off, he was miserable and was whining and yowling in pain – straight through the night. We got zero sleep and didn’t know what to do. On the morning of Christmas Eve, I rushed over to the vet’s office for new painkillers; apparently there’s a small percentage of dogs that just don’t take to that medication – I had one of them. Needing groceries, I also stopped at the local Metro and grabbed three lobster.
Lobster are typically cheap around the holidays, and Greg and I have a tradition of eating lobster on Christmas Eve. I got the last three in the tank, telling the girl behind the counter that I only wanted them if they were alive and active. She assured me they were and boxed them up.
A few weeks ago, I was sitting in Chives restaurant in Halifax with my brother and his wife. Our mains arrived and I dug into my lobster risotto. “You guys want some?” I asked, in between inhaling mouthfuls of the rich and creamy dish.
They both wrinkled up their noses at me. “No thanks… we’re kind of tired of lobster.”
Whu-whut?? Who could possibly be tired of lobster? Don’t they realize how good this stuff is? Why, if I lived, as they do, a mere 10 minute walk from the local wharf, and it was as cheap as it has been this summer, I’d eat lobster at least once a week. “We do.” They do. And they’re getting kind of sick of it.
Blame it on the recession. When times are tough, we give up the luxuries first, and this past year, even the people who could still afford the luxuries mostly gave them up, so as not to seem ostentatious while their friends and neighbours were losing jobs, homes and life savings. Which means that items like lobster, fine wines and truffles have been getting a bad rap, and people began avoiding them.
For a while it was fine – the price of lobster dropped and those of us who couldn’t afford the crustaceans on a regular basis ate our fill. But then the prices dropped even further, and the wholesalers began offering a price that was so low, it would actually cost the lobster fishers to go to work each day.
There’s an old cliché that goes “there are plenty of fish in the sea”. This is meant to convey options and opportunities, but nowadays, it’s not a particularly apt analogy. Because fish stocks are dwindling due to poor husbandry and overfishing, and there aren’t a lot of fish in the sea anymore.
SeaChoice is a program by Sustainable Seafood Canada designed to mobilize consumers and industry to buy sustainable seafood, which is caught or farmed with consideration for the ocean’s ecological balance and the long-term viability of the fish. SeaChoice offers guidance to restaurants and consumers on what to buy and what to avoid.