Chefs for Farmed Seafood
October 30, 2023
Step inside the kitchen to learn why culinary experts nationwide are trending toward more responsibly farmed seafood.
Old notions of farmed seafood are quietly being dispelled in kitchens across the United States – from Pennsylvania to California to Hawaii’s coast. Today’s seafood farming, a practice known as aquaculture, is a far cry from what decades ago sparked visions of crowded tanks and dirty water.
While diners are right to be cautious about their seafood sources, modern seafood farming increasingly offers a wealth of rich, nutritious and highly delectable aquatic products that today’s best chefs actively seek out. It’s no wonder the industry is evolving – over half of all seafood we eat in the U.S. is farm raised and that trend is on the upswing.
With great growth comes great responsibility, which is where the Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) comes in. Farmed seafood is no longer ‘take it or leave it,’ but an equal option alongside wild, with comparable benefits and just as much risk if it’s not managed in a responsible way. As the world’s leading certification and labeling program for responsibly farmed seafood, the ASC requires that certified seafood farms follow strict requirements to manage all areas of farming, including animal health, water quality, biodiversity, and improving traceability and verification from farm to plate.
Much like traditional agriculture, aquaculture is in a constant state of reinvention. Responsible seafood farmers are exploring how attention to detail, care, and technological advancements can combine to provide a more sustainable and delicious craft-raised product – the type that resonates with even the most discerning palates.
Meet the Chefs
Among a sea of talent, several chefs stand out when it comes to their passion for seafood and a belief in the positive future that aquaculture holds.
Chef Vitaly Paley
Culinary Ambassador at Blue Ocean Mariculture
The original farm to table
We opened our first restaurant, Paley’s Place in Portland, Oregon, in 1995. It was a small neighborhood bistro, a personal expression and a vision for Northwest cooking viewed through the lens of a lifetime of travel and learning. At the time we did not know but it also had a bigger mission: Paley’s Place helped shape what we now refer to as the farm to table movement in the NW and elsewhere. We quickly gained momentum in the community, received many awards from local and national media, including James Beard’s Best Chef Northwest and Hawaii in 2005.
Our company grew to five restaurants.
First came Imperial, featuring wood fired grill. Then followed The Crown Pizzeria. Several years later we opened Headwaters, a seafood-forward concept complete with raw bar and a hearth oven that churned out some of the best seafood around. Our last place was Rosa Rosa, an eastern Mediterranean jewel.
I have been fascinated by seafood for as long as I can remember. As a chef, I find it more difficult to cook than most other proteins. It demands all your attention, all your senses. But when you get it right, the result is ethereal and satisfying, worth every deliberate step.
Why is sustainable seafood important to you?
The topic of sustainability became more prevalent in our world several years ago, especially when it came to seafood. Many of us practiced it intuitively for years. We took what we needed from mother earth, being mindful of leaving some behind so future generations can thrive. We educated ourselves, our staff, and our customers daily on what it meant to conserve our precious resources and be responsible stewards of our land and our oceans.
When sustainability became an international topic of focus, we jumped into action and stepped up our efforts companywide by joining the Smart Catch program, backed by James Beard Foundation.
Across all our restaurants during a single quarter we used over 30,000 pounds of seafood. Our impact was a reality check. We started to demand not only the best quality but also items that were sustainably sound.
When we relocated to Kona, it was a natural transition to partner with a company like Blue Ocean Mariculture, where our values align, and I can stand behind a product that I believe in. As Culinary Ambassador, I can continue learning and educating others through a very different platform.
A View of Blue Ocean Mariculture in Kona, HI
Having worked from literal farm to fork, what do you look for in a seafood product?
Responsibly raised fish is always my first choice. I can rely on the fact that it is fed well and will be consistent. As a chef, I want to use products I can depend on and that I know will be versatile and naturally hold their own. At the same time, I want to stand behind products that I can feel good about and trust.
If I purchase wild caught fish, I buy from other trusted sources and fishermen I know. I ask questions about how, where and when the fish was caught. The more we know about where our food comes from, the better.
What is Hawaiian Kanpachi?
Hawaiian Kanpachi is an extremely versatile fish. Raw or cooked, it is a stunner. It is endlessly and effortlessly adaptable to any preparation. It is very easy to debone producing high yield of meat to bone ratio. It is consistent in size, and is always in season because it is harvested not caught. Being responsibly farmed translates to a sustainable and a year-round viable menu item for any restaurant.
To better understand and learn about the product I am working with I always go directly to the source. That is what I am doing at Blue Ocean Mariculture. Learning all the detailed steps required to raise each fish is eye-opening. As a chef it is my responsibility to use every delicious morsel of it, being respectful to the fish and people who grew it.
Are you seeing any current or upcoming seafood trends?
Dry aging fish is a growing trend. Scaling fish by slicing scales off with a sharp knife rather than scraping.
Working with the natural anatomy of each fish, identifying different cuts of fish like top center cut loin, belly, tail, collar, steaks and applying different cooking methods that are best suited to each cut. These are not new concepts, but they are new to us in the west.
And all these techniques are even more attractive to chefs if they can depend on quality and year-round availability that only responsible certified farmed fish can offer.
What would you like seafood lovers to take away?
I think all of the above and so much more is possible. I think we all must believe there is a brighter future for seafood. It all starts with us. We all must pitch in, be patient, make educated choices daily, mentor and educate others. Then, if by some miracle, changes happen.
Blue Ocean Mariculture Hawaiian Kanpachi Fillet
Owner of Poi Dog Sauces | James Beard Nominated Food Writer
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New York City
When coasts collide
I started a food truck in 2013 that served Hawai’i’s local food in Philadelphia. I had had restaurant and food truck experience prior, but this was my first time cooking full-time. The cart evolved into a catering company and restaurant and during the pandemic evolved into a sauce company. I’m from Hawai’i so I’m used to lots and lots of fresh seafood, typically enjoyed as poke but also thrown quickly on a grill. A number of my family members spearfish so we were spoilt for options at our family get-togethers.
Why cook with sustainable seafood?
It’s important to me that future generations can enjoy the same dishes that I did growing up. That said, after a while, it felt wrong to me to be serving Hawaiian seafood 5,000 miles away from Hawai’i without understanding the steps it took to get there. Blindly serving the seafood that is plentiful in one place but not in another eventually made me pause and reconsider what products I wanted to cook with and carry in my restaurant.
It didn’t take long for me to prioritize seafood sources that didn’t deplete natural ocean stocks and had a chain of custody that could be easily followed from producer to plate. I no longer look at distance travelled in the same way, but rather who these producers are and how they’re responsibly raising fish.
Any favorite products?
In terms of both quality and flavor, the ASC certified seafood always appears packed with extreme care.
Chef Kiki Aranita’s Salmon Shoyu Poké
Becoming an aquaculture advocate
I have been working in the restaurant industry since 1995 – starting as a high school job. I worked my way around the country working under various chefs and always loved working with seafood. Growing up and working with seafood along the coast of NJ-New England, I have always been very aware of what’s happening in the seafood industry. In 2008, I took a few years out of the restaurant industry to dive deeper into the seafood world starting a program with the Aquarium of the Pacific in Long Beach, California called Seafood for the Future. The goal of the program was to educate chefs on sustainable seafood.
Tell us more about your new restaurant, Calico Fish House.
Calico is a seafood chophouse. Our goal is to get people to eat more seafood by keeping the menu whimsical, local, and constantly rotating the seafood products. The idea behind our sourcing is to be as transparent as possible and educate guests on the “Why” behind each seafood choice.
What should consumers be aware of when it comes to responsibly farmed seafood?
I think the key with sustainable seafood, specifically farm-raised, is that consumers need to understand that well-managed farm raised seafood tastes better. It is higher quality. There is a lot of science that goes into proper aquaculture and it shows in the taste and nutrition.
I love Del Pacifico products as their quality is the best in the shrimp industry, however, I have found all ASC certified products to be upper echelon in terms of quality and plate finish.
Due to the care and craftmanship that goes into ASC certification, the particular focus on sustainability also parlays into quality – Every Time.
Chef Andrew Gruel Working with Del Pacifico Shrimp
Private Chef | Acclaimed Restaurant Owner
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania and New York City
Starting at the sea
I started cooking professionally in Tel Aviv, a city on the sea. So our seafood was shrimp-still-jumping fresh. When you have product that fresh and well-sourced to boot, it’s a combination of professional responsibility as well as a base level reaction to deliciousness.
Where do you draw inspiration from when creating seafood dishes today?
My inspiration for seafood dishes starts with a sustainably sourced ingredient. When I have that, I decide what to do with it. The days of conceiving a dish and then sourcing, hoping for the best are over.
Sourcing sustainably is important to me out of professional responsibility. My job as a chef is to create something beautiful that will nourish and delight my guests. To offer beauty, nourishment and delight I must source ingredients that allow for these qualities.
Lately I’ve loved working with Hawaiian Kanpachi and Riverence trout. And, after years of avoiding salmon altogether, it’s been nice to reengage with such a beloved protein with a sense of responsibility. Most recently I’ve been turned onto some of the offerings from Acme Smokehouse, which offers me as much nostalgia as it does deliciousness.
Do you notice a difference?
The difference in quality between ASC certified and not certified is night and day. That the seafood is regulated from the farm, to its transportation, and then at the fishmonger, that care and intention shows up as integrity in the product. That integrity results in high quality and deliciousness which allows for greater professional confidence for me. I like that a lot.
Any tips for readers at home?
I think the best way for a home cook to go about trying new seafood is to find that fishmonger you can trust. Hopefully you have an awesome neighborhood seafood counter. Ask questions, be curious and share your excitement for trying to find something with more integrity for you and your loved ones.
Watch those online videos and get that pan hot. Practically speaking, I like olive oil more than butter when it comes to seafood, so get some good oil as well.
Chefs Ari Miller and Kiki Aranita Preparing Skuna Bay Salmon
Sea Green. Be Green.
As the world of farmed seafood evolves, it’s becoming more clear that conscientious sourcing, quality products and farm raised seafood don’t have to be mutually exclusive – nor should they be. Responsibly farmed seafood offers endless possibilities for flavor-filled meals and positive impacts. Learn more about the meaning behind ASC’s sea green label here.
Hungry yet? Get cooking with Chef Vitaly Paley’s warming Hawaiian Kanpachi Chowder – the perfect seasonal dish for a cozy night in.