Sunday, April 18, 2010

Stanhope Grille: Earth Day Dinner

Stanhope Grille at The Back Bay Hotel will join Chefs Collaborative and Organic Valley Family of Farms to commemorate the 40th anniversary of Earth Day by offering a special five-plus-course menu featuring local, regional and fair traded food for $60 per person. The dinner will be offered on April 22, 23 & 24. Developed in 2004, the Earth Dinner provides diners with an opportunity to reconnect with their food, its source, and the memories and traditions associated with it.

Says Executive Chef Raymond Southern of Stanhope Grille, “The best food comes from close by, wherever you are. It’s better for us, it’s better for our culture, and it’s better for our earth.

Chef Southern will especially highlight his locovore philosophy in his Earth Day Dinner tasting menu. Southern’s medley of courses will tap into ingredients and resources found right here in New England. Chef will offer a spring awakening to the taste buds with his first course of a Hot Salad and Cold Soup (charred baby romaine, fennel and beet tops, braised spring, cippolini, and red torpedo onions, spring leek “vichy,” spicy prosciutto chip and lemongrass oil). Southern will draw from the coast of Maine in his second course of Pan Roasted Monkfish (Maine shrimp and biellese speck broth with fava beans and heirloom cherry tomatoes, tempura watercress). Chef Southern will please the palette with a refreshing Granita (watermelon radish and blue ice American vodka with shoestring burbank potatoes), before illustrating a culinary culmination of all things local in the New England Supper Plate (Wolfe’s Neck farm pan roasted flank steak, P.T. Farm braised pork belly, blue Maine mussels). Southern rounds out his earth-friendly seasonal selections with a Spring Harvest Berry Slump (lemon curd, ricotta custard cream), and the grand finale Taza Chocolate Shot (stone ground fair trade chocolate.)

We’re really pleased to have more than 50 member chefs and restaurateurs participating in this year’s dinner series,” says Melissa Kogut, Executive Director of Chefs Collaborative. “Earth Dinners highlight the commitment to sourcing ingredients responsibly and talent of our member chefs. The dinners also educate the public about the importance of eating food that is locally grown, in season, and sustainable.”

The proceeds from the Earth Dinners will support Chefs Collaborative and its continued educational programming for chefs. Restaurant contributions up to a total of $10,000 will be matched by Organic Valley Family of Farms. “We’re extremely grateful for the generous participation of our members and the support of Organic Valley,” says Kogut.

Stanhope Grille is one of over fifty restaurants participating in the Earth Dinner series.

I had some initial concerns about this dinner, specifically because they were serving Monkfish which is listed on Seafood Watch as a fish to Avoid. First, stocks are thought to be low, though other sites do indicate that stocks have improved enough to permit fishing. Second, and more importantly, there are problems with the means by which monkfish are caught, especially trawling and gill nets.

The Chef from Stanhope quickly addressed my concerns, and I have a much better feeling about this dinner.

He stated: "Yes there is Monkfish on my earth day menu, and I am very much aware of the watch lists it is on, as well as some west coast lists which are called “avoid” lists. Besides the fact that I love cooking with monkfish, these “watch” and “avoid” lists are a primary reason why a fish like this is on my earth day menu. That might sound a little backwards, but please read on.

I feel 100% comfortable serving monkfish, cod, halibut, etc… as I take the responsibility as a chef and consumer to ensure in these cases I buy from fishermen who are going out on day boats doing long line fishing. As a consumer I look for proof that my fish is caught using sustainable practices, and as a chef I have the same, if not more responsibility. I have been out on the day boats since moving here to New England, and have forged a very good relationship with the family that I purchase my fish from, and take comfort in knowing they fish using the same sustainable practices as I have done since fishing as a child.

As for the debate as to weather or not it should be on the menu??? I believe full heartedly that it should. What better way to educate people in sustainable practices than to put it out in the open. The ones that are caught from trollers and gill-netters are unfortunately quietly sitting in the frozen sections in the supermarkets, and being eaten en masse by the average consumer…

Yes the stocks are rising, and yes they do need time to replenish. This again it where responsible consumers and groups like Chefs Collaborative come in. Again, for my part I feel I am helping more by sourcing this fish through a responsible party, rather than by not getting it at all. This way I can draw attention to the people who want to see these species continue and thrive, and also make people aware that there are still people and groups out there who would fish the last of a species and then move on to the next in the name of profit.

I do respect the chef's position, and it is very good to see how concerned he is with the catch methods of the seafood he purchases. That is something all concerned chefs should be doing, determining exactly where and how their seafood is caught. So why not check out their Earth Day dinner.


Matthew mmwine Horbund said...

Great post. I was not aware that Monkfish was on the "watch list". However, I like the level of responsibility you took to inquire about it. Moreover, I like the level of responsibility the chef takes with creating his menu. If everyone took the level of involvement you, or the chef, took, we'd have a much better world to pass on to our children.


Richard Auffrey said...

Thanks very much Matthew. I have found that chefs generally respond very positively when approached about these matters. You just be polite, and inquire as to why they are using such seafood. The chef at Stanhope did impress me with his response, and I will actually be attending the dinner on the 22nd.