Author, For Cod and Country(Sterling Epicure, 2011)
National Geographic Fellow
Host, National Geographic Web Series, Cook-Wise
Featured in Cooking Light, O: The Oprah Magazine, the Washington Post, Fortune and Vanity Fair
Has appeared on CNN and Bloomberg Radio
Chef Barton Seaver: Seasonal Seafood
The 700 Club
COOKING WITH A PURPOSE
National Geographic Fellow and acclaimed chef, author, and speaker Barton Seaver wants to restore our relationship with the ocean… through dinner. Seaver’s childhood in Washington, D.C., centered around the family dinner table. He wasn’t just a passive observer; he had a role in the dinnertime rituals.
Barton says his first contribution to the dinner table was making the salad dressing. “I can’t quite imagine why they put up with my creations, which were just wrong. I had this idea in my head that a salad was a term that meant ‘lettuce swimming in vinegar.’” Eventually, he learned that less can be better, a lesson gained during a fishing excursion with his father.
Seaver was reeling in fish and his father fileted and sautéed them as quickly as Seaver could catch them. “And my lasting memory of that meal (fish + lemon + butter + heat = delicious) is the reason I do what I do today,” Seaver says. His experiences as a child also led to his core belief that there is human value to dinner, greater than it sustaining us. “One of the reasons I love mussels so much is they force you to slow down,” Seaver says. He thinks it is important to celebrate each bite.
After graduating with honors from the Culinary Institute of America, Seaver traveled extensively and found work at a small family restaurant in southern Spain. The casual, ingredient-based cooking style there would prove to be an important influence in his perception of food as an essential part of community. A trip to Morocco landed him in the seaside village of Essaouiera, where survival is directly linked to the oceans. His experience with the locals, who taught him generations-old fishing methods, helped shape his belief that, at its root, sustainability is both an environmental and a human issue.
Seaver returned to D.C., in 2005 and began his career as a chef, first with José Andrés at Jaleo, then as executive chef of Café Saint-Ex and later at its sister restaurant, Bar Pilar. In 2007, Seaver became executive chef of the seafood restaurant, Hook, in Georgetown, which made Bon Appétit’s Top 10 Eco- Friendly Restaurants and the Washington Post’s Top 50, Washingtonian Magazine’s Top 100. In a single year, the restaurant served 78 species of seafood, and Seaver’s devotion to sustainability led to national media attention.
Today, Seaver has stepped away from the kitchen and turned his attention to our environment, focusing on seafood sustainability. It’s his goal to introduce an entirely new kind of casual cooking featuring seafood that hasn’t been overfished or harvested using destructive methods. In 2008, Seaver received both the Seafood Choices Alliance’s Seafood Champion Award and the title “Rising Culinary Star of the Year” from the Restaurant Association of Metropolitan Washington.
In 2009, Barton was named Esquire magazine’s Chef of the Year. Since then, he has focused on using his knowledge and experience to link seafood to broader socioeconomic, ecological, health, and cultural issues. As a National Geographic Fellow, Seaver works with Mission Blue to increase awareness of the ocean crisis and inspire action. In 2010, he gave a talk on sustainable seafood aboard the National Geographic Endeavour in Ecuador.
He developed a list of ocean friendly substitutes for popular yet depleted seafood species, and co-created the Seafood Decision Guide to help consumers evaluate seafood based on health and environmental factors. Currently he hosts the National Geographic Web series Cook-Wise, where he introduces the fishermen, farmers, and scientists working to bring more sustainable food to the table.
BRINGING SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD TO THE TABLE
Seaver shares his take on sustainable cooking in his new book, For Cod and Country. Organized by season, the book is a full-color exploration of recipes showcasing a wide variety of fish caught at specific times of year combined with fresh vegetables and vibrant spices. The book also includes “A Separate Season” for seafood available year-round, and healthful and ocean-friendly substitutes for fish species that are popular yet overharvested.
Seaver says sustainability is about our relationships with the ocean and the lands that support our communities and us. He says it is important to understand how those relationships fit together. One of the ideas he incorporates into his book is that of eating fish seasonally, just as one might consume fruits and vegetables by season. He says that having fish available to us throughout the year wreaks havoc on our resources. As consumers, if we stop and think about eating fish in season, we can participate in the natural side of things, just as a fisherman does by understanding during what seasons particular fish are available.
Seaver says sustainable cooking is not for elitists, and anybody can get involved. His book addresses topics like “fresh fish” vs. frozen fish. Seaver says frozen fish is often frozen right of the boat, so it actually gets to consumers quite fresh and can be the best value at the fish counter. He also suggests using canned fish as an alternative to buying fresh. In addition, he gives consumers some tips for shopping for seafood, which include:
- Check out the general cleanliness of the fish area.
- Look for fish fillets that are shiny and glistening in the light. If the fillets are pale and dull, pass them by.
- Before you buy, ask to smell a piece. If the staff refuses, it is not a sign of poor quality but rather that they follow the health code.
For more information and free recipes on seasonal seafood, click here.
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