Ask An Expert
Chef Richard Garcia on serving high-quality, responsibly-harvested and transparently-sourced seafood
“Ask an Expert” is a TalkingFish.org feature that interviews New England’s fishermen, chefs, retailers, policymakers and others about their perspectives on sustainable seafood.
Today’s interview: Richard Garcia, Executive Chef, 606 Congress at the Renaissance Boston Waterfront Hotel.
Talking Fish.org: You are known for your commitment to local and sustainable food. Tell us about your philosophy.
Richard Garcia: First and foremost, my philosophy always starts with quality. I seek out farmers, fishermen, ranchers and other growers and suppliers who provide products with amazing quality. Once I establish that the quality is what I will accept coming in through my kitchen door, then I start to select product based on many factors.
1) Local – I would love to get everything local, but the reality is that here in New England we are limited by the weather. When I can source locally, I will. Local to me means New England-sourced. Making sure that most of the dollars I spend stay within the local community is very important. When I see a local fisherman that I just bought fish from eating in my restaurant or the restaurant down the street, I know that the money I spent is going back into feeding our local businesses.
2) Transparency – More important to me than the local aspect is the transparency aspect. I want to know who, what, when and where the food I prepare for my guests was produced. I am very comfortable sourcing a West Coast product if there is transparency about where it came from.
3) Responsibly-grown or -harvested – I always ask about growing methods, fishing gear, etc. I believe that making sure that the sustainability of the products I use is not in jeopardy or that I am supporting a fishery, farm, etc. that is on the rebound toward a more sustainable program.
TF: What is important to you as you source seafood products for your customers?
RG: The highest quality, responsibly-sourced and transparent in its origins.
TF: What do you think today’s consumers want in their seafood?
RG: I think they want the same thing I want: high quality, responsibly-sourced and transparency in where it came from and when it was harvested.
TF: What seafood questions do you get most often from your customers?
RG: Who caught the fish? We are able to provide them with the information they are looking for through a program called Trace & Trust ( www.traceandtrust.com). This tool is a traceability system allowing us to trace back to the vessel when and where the fish came from. I was the first chef to use this in the city of Boston and since have been working on getting other chefs in the city to use this program. We have about two dozen restaurants using this system today! The program partners chefs with fishermen who are willing to meet the strict criteria required to be a certified provider of Trace & Trust seafood. The system assigns a FISH ID to every catch and species. The FISH ID can be used to trace the seafood all the way from the boat to the plate.
TF: Is it getting easier or harder to source the seafood you are looking for?
RG: It’s hard to always get the three things I look for in seafood. I only accept the highest quality and responsibly-sourced seafood is becoming much easier to purchase, but transparency is the toughest part. I believe it will get easier the more the end users (in this case, restaurants) ask about where the seafood came from. The more we as chefs demand to know who caught our seafood and establish trusted relationships with our distributors, then I feel the distributors will start to become more aware of the importance of being able to share the original source of the seafood.
TF: How do you balance offering something fresh and local against having customer favorites always on hand?
RG: A great example of this is our Crab Cake BLT, one of our more popular lunch and lounge options. I didn’t want to take this off the menu, but I wanted to make sure that we had a local element about the sandwich. I switched from using an imported crab to using Jonah crab from Maine whenever possible. As chefs it is up to us to find ways to make sure that our guests can have what they want as well as incorporate the local products. It’s more work on our end, but the satisfaction of supporting our local economy and having a happy guest is priceless.
TF: You might be aware that a new management system went into effect a year and a half ago for bottom dwelling species like cod, haddock, flounder and pollock – New England best sellers. Over the past year and a half, have you noticed any changes that have affected your business? e.g. In how much seafood is available, price fluctuations, diversity of species, size of fish?
RG: I am working on a system direct with the fishermen I buy from here in New England to be able to use their relationships to source the seafood I am looking for. Cod, for example, should be from a hook and line fisherman. So if my fishermen friends in Rhode Island aren’t catching any cod, they reach out to their friends in Cape Cod, Scituate, Mass. or further north to see if anyone is landing what I am looking for. Again this takes more time on my end and the fisherman’s end, but the relationships are there to be able to do this successfully.
Price has fluctuated a bit in the last 18 months or so. I have started to work with a group of fishermen who are setting a fair price for their seafood and sticking to that price for a one year commitment despite what the market is doing. I have found that although at times I might be paying slightly more than the chef next to me, most of the time I am paying less. I also bring in whole fish as much as possible to reduce the initial cost and also have all the parts of the animal to work with. This allows me to generate more revenue and create new features that I otherwise could not have had if I had brought in a pre-portioned product.
TF: Are you seeing new species come to market, perhaps types of fish that we used to see more often and are making a comeback?
RG: I am a huge fan of new species. In the last 30 days, I have sold dogfish, sea robin and scup. All of these are species that are in abundance, typically considered a “trash” fish but are wonderful to eat and also give us an advantage when competing for a guest’s business. We have extensive server training programs that teach our staff how to sell the species that are uncommon.
TF: Do you have any ideas for using all parts of a fish?
RG: We just did a Head to Tail Fin dinner on October 13th. Monkfish, for example, was made into a carpaccio, and we also used the monkfish liver and bones in a sauce and the skin and gills were deep fried to provide a salty crispy texture much like bacon. We served cod tongue relish and fried cod cheeks for the dinner, and we saved the meat for use in the restaurant and used the bones to make a fish stock for soups.
One other thing that we have done is taking striped bass heads and cooking them in our Winston CVAP oven (low temperature vapor technology) at 155° F for three hours. Then, we pick the meat from the head and make a fish head terrine. The natural gelatin in the fish binds the meat together as it cools.
TF: Would you like to share a recipe featuring a New England seafood item?
Marinated Point Judith Longfin Squid Salad
- 3 pounds cleaned squid, tubes and tentacles
- 3 tablespoons lemon juice
- 3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium garlic cloves, minced
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon black pepper
- 1 small red onion, halved lengthwise, then thinly sliced crosswise
- 25 pitted kalamata olives, halved lengthwise
- 3 cups cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
- 2 small red bell peppers, julienned
- 1 1/3 cups loosely packed fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves
- 1 cup loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1. Rinse squid and pat dry with paper towels. Halve clusters of tentacles lengthwise, and cut bodies into 1/3” wide rings.
2. Cook squid in a 5-quart pot of boiling water until just opaque, 60-90 seconds. Drain in a colander and immediately transfer to a bowl of ice water to stop cooking. When squid is cool, drain and pat dry.
3. In a small bowl, whisk together lemon juice, vinegar, oil, garlic, salt and pepper.
4. In a large bowl, combine squid, onion, olives, tomatoes, red pepper, parsley and basil. Toss with dressing and season to taste with salt and pepper. Let stand at least 15 minutes before serving.