As chefs, we are driven by the ingredients, seasons, culture and to some degree, personal preferences. Ingredients like Kobe beef, white truffles, and foie gras, which are found on a wide range of restaurant menus offer decadence and "exclusivity."
As a chef, you have to really try to make these ingredients subpar. It's like being dealt a Royal Flush in a game of poker. But the fact of the matter is that the vast majority of the world's population will never have an opportunity to partake in a meal that includes such ingredients. What is equally true is that as plush as some of these ingredients can be, there are a greater number of lesser regarded ingredients that are often overlooked by professionals and amateurs alike.
Recently, we featured some "lesser" Florida fish at a very special dinner at Cress Restaurant. Inspired by the Trash Fish dinners hosted by Chefs Collaborative in Boston, Chicago, and most recently Las Vegas, we created a seven-course dinner not including an amuse bouche and intermezzo with wine pairings. And the price of the dinner: $50 per person, all-inclusive!
Mike and Tony of Mike and Tony's Seafood provided all the fish for this event which cost less than one ounce of white Alba truffles. The dinner was attended by 32 guests and we had plenty of fish left over. Yes, but how did it all taste you ask? Some comments from our foodie guests included "Delicious", "Inspiring", "Tasty", and "Imaginative". As a chef, we really cannot ask for much more in terms of validation for we do.
The menu included lesser known and commercially sold fish like Butterfish, Croaker, Jack Crevalle, Black Mullet, Sheepshead, and Sea Trout. Each fish variety is unique in taste, texture, and yield which provides an opportunity to be creative and thoughtful. As professional chefs, we must embrace these lesser ingredients in the name of sustainability, affordability, and creativity. We are already planning "lesser vegetables, "lesser meats", and "lesser grains" at Cress Restaurant. It is truly an exciting time to be a chef.
For more information about the menu for the Lesser Florida Fish Dinner, go here.
Hari Pulapaka is a two-time James Beard nominated chef who serves on the Advisory Board of The Chef Action Network, a non-profit organization that connects chefs to tools and resources that will help them create significant and lasting change in their communities, the country and the world. CAN is focused on harnessing the power of America's preeminent chefs in support of a strong, sustainable, just and healthy food system. He and his wife Jenneffer, a podiatric surgeon own and run Cress restaurant in DeLand, FL. Hari also has a Ph.D. in Mathematics from the University of Florida and is a full-time tenured Associate Professor of Mathematics at Stetson University in DeLand, FL.