Chef Mary Sue Milliken, one of the Food Network’s “Too Hot Tamales” and co-owner of the Border Grill, was on site during last week’s Eco-Driven with Toyota & Friends event in Napa Valley, California. Event attendees were treated to an interactive cooking session as well as an impromptu “Quick Fire” guacamole-making contest at the Culinary Institute of America (CIA).
Before the festivities at the CIA kicked off, I managed to snag a few minutes with Chef Mary Sue to talk about sustainable seafood and how it was the impetus for the creation of more green business practices at her restaurants.
Milliken’s journey into sustainable seafood began when she attended one of the first Seafood Watch conferences hosted by the Monterey Bay Aquarium. “They bring together chefs and scientists, oceanographers, marine biologists and they put us all together in a room and we have a conference where we exchange ideas.”
“It was alarming, we learned about the state of the oceans and the overfishing and the likelihood that our grandchildren won't have any variety of seafood near what we enjoy.” Milliken went on to explain that “70 percent of all seafood in the United States is consumed in restaurants” and so she felt like she had the responsibility “to give back and educate not only my customers but everybody I could get to listen.”
Interestingly enough, Milliken’s newfound focus on sustainable seafood led to more green business choices at the Border Grill. Learning about the Seafood Watch program was the “first point at which we really looked at all kinds of other things in the business - our bottled water system, our low-flow plumbing, the way we use packaging for to-go food." For this chef, sustainable seafood was the gateway to sustainable business practices in her restaurants.
Consumers can get in on the sustainable seafood action as well. The Monterey Bay Aquarium maintains a consumer-facing Seafood Watch website as well as a downloadable Seafood Watch app available from the Apple iTunes Store and from Google Play.
This app not only serves as a learning tool for consumers, but it can also be used to encourage other restaurant owners to commit to serving sustainable seafood. I asked Chef Mary Sue what consumers can do to bring more restaurants into the Seafood Watch program and she explained that “customer demand has to really drive” the sustainable seafood movement.
As consumers, we can take our app into our favorite seafood restaurant and use it as an educational tool. Now this may sound a bit forward but in my opinion, it is an easy step for consumers to take and it may make a significant difference on the future of seafood.