Trash Fish to Chefs’ Treasure

Chefs Collaborative Denver’s trash fish dinner a model for sustainability.

Fish-clipaartWhen I was growing up in Connecticut, fishermen I knew hated sea robins — wild-looking fish with fins and legs. They were aggressive toward desirable fish, and whenever the guys caught a sea robin, they’d kill the critter and throw it back into Long Island Sound. Turns out that what most people thought of as “trash fish” can be quite tasty.

Things haven’t changed all that much, and when it comes to eating sustainable seafood, “trash fish” still don’t usually make it to menus. That won’t be the case on Monday, July 28 when the Trash Fish Dinner takes place at the Squeaky Bean at 6 p.m., highlighting these underutilized species, put on by the Denver “cell” of the Chefs Collaborative, a national organization that works to fix America’s broken food system.  Among the local chefs is Kelly Whitaker of Basta in Boulder and Cart Driver, one of Denver’s newest restaurants.

Whitaker joined the Chefs Collaborative last year, after attending the annual Sustainable Food Summit in Charleston, South Carolina, on a scholarship. He had also participated in a previous trash fish dinner in Los Angeles and wanted to bring it to Denver. After reaching out to both local and nationally recognized chefs, the lineup includes:

As a sponsor, local purveyor Seattle Fish Company will provide the seafood for the evening, but trash fish can be hard to come by, so the chefs will tap their creativity to cook the dishes out of anything from Asian carp and North Atlantic dogfish to porgy. Whitaker says, “By-catch was one thing but trash fish was another….These are species of fish that farmers are selling that just aren’t cool enough to make the cut. They’re sustainable, there’s plenty of it, it’s delicious, but they’re just not cool.”

Hosting at the Squeaky Bean will keep things fun and irreverent, with the out-of-town chefs coming to the heart of Denver. A representative of the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch, an organization I greatly admire, will be on hand to speak about sustainable fish, and the chefs will also talk through the courses and interact with guests.
Tickets for the five-course meal cost $125 per person and are available on the Chefs Collaborative website, along with more information. There will also be a VIP oyster reception beforehand from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at The Kitchen, for a suggested donation of $50 or more. The money raised goes back to the Chefs Collaborative, inspiring and educating those in the industry to change how they source, cook and serve food. This is not the organization only issue in the food realm. It has also taken on such issues as GMOs, fracking and growth hormones and antibiotics in meat.