Chefs Collaborative Denver’s trash fish dinner a model for sustainability.
When 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:
- Theo Adley. The Squeaky Bean, Denver.
- Mike Lata. FIG and The Ordinary, Charleston, SC.
- Michael Leviton. Lumiere, Newton, MA and Area Four, Cambridge and Somerville, MA.
- Stephen Stryjewski. Cochon and Peche, New Orleans, LA. Peche was recently named by the James Beard Foundation as the country’s best new restaurant.
- Kelly Whitaker. Basta, Boulder, and Cart Driver, one of Denver’s newest restaurants.
- Kyle Mendenhall. The Kitchen, Denver.
- Chris Thompson. The upcoming new restaurant called The Nickel at Hotel Teatro, Denver.
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.”