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Seafood ‘evangelist’ Barton Seaver talks sustainability

Chef and author Barton Seaver will be the guest of honor at Booksmart Tulsa and Heirloom Rustic Ale’s Seafood Party on Oct. 27.


Ocean waters blanket 70 percent of the planet’s surface area and contain 97 percent of the Earth’s water supply—along with a multitude of fish, crustaceans and mollusks responsible for supplying billions of humans with nourishment. That human element is upsetting the ocean’s inherent balance.

Barton Seaver, award-winning chef, cookbook author and self-described “seafood evangelist,” is best known for picking up the mantle of seafood sustainability. During the upcoming Seafood Party hosted by Heirloom Rustic Ales and Booksmart Tulsa on Oct. 27, Seaver will discuss the changing nature of seafood and how consumers can reverse the over-fishing trend simply by diversifying our eating habits.

“Not only is seafood a fascinating thing with which to cook, the narrative of how seafood connects us to our planet is as compelling from a human standpoint as it is from a culinary standpoint,” Seaver said. “Categorically, seafood as an ingredient is by far the most interesting of all to me, rivaled only by vegetables in terms of the breadth of diversity in character and culinary nuance, aroma, texture, taste, flavor.” 

Despite the thousands of edible species in the ocean, consumers and the restaurant industry tend not to color outside the lines. As an “evangelist,” Seaver praises the range of seafood in his many cookbooks dedicated not only to recipes, but to the historical and geographical significance of each type of seafood.  

“My last two books, The History of Seafood and The Joy of Seafood, really offer a concise narrative about what all the different diversity represents from a culinary and cultural vantage point—what all these varieties mean to us as cooks and as citizens.”
In a restaurant industry that obsesses over the newest, rarest ingredient, the same enthusiasm for exploring alternative seafood is shockingly absent. 

“It is odd that some will seek out some rare breed of tomato or heritage breed of pig, and yet when it comes to seafood, 90 percent of [what] we eat in this country come from only 10 species. Furthermore, 65 percent of what we eat only come from three species—shrimp, tuna and salmon,” Seaver said.

The demand for such a narrow selection of seafood is creating disturbances not only in food supply, but economies upon which fishing depends. It also represents a senseless inflexibility on the part of restaurateurs and consumers.

“The way I look at it, if you say you like tuna, but only eat one species of tuna—only yellowfin or blue fin—it’s like saying you like pinot noir, but only like Meiomi,” Seaver said. “What about the rest of Sonoma or Napa or New Zealand? I mean, what about Burgundy?” 

Seaver says “fish lost its identity” when large-scale industrial fishing developed in the 1950s and species-specific fishing was no longer en vogue. “As soon as seafood was cut into a rectangular brick, breaded, deep-fried and bathed in tartar sauce, it didn’t matter what that fish was. We lost our appreciation for whatever nuances and unique qualities each species offers,” Seaver said.

Seafood lovers have the power to help by exploring uncharted culinary waters. 

“I like to ask people to think of seafood in culinary categories as opposed to being species-specific,” Seaver said. “If you like salmon, you also like all five wild varieties of salmon, and you probably also like arctic char and steelhead trout. This approach inspires confidence in seafood as a canon of cooking, not in terms of a species-by-species mentality. As much as we have shirked the individual identities of seafood, I often say we sell the dish, not the fish.”

Chef Seaver will be the guest of honor for Heirloom Rustic Ale’s Seafood Party on October 27 from 3–6 p.m. at the Heirloom taproom located at 2113 E. Admiral Blvd. Seaver will give a brief presentation, and then will sign cookbooks and chat with guests about all things seafood. Two local chefs, Trey Winkle of Levain and Joel Bein from Rub, will be onsite selling fish and seafood dishes based on Seaver’s books. And, of course, there will be an ocean of delicious brews flowing from Heirloom’s taps. The Seafood Party is free and open to the public. For more information, check out the event on Heirloom Rustic Ale’s Facebook page. 

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