Restaurant weeks often showcase things like burgers or gourmet fixed-price menus. But in Monterey, the focus isn’t just on tasty food; it’s also on where the food comes from.
The first-ever Get Hooked restaurant week is all about sustainable, local seafood and the fishermen who catch it. At The Wild Plum Cafe in Monterey, Chef and Owner Pamela Burns cooks Sablefish caught in Monterey Bay.
“It’s very buttery, it’s very rich, it’s just incredibly silky,” says Burns.
With farro, locally-foraged porcini mushrooms and eggs, she calls this dish “Catch n’ Eggs.” It’s a featured dish this week at The Wild Plum. The café is one of 15 restaurants on the Monterey Peninsula participating in Get Hooked.
“I hope it'll get us all thinking about this beautiful farm that's our ocean, that's in our backyard here in Monterey,” says Burns.
Commercial fishing is a big part of Monterey’s history and it’s had ups and downs. Twenty years ago, the federal government declared many popular groundfish species along the West Coast overfished. So, local restaurants started serving seafood from other parts of the world.
But more sustainable fishing practices and tightened federal regulations have led to a recovery of local species. Get Hooked restaurant week features two, sablefish (also called Black Cod) and rockfish. The Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch recommends all of the featured fish.
“If you want a comeback story, look at rockfish,” says Roger Burleigh, Marketing and Supply Chain Manager for the Monterey Bay Fisheries Trust. “It’s such an amazing story to go from 30 years of being overfished, to now. These fish are abundant and healthy; the fisheries management really has worked.”
The Trust is working year-round to rebuild the demand for locally-caught seafood. Burleigh says the goal of Get Hooked is to reacquaint people with local fish instead of more familiar, often imported choices like shrimp or tilapia.
“The distance seafood travels on average is 5,000 miles before it ever gets to a plate. So there's a really hefty carbon footprint associated with that,” says Burleigh.
Another goal of Get Hooked is to give credit to local fishermen. Now that the fish are back, Burleigh says they’re working hard to rebuild the livelihood.
“We always talk about celebrity chefs, right? We want to do the same for fishermen now. Who are those fishermen that are out there, innovating with their gear types, catching things sustainably, being an advocate for fishing,” Burleigh says.
With fresh fish on the menu, each entree will come with printed information about the local fisherman who caught it. Diners can also fill out a survey that asks questions like, "how important is it to you to know where your fish was caught, and who caught it."
Get Hooked Restaurant Week runs through the January 21.