The Culinary Institute of America’s New York campus spends about $750,000 a year on seafood. Five years ago, around 25 percent of those purchases were of species considered unsustainable. On the eve of the 2016 International Sustainable Seafood Day, March 18, that figure is down to 5 percent by volume.
The CIA has been working with the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch program to source as much sustainable seafood as possible for the five public restaurants and 42 teaching kitchens at the college.
"The commitment by The Culinary Institute of America to sourcing ocean-friendly seafood is really significant," says Sheila Bowman, manager of culinary and strategic initiatives for Seafood Watch. "When a respected educational institution makes sustainability a centerpiece of its curriculum, it reinforces for new generations of chefs the importance of incorporating sustainable sourcing into decisions about how to build their menus.
And the college is determined to continue that reinforcement. "The CIA's ongoing relationship with the Seafood Watch program has helped us develop an acute awareness as to the sourcing of our seafood purchases," says Bruce Mattel, associate dean of food production and a member of the Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force of culinary leaders. "We continue to seek out more procurement details from our seafood suppliers to ensure that the CIA can share accurate species, geographical, and fishing method information with our students."
In both the CIA's freshman-level Seafood Identification, Fabrication, and Utilization course, and in its new bachelor's degree major in Applied Food Studies, students learn about the best practices in aquaculture and commercial fishing. "We teach students to be conscientious as chefs and to be aware of how their food sourcing decisions affect the environment," Mattel says, emphasizing the CIA commitment to seasonality and sustainability. "Our kitchens prepare fish that aren't menu staples with the hope students will incorporate these underutilized species into their future repertoire and help take the pressure off more popular, but overfished, species."
There are just three or four species on the Seafood Watch "avoid" list that the CIA still uses, mostly in small quantities and only because students need to be exposed to preparing these fish as part of their culinary education. In addition, the college takes into account the environmental impact of, say, shipping a sustainably caught or farmed fish 4,000 miles versus buying a small quantity of another species caught closer to a chef's home kitchen.
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