Charleston Gets on Board with “Trash Fish” Dinner

Chef Nico Romo is one of five chefs who will serve typically discarded fish at a dinner on June 5.
Chef Nico Romo is one of five chefs who will serve typically discarded fish at a dinner on June 5.

Five top Charleston, South Carolina, chefs are collaborating to present the area’s first Trash Fish Dinner—dinner crafted around fish that some restaurants might consider trash—in hopes of bringing attention to underappreciated fish that are both plentiful in the region and delicious.

Hosted by Patrick Properties Hospitality Group and chef Nico Romo of Fish Restaurant, the event takes place June 5 at Lowndes Grove Plantation along the Ashley River. Proceeds from tickets, which are $125, will benefit Chefs Collaborative, the national chef network working to foster sustainable cooking practices in restaurants.

The name of the dinner derives from the fact that many of the fish in the dinner were thrown overboard for years by fishermen, as restaurants insisted on serving cod, haddock, and flounder, and rarely branched out. “We won’t know what the fish [we serve] will be until we see it,” Romo says. Possibilities include amberjack and white grunt, little tunny, Spanish mackerel, lionfish, and jolthead porgy.

Romo became involved with Chef’s Collaborative following the organization’s Sustainable Food Summit in Charleston in November 2013.  “They wanted to use our location, and I really had no idea what the group was about,” Romo says. “I ended up attending all of their meetings and found it very interesting.”

Noting that Chef’s Collaborative hosts trash fish dinners at cities nationwide, Romo jumped on board. “I thought, ‘I’ve got to do it in Charleston.’ It’s what we are doing every day at the restaurant,” he says. “Seven years ago, we were the first to bring triggerfish to the public—now it’s being fished so much it’s no longer readily available.”

Along with the dishes of the five chefs, the dinner will spotlight Charleston fisherman Mark Marhefka of Abundant Seafood, who will provide the evening’s menu of undervalued fish. “Marhefka will go out on the water for two or three days, and sell what he can when he comes to port. The day before the dinner he will give us all the fish leftover and we will come up with the meal,” Romo explains.

The trash fish dinner will begin with a cocktail reception and hors d’oeuvres, followed by a five-course meal.

The first course will be a croute, prepared by Chef Kevin Johnson of The Grocery, and the second course is a fish boil, prepared by Chef Robert Stehling of Hominy Grill. Up next is a plated fish ravioli, prepared by Chef Jeremiah Bacon of The Macintosh and Oak Steakhouse. The fourth course, a fried fish prepared by Jason Stanhope of FIG Restaurant, and the fifth course, a baked fish prepared by Chef Romo, will be served family style.

Each chef will also bring a side dish, also served family style. Dessert and beverages are also part of the evening’s fare.

The dinner will seat 80. “We wanted to keep it private, so we can have some good conversations about where the fish comes from and what we need to do to help to bring trash fish to customers,” Romo says.

Helping with the conversation are guest speakers from the South Carolina Aquarium Sustainable Seafood Initiative and Chefs Collaborative. Additional sponsors include Snyder Events and Technical Event Company

Romo says he hopes dinner guests learn more about all the fish that is available, not just the typical varieites served at restaurants. “Just like our customers come in now to our restaurant and want soft shell crab because it is in season, we want to see the same happen with trash fish,” he says. “With dinners like this, we introduce guests to the fish, so they can learn more about it and then recognize it when it’s on menus, and before you know it, everyone wants it.”

By Joann Whitcher

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