Mullet, a star performer, has been a popular food choice for thousands of years, but in recent years has lost a bit of its shine. The seafood market is evolving and a heavy influx of other options has seemingly better suited people. Commercially fished off of our warm, Florida coastal waters, mullet (specifically grey-striped) has proven years later to still serve as a worthy meal in the most exclusive fine dining restaurants. With an average weight of 2 - 3 pounds (some weighing even up to 6 pounds) and its easy availability, it is understandable why this seemingly common fish would be overlooked.
However, experienced Chef Steve Phelps of Indigenous in Sarasota Florida, has seen the lack of knowledge regarding consumption of the mullet family. Most commonly known for being smoked, this oily fish measures high in omega 3 fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and amino acids, and can be grilled, poached, or even delightfully roasted. Interestingly, unlike some fish, you do not have to wait for the right time of the year to find mullet. They can conveniently be found throughout every season.
With its key health benefits and convenient availability in mind, it can be concluded that the importance of adequately educating chefs from all around the world to effectively cook mullet and re-introduce it to the public is vital. With this growing knowledge Chef Steve has hired people to work in his kitchen based solely on the increasing need for mullet preparation. At Indigenous you will find that it’s served with a new energy, yet still a timeless and delicious taste. Not only has Chef Steve created much needed job openings, but he has also invested in giving a delightful dish full of flavor to those who visit his restaurant. After all, we believe that the best way to cook anything is through creatively preparing all of our appealing dishes.
This seemingly insignificant fish has just made a comeback, and this is only the beginning.
Aquatic life near Sarasota is under attack. A horrific new problem has arrived on our shores in the form of the Lionfish species of fish entering our channels and wreaking havoc on other species of fish and water-based life.
A Predatory Fish
Lionfish are a venomous fish species that are native to the Red Sea and the Indo-Pacific ocean. They are an invasive species that are beautiful to look at, but can cause severe harm to any marine life they encounter. Lionfish are skilled predators and have a voracious appetite. They hunt down and eat any type of fish or invertebrate they can find. In addition, their bodies have a defense mechanism in the form of venomous spines, that can cause a great deal of pain and injury to any human that encounters them.
These fish are a popular choice for aquariums and fish tanks because of their attractive appearance, but are often dumped in nearby water bodies once the owner gets bored. As a result, a rapid increase in the population of local Lionfish has been observed in the last few years. Another main reason for this is that Lionfish are capable of reproducing all year long, with females producing more than 50,000 eggs every three days.
Method of Removal
With such rapid expansion, it's become near impossible to contain the local population of Lionfish. Additionally, their indiscriminate eating habits has resulted in the severe reduction in population of other fish species found nearby. Professional fishers have been searching for ways to counter the Lionfish menace for many years now.
The strategy that needs to be adopted now to keep the Lionfish population in check is to harvest their population. Traditional hook-and-line fishing methods can be used to catch the fish, and special permits can be obtained for using more sophisticated fishing traps. This method of physical removal requires a great deal of time investment, and has the best chance of succeeding if the entire community comes together.
Chef Steve of the restaurant Indigenous is greatly experienced in taking Lionfish and turning it into delicious dishes, such as his Ceviche dish which uses sea purslane grown in a local sustainable aquaponics system.
Over 91 percent of the seafood sold in the United States is imported from other countries.The red drum fish however, is a species that is native to our Sarasota waters. It is a tasty, white-filleted fish, but for years, you could not purchase it locally since it is a restricted species. If you or a restaurant wanted to purchase red drum, it would have to be from a supplier that sourced the fish from Vietnam, which is not even a region where red drum is naturally found. At Indigenous, this does not align with our philosophy and commitment to providing our customers with the freshest seafood from local and sustainable sources.
Aquaculture is the Answer
In the past aquaculture has been met with mixed opinions mainly because it is not fully understood. According to Dr. Kevan Main, senior scientist and program manager for Mote Marine & Freshwater Aquaculture Research Program:“Red drum is a perfect fish for aquaculture as they adapt well to cultured environments. Our Mote breeders know how to spawn them, we know the steps of production, what they eat, what density of fish per unit area, and so on.”
With over 30 years of experience in aquaculture research, Dr. Main is running Mote’s project growing marine fish, including red drum that will be new technology into the hands of regional aqua-farmers. The breeders at Mote are growing red drum in an environment that mimics their natural environment, including native sea plants like sea purslane.
Protecting Threatened Species and Jobs
Aquaculture is essential to protecting and maintaining a sustainable supply of many of the types of seafood that are native to our waters. Overfishing and invasive species, including the destructive lionfish have resulted in having to list many of the shellfish and fish native to Florida waters as restricted species to protect them from extinction.
The restrictions on what fish and shellfish can be caught has been bad for the fishing and restaurant industry in terms of job loss and having to pay higher prices for seafood. This is bad for the economy and causes restaurants to have to recoup their expenses by passing those costs onto their customers. Supporting aquaculture is good for the economy since it creates jobs and keeps a steady supply of sustainable seafood available to consumers and restaurants.
Many health experts recommend eating fish twice a week to improve your overall health. Since October is National Seafood Month, it’s a great time to promote sustainable seafood and fisheries. National Seafood Month is also an opportunity to depict the successes and challenges facing U.S. fisheries as they seek to end overfishing and begin to rebuild fish stocks. There are so many amazing stories to hear.
This year’s Eat Local Week in Sarasota will feature a one night event, open to the public, of a free screening of the film,“Mullet: A Tale of Two Fish”. The screening will be at 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 25 at the Mote's WAVE Center, and following the film there will be an expert panel discussion. Mullet: A Tale of Two Fish is about the history of the mullet, from its prominence as a food source for Native Americans to its influence on modern day commercial fishing and cuisine.
Panelists will include:
Indigenous' Chef Steve Phelps
Dr. Kenneth Leber, Associate Vice President for Research and Program Manager of Mote's Fisheries Ecology and Enhancement;
Dr. Kevan Main, program manager of Mote's Marine & Freshwater Aquaculture Research Program
Ed Chiles of Chiles Restaurant Group and partner in the Anna Maria Fish Company;
Nathan Meschelle, a local fisherman
Outside of this one time event, Chef Steve Phelps is active in the seafood awareness community on the day to day. Chef Steve is a member of the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch Blue Ribbon Task Force. This organization’s mission it to empower businesses and consumers to make the right choices for a healthier ocean. Participating in local events like this panel and national organizations like Monterey Bay Seafood Watch help Chef stay involved the efforts that he promotes in his restaurant. Eating locally sourced food not only supports the local economy, it also promotes a safe food supply.
Every year, Sarasota County hosts a week dedicated to the local food scene. The promotion of local business is not only important to the local economy, it is also important to local sustainability. Eat Local Week is dedicated to raising the awareness of locally sourced food options. These options are more readily available than many people may realize.
At Indigenous, eating local and sustainability are the primary points of focus. These efforts are what drive our business every day, not just once a year. Because of this, we are happy to participate in this event with the hopes of bringing the local food initiative to the forefront of people’s minds, not just once a year, but every day.
Eat Local 2016 stretches from Saturday, October 22 to Sunday October 30. During this week, members of the local food industry and beyond will come together to discuss this cause. On Sunday, October 23, Indigenous Chef, Steve Phelps will participate in a panel discussion defining the meaning of local as it pertains to the food industry. Chef will be joined on the panel by Douglas Gayeton, a published author and well-known food activist, Laura Reiley, Tampa Bay area food critic and author of Farm to Fable, and Suncoast Food Alliance owner, John Matthews.
This panel hits very close to home for Steve and his mission as a local chef. He strives to use locally sourced ingredients in his restaurant as much as possible, with a particular focus on local seafood. In this discussion he hopes that people will begin to look for and appreciate locally owned restaurants throughout Sarasota and beyond, who also put in the extra time and effort it takes to create locally sourced cuisine.
Last Sunday, August 7th marked the third annual Trash Fish dinner in Sarasota. The event was a true success. The seven local chefs worked together to create wonderful dishes for attendees using lesser known species of fish, often coined "trash fish".
This year, for the first time, the dinner was about more than just the lesser known species of fish. Along with these species, there was also a focus on aquaculture fish and invasive species of fish. Not only did this give the chefs a wider variety of fish to cook with, it also gave attendees a larger breadth of awareness on the different species of fish.
During the event, Senior Scientist & Program Manager,Dr. Kevan Main from Mote Marine spoke about the aquaculture program at Mote. Aquaculture is a growing part of the seafood industry, so it is very important for consumers to understand the process. Allie ElHage from Zookeeper also spoke about the Lionfish issue in Florida and the containment unit he has created for Lionfish. Ultimately the speakers hoped to educate attendees on the different species of fish. However, with this increased knowledge, the hope is that attendees will begin to question where their seafood is coming from as educated consumers.
This event was able to provide both an enjoyable evening and much needed education to all in attendance. We are already excited at the idea of the fourth annual Trash Fish dinner where we will be able to continue to raise awareness on this important issue.
There are probably fewer less appealing words than the phrase "trash fish". But as it turns out, these simple words hold very strong meaning. The term trash fish is used to describe fish who are seen as just that: trash. However, the only justification for this idea of trash fish is the species notoriety, or lack thereof. These trash fish are tasty, healthy species of fish, who are caught and thrown aside because they are not the tunas, groupers, and salmons of the sea that consumers are used to hearing about. Because of this, these perfectly edible -- and oftentimes delicious -- fish are underutilized and can become invasive species.
As a restaurant that thrives off of sustainable and authentic dishes, we love the idea of trash fish! We thrive on creating amazing dishes not only for the enjoyment of our customers, but also for their education and awareness of these different species of fish. Not only do we make a point to serve these coined "trash fish" in our restaurant, we also love to support and partner with others who share this same passion and motivation.
This year marks the third annual Trash Fish Dinner in Sarasota. This event is hosted by Chef's Collaborative who have gathered seven Sarasota chefs together to prepare amazing trash fish dishes for all in attendance. In addition to Chef Steve Phelps from Indigenous, the chefs for this event include: Chef Evan Blake Gastman (The Cottage), Chef Jose Rojas (Louies Modern), Chef Mark Majorie (Veronica Fish and Oyster) Chef Paul Mattison (Mattison's), Chef Erik Walker (The Sandbar) Chef Mark Woodruff (MADE Restaurant).
This event will take place Sunday, August 7th at Louies Modern at 6 p.m.
For the third year, Mote Marine is hosting their annual Lionfish Derby. After seeing great success the past 2 years, they have decided to kick the event up a notch this year. This year, the event will be about more than just the competition among the captains who catch the Lionfish. After the weigh in, awards will be presented to those who caught the most Lionfish.
As these captains receive their honors, local chefs will be making the most of this freshly caught fish. Chefs Steve Phelps (Indigenous Restaurant), Paul Mattison (Mattison's Restaurant and Catering), Erik Walker (Chiles Restaurant Group), and Gerard Jesse (Seafood Shack) will each cook the Lionfish in a unique way to give the crowd a sense of different ways this fish can be enjoyed. Samples of their creations will be available for all attendees to try for free.
This event serves many purposes. Not only is it educational for attendees, both for new information they may learn about the Lionfish species, but also for their palates as they try this fish for maybe the first time. It is also a fun and unique way to take care of an increasing problem. Lionfish are considered an invasive species. This means that Lionfish are not actually native to our waters, but have been introduced here and are now spreading enough that they could potentially cause damage to other species who are native to the Gulf Coast of Florida.
Seasons change, and so has our menu! Stop in to try our new summer menu, featuring dishes like our Beet and Blueberry salad, Thai Fish Burger, Beef and Broccoli, and Copper Shoals Red Drum. Experience the flavors of summer with Chef Steve's new creations!
Many people think it's expensive to eat local. What they don't realize right away is that though eating locally is a bit pricier than usual, the extra cost is worth it. When you choose to eat local, you get to enjoy the following benefits:
Fresher raw ingredients
Meat and produce that have traveled thousands of miles don't stay crisp and fresh during the journey, but the ones picked from the farm or caught in the woods are as fresh as they can be because they usually hit the markets within 24 hours.
Local food is subject to less processing, so what you get on your plate has its vitamins and minerals still intact. You can't say the same for manufactured food that has been soaked in preservatives.
Aside from nutrients, natural flavor also stays intact in local food for the same reason: less processing. Thus, you get to enjoy your meals with a far richer taste, and none of that fake flavoring that manufacturers have been using in their products.
Stronger economy within the community
Small-time farmers and vendors find it hard to compete with corporations, so your support is valuable to them. Help the money go to the right people by buying directly from the fresh produce market instead of going to a supermarket chain.
Less processing means less waste, so you're doing the environment a huge favor if you buy local food. Farmers in your community help maintain farmlands and green spaces, but they can do that only if people patronize their businesses over the long term.
Local food is as healthy as it gets: no preservatives, all-natural, organic, fresh, nutritious. If you want to improve your health through your eating habits, going local is a good place to kick-start a major change.
We at Indigenous Restaurant in Sarasota want the best for our customers, so we use locally sourced or wildly caught ingredients for our dishes whenever we can. This has always been our mission since Chef Steve Phelps opened the place in 2011. But don't just take our word for it -- come and visit us at 239 S Links Ave to experience our cuisine for yourself. Once you go local, there's no going back.