Wednesday, January 26, 2011

A sea bass duet at Canadian Celebrity Chefs

From left to right, Chef Norm Aitken, emcee Kevin Brauch and Chef Mike Howell demonstrate how to cook sea bass at the first-ever Canadian Celebrity Chefs Event.

When I was a journalism student in Montreal, I bought a Chilean sea bass and cooked it in the kitchen of my shoebox apartment. The next day I told my classmates about my delicious fish and was on culinary cloud nine until one of them crashed me down to earth by saying “but Chilean sea bass are endangered!”

I really had no idea, and I felt terrible for contributing to the slow demise of a species at risk.

Nine years later, sitting in the audience at Ottawa's first-ever Celebrity Chefs Event at the National Arts Centre, I am reminded of my delicious environmental transgression. Norm Aitken and Mike Howell have just announced they are going to show the audience how to cook sea bass, but they are better informed that I and have chosen the non-endangered European species.

So let me tell you about their dish. They prepared the fish in two different ways using cooking methods that they've used to great success at their respective restaurants (Aitken works at Juniper in Ottawa and Howell at Tempest in Wolfville N.S.).

Aitken pan-seared his fillet in a very hot skillet with butter, and salt and pepper, and Howell cured his in a mixture of mostly salt and a little sugar, and lime and orange zest. “Fish is particularly suited to curing,” he said. “The longer you do it, the firmer it will become.”

They also made a citrus and fennel salad, a golden beet coulis made with a maritime seaweed called dulse, and married the two fishes on the plate with a little applewood-smoked mussel. It was the first thing that I ate at the reception later that evening and it was lovely.

In telling the audience they do not serve farmed salmon at their restaurants, Howell and Aitken provoked a lot of discussion. They are both environmentalists, and Howell recommended that consumers choose Sea Choice or Ocean Wise certified products if they are interested in supporting sustainable fish farming.

I wish I had known this before I feasted on endangered Chilean sea bass in Montreal!

After journalism school, I became an editor at the Canadian Wildlife Federation and discovered two great websites with searchable databases on species at risk: COSEWIC, which focuses species in Canada, and the IUCN's Red List, which covers species worldwide. I've since used them to make sure I'm not buying anything endangered for my next meal!

In short, I had a great time at this event. It was a lot of fun, and Howell and Aitken's dish are but one of several tasty creations that I got to sample. In my next post, I'll publish an overview of the day in pictures … and more food porn! In the meantime, you can read more fine coverage on these other blogs:

The Lemon Kitchen
Whisk: a food blog
Simply Fresh
The Twisted Chef
Rachelle Eats Food
If Music be the Food of Love, Play On


Rachelle said...

The beet and dulse coulis got me so excited! two of my favourite things!! I'm drooling now.

Anonymous said...

I loved their talk about sustainable fish - this was a great demo and dish!

Anonymous said...

I am so sad that I missed their demo ... especially after having the opportunity to speak to Chef Howell (who is funny, and kind, straight forward and talented). Their dish was the shock of the night for me ... I don't know what I was expecting - but what I got was bliss in my mouth. It was perfect. Light, crispy, sweet, tart ... I am now crushing on both of these Chefs. Huge talent - and lucky us, Aitken is easily accessible at Juniper. Thanks for the insightful entry.

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