The desire to know where your food comes from sparked the farm-to-table movement years ago, but knowing where your fish came from, and whether or not is sustainably harvested, has been more difficult. “If you get a white fish on your plate, you get a white fish.” said Omni Executive Chef Daven Wardynski. “You don’t know if it’s sea bass or grouper or snapper. The government doesn’t necessarily go through and regulate that.”
But it’s important to know, he said. Chefs and consumers need to hold suppliers accountable in order to control quality and to gauge the economic impact of what we consume. “It’s very easy to get Chilean salmon that’s farm-raised and fed corn and is absolutely polluting the soil around that area,” Daven said, and poor farming practices also negatively impact flavor.
Daven is a champion for the cause of truth-in-menu, so when he was settling into his role at the Omni Amelia Island Plantation Resort, he first decided to buy all of the restaurant’s fish from one local fishmonger. “Then,” he said, “the first set of fish came in and I went, ‘This is incredibly bad.’”
Committed to quality, Daven developed relationships with several additional fishmongers, from Fernandina to Orlando to Jacksonville. He was after the highest quality seafood from sustainable vendors, as close to home as possible. (He still uses the local guy for amazing shrimp – but only shrimp.)
Daven also struck up a partnership with Sea2Table, an organization that works with high-integrity independent fishermen and commercial docks to provide traceable, sustainably harvested seafood nationwide. He even orders some fish from certain, well-vetted open-pen farms. When a farm has a carefully balanced eco-system and free-flowing fresh seawater, he says, the fish may cost a little more but the difference in flavors is incredible. It allows you to be an environmental steward of the meal you’re serving.
Daven is pleased to be able to tell guests for certain what his restaurant puts on a plate. He knows the port that the fish came from, the name of the boat or the captain that caught it, and what kind of line or net caught the fish. “Our connection with the dock or fishermen is kind of like what you’d find with a farm-to-table chef’s connection with the farm,” he said.
A Michigan native, Davin said he believes that a great meal should make a lasting emotional impression. Some of his first memories connecting the waters outside his window with the fish on his plate comes from catching bluegill and sunfish with his father. “When you can look back and connect to nostalgia, the food tastes better,” he said, whether that connection is with the sea at a resort or a memory of catching a meal at your local lake as a kid. “Food tastes better when it has soul.”