I find out where and how local restaurants get their ingredients in”Sourced,” a new Miami Dish column. For the first “Sourced,” I spoke with Chef John Critchley of Area 31 about his five-course sustainable seafood menu.
The menu features seafood from the waters of Area 31, which is the United Nations’ designation for the marine area including the Southeast Atlantic Coast, the Gulf of Mexico, the Caribbean Sea and South America’s northeast coast. Chef Critchley features local produce in the menu. Some of the proceeds from the sustainable seafood menu are donated to the Marine Mammal Conservancy in the Keys. The menu costs $50 for five courses and a glass of organic wine. It runs indefinitely and varies according to seasonal availability.
Area 31 is located in the Epic Hotel; both are owned and operated by Kimpton Hotels and Restaurants. Since this past June, Kimpton has pledged to purchase sustainable seafood at all 45 of its hotel restaurants. Both Kimpton and Chef Critchley make their seafood purchases based on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program, which categorizes seafood as “best choice, ” “good alternative,” or “avoid,” depending on how overfished or threatened a fish population is. (You can download your own guide for seafood in the southeastern United States here.)
To learn more about Chef Critchley and Area 31, you can read an interview with him in an earlier Miami Dish post.
Five-Course Sustainable Seafood Menu
First Course: Tuna Crudo (Pole-caught yellowfin tuna with key lime juice, palm sugar, empeltre olive oil and chilies)
According to Chef Critchley, “The company as a whole–Kimpton–has made it our stance to ask our purveyors where these are being caught and if they’re being pole-caught and not netted. Basically, we’ve got a bond with our purveyors, and they send us everything that’s pole-caught.”
According to the Monterey Bay Aquarium, catching yellowfin tuna with a pole is much better for the environment than using purse seines. Purse seines are large nets used to encircle a large group of fish. These nets inadvertently trap young tuna, other fish and sharks. You may have heard about the controversy over restaurants that serve bluefin tuna, despite thinning stocks. Yellowfin tuna, especially from the U.S. Atlantic, is still a sustainable choice, according to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch.
I’d never heard of empeltre olive oil. Empeltre is a high quality olive oil from Aragon, Spain.
Second Course: Smoked Kingfish Croquettes (house smoked, served with citrus mayonnaise)
“Every now and then the fishermen will pull up a kingfish. This is not the season for them, so there’s not really too many of them, but when they pull them in, my fish guys usually bring them right to me.
“I’ll smoke [the fish] in house. We do a hot smoke on it and after that, it’s pretty much cured.”
Third Course: White Water Clams (Indian River Sweet clams, fennel puree, prosciutto-piave broth)
Chef Critchley visited White Water Clam Farm in Sebastian, Florida: “I used to farm oysters up in Boston, so I know a little bit about the farming. So I went up and saw their processing plant. Basically, it’s a little overhang from the side of a fish market where they where they sort out the clams. They grow the clams in the Indian River, about ten minutes away from where they’re processing.”
I was curious about the prosciutto-piave broth. The taste was unusual at first, but I warmed to the flavor and ate all of it. I asked Chef Critchley about how he made the broth: “We take the rinds of the cured hams. We take the really cured part up by the foot and we saute it with olive oil, fennel, onions and then we add a vegetable stock to it and let it steep like a tea so it gives it that aged flavor. Then, we steep in the piave cheese rinds-the nice, dry, hard edges. You get the cheesy flavor and the ham flavor, but none of the cheese melts into it.”
Fourth Course: Seared Texas Redfish (farm raised in Palacios, Texas, with English peas, watermelon radish, long pepper)
Redfish or red drum are found in coastal waters. Chef Critchley sources his from a small family farm in Palacios, Texas that is more than twenty years old. Red fish are moderate tasting and not too oily. I found the fish to be light but flavorful.
Fifth Course: Cream Cheese Semifreddo and Guava Sorbet (berries and green tea croquant )
Ifyou can get me to eat this much cream cheese, you must be doing something right. These vibrant tasting desserts were a fitting Miami ending to a memorable meal. Dessert allows Chef Critchley to showcase our local fruit: “Usually we put some longans [in this dessert] because those are nice and local. We get our longans from Paradise Farms. The guava sorbet is made from local guavas.” The blackberries were not local.
Some other sustainable or local ingredients that Chef Critchley is excited about using:
- Laughing Bird shrimp from a sustainable farm in Belize
- Key West pink Shrimp
- Oysters from Island Creek Oyster Company, where Chef Critchley spent a winter working
- Line-caught swordfish
- Local snapper
- Tomatoes: “I’m waiting for our growing season to kick in around October and then we’ll use tomatoes galore, but right now we’re using heirloom tomatoes for our gazpacho.”
- Kennesaw Fruit Juices from South Florida
- Velda Farms milk and cream