Sunday, January 15, 2012

Hurricane Edelman

Chef Paul and Chris Edelman at the scallop sorting table

Four years ago when we began our search for a commercial Fishmonger, we had a number of concerns that we needed to address. Beyond the obvious questions of freshness, consistency and quality, we also needed to be assured that the fish we source is caught in a sustainable fashion, preferably from small boats. While this might seem fairly straightforward; download the Monterey Bay Aquarium watch list, pick fish accordingly and then call fishmonger, as it turns out fishmongers are notorious scoundrels that have many tricks up their sleeve to unload their product on unsuspecting chefs and then consumers. 
            I can understand the difficulties that are presented to a fishmonger. They are tasked with buying an expensive, highly perishable product and then selling it to super picky chefs that demand the lowest price possible, coupled with the tempting fact that a fish filet that’s been freshly rinsed with special chemicals, or frozen is relatively hard to distinguish from fresh caught fish and nearly impossible to determine source of origin. In other words, a credible fishmonger is an individual with an intense pride/passion for the fish business and a high moral fiber that is interested in fostering a relationship based on trust. We trust our fishmonger to delivery the freshest, highest quality seafood that’s sustainably sourced and in turn we order consistently, pay our bills on time and help grow their business by telling other chefs and consumers about our experience. We are proud to say that we have found that fishmonger. His name is Chris Edelman and his company is Seafood Specialties.
            Before we get to Chris, you might ask, how did you come to know and trust Chris? When we began the search for a fishmonger, a chef friend of mine recommended that I give Chris a call. When it comes to trust, I put my trust in an individual based on the things they say, the things they do, and on the recommendation of someone whose opinion I value. From my first conversation with Chris I could tell that he is passionate about what he does, is a no bullshit straight shooter and was someone that I could potentially look to supply us. So, we gave him a shot. We immediately noticed that all of the seafood we received from him is packed and cut with meticulous detail. Initially we ordered whole fish, so that we could check the eyes and gills, and then moved to filets, because it suited our kitchen set up. After four years of ordering from Seafood Specialties, I have never sent stuff back and whenever I order seafood; they always direct me to the most sustainable, wild caught option. As far as recommendations from a trusted source goes, as I found out later Chris also supplies Thomas Keller, Grant Achatz, as well as many local chefs including Jody Adams and Dante De Magistrist.
            Although I have been ordering from Chris for years, both of our busy schedules precluded us from meeting in person. When we put the schedule for At The Table With... together for the upcoming season, inviting Chris to The Table was an easy choice and fortunately he accepted the invite. As part of the ATW process we always conduct an interview/tour so that we can learn more about the host and to collaborate with them to build a custom menu. Chris was eager to meet and show off his operation, so Chef Paul, George and I headed down to the fish pier on a rainy, windy, freezing cold day last Thursday. Little did we know that the actually storm that we were about to encounter was inside and it’s what I have come to know as “Hurricane Edelman”...a whirling dervish of energy, swirling with fish knowledge, well placed profanity, classic French technique and a passion for his business.
            As we walked in to his shop, located halfway down the fish pier, two doors down from the No Name Restaurant, we came upon him quality controlling Nantucket Bay Scallops and Gulf of Maine Scallops.
           He quickly directed us to the office, gave us hard hats and thus began our tour. The first thing that I noticed as I stepped out of the office and in to the shop was the smell, which is to say, there was no smell at all. You would think that a roughly 40ft by 60ft room that cuts thousand of pounds of fish on a regular basis would have a fishy smell. Not the case with Seafood Specialties.  Chris receives fresh deliveries from the Gloucester fish auction based on the day’s orders and therefore he keeps very little inventory. At the end of each shift his team completely scrubs, power sprays and sanitizes the entire space. 
Chris began the tour by showing us the expeditor system by which he keeps all of his orders organized. As with any classically trained chef, he has organized his shop by breaking it down in to various custom designed fish cutting stations with redundancy or “back-ups” built in to the system. Chris has good reason to have back-ups.  A few years back he lost the whole operation to a fire and had to start over.
As we walked through his shop, checking out various species Chris, shows us the bin of perfect 1lb fish bound for Alinea in Chicago via Fed Ex, then as we go down the line of newly received fish species he explains how his receiving system works, with various kernels of wisdom. When asked about farm raised salmon, he explains that he does not source Wild Pacific Salmon, because he believes that the “cruise ships” in the Pacific are not a sustainable choice and that salmon fed organic feed, not kept in small pens from Canada is a great choice. We ask about Tilapia he calls it “shit eating shit fish”, which I totally agree with. The more time I spend with this guy and his no non-sense approach the more I respect his operation.
One of the many fish species in line to be cut
The second part of the tour is next door at his soon to be completed state of the art shop. It’s his new baby and after a six-figure investment, many months of planning and construction, he should be moving in by February. He takes us upstairs, to his new office. We can’t help but notice and ask about a full drum kit set up next to his desk. “That’s for stress relief” is the answer.

Chef Paul, George and Chris taking in the view
At the end of the tour we gather in a section of the second floor of the new shop, where the custom, low energy refrigeration equipment that powers his walk-in is mounted. He opens two doors that face out to the harbor with an incredible view of two “Perfect Storm” fishing boats are tied to the fish pier. We talk about the completion of his new dream shop and then start chatting about the menu for the dinner. Chris drops his idea: ”The French Evolution”. An all French menu that starts out simple, country style rustic style then ends with a dish inspired by the grand master of Modern French Cuisine, Joel Robuchon. At first the idea is terrifying, how dare we emulate a master, but at the end of the day, the whole point of the Table is to get out of our comfort zone, learn new techniques and share it with our guests. We hope the folks attending enjoy our insanity and experiencing for a moment eye of the storm known as Hurricane Edelman.

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