Photo credit: Ronald T. Gautreau Jr.
What was the genesis of your current project?
Eat Like a Fish
started out as a cookbook with some personal stories sprinkled throughout — a way to get people to explore the largely unknown Western culinary tradition of seaweed and how to make it a center-of-the-plate ingredient. As I worked with the publisher, the book expanded to include more of my story and about the work of GreenWave, our nonprofit that trains new ocean farmers in the restorative 3D farming model. Now there are five parts to the book. The first is my evolution from a kid who dropped out of high school to take up commercial fishing to an ocean farmer pioneering 3D farming. This took some major recalibration — I spent my life hunting and killing things for a living, now I’m basically like an arugula farmer. The second part of my story is my own journey of learning to love seaweed, with help from amazing chefs and foodies — especially my wife! The third is instructional: there are step-by-step pull-out sections in the book about how to start your own ocean farm. The fourth is a journey of learning — as I got deeper into this world, I started learning more and more about the history of aquaculture, seaweed farming, and amazing lost culinary traditions from South America to Ireland. (Did you know McDonald’s sold a seaweed burger in the 1990s — and that it was the official sandwich of the NBA?! How’s that for homegrown American cuisine??) Finally I talk about GreenWave, our farmer training program, and the opportunity we have to create a just food system from the bottom up out at sea. Now is the first chance in generations for us to build a new economy from scratch, and to weave true social justice principles into the DNA — we can all make a living on a living planet.
Describe your writing and cookbook testing processes.
The recipes in the book come from two incredible chefs in New York whom I’ve been lucky to work with over the years — Dave Santos and Brooks Headley. We’ve gotten the chance to try out some of these recipes on a wide variety of audiences — from local neighborhood folks at street fairs to some of the top chefs in the world who’ve visited the Thimble Island Ocean Farm. Without fail, they’ve been blown away by the unexpected flavor, texture, and versatility of kelp (and other sea vegetables). David Chang loved our Kelp Fra Diavolo so much, he came back for thirds! And René Redzepi said he’d never tasted any other vegetable like it, and was impressed by our home cooking. Home run!
What attracts you to cooking and to food writing?
I’m really the last person who should be talking or writing about food or cooking. Before I met my wife, I ate at the gas station almost every night. I got my start fishing for cod for McDonald’s and I still love a Filet-o-Fish sandwich more than anything. My connection to food is really rooted in the immense pride I took in being a fisherman and helping to feed my country. When climate change and crashing fish stocks made the fisherman’s life no longer viable, I was determined to find a way to continue making a living on the water — and that’s how I got into oyster farming, and developed 3D farming, which is using the entire vertical water column to grow multiple species in one area. I started one of the first Community Supported Fisheries (CSF program) in the country, and from there, I got gradually dragged into the world of the foodies — kelp cocktail events, fancy oyster balls, serving my kelp at the White House, partnering with Patagonia to bring sea vegetables to the masses. It’s been a wild ride, and I talk about all of it in the book.
Do you have any food-related memories or anecdotes you’d like to share?
I grew up on the Rock — Newfoundland — in a little house at the edge of a cliff in a fishing town of 11 houses. Nothing grows up there, so all our food was shipped in on a ferry. Mushy vegetables, freezer-burned meat. Our seafood, though, was different — fish meant codfish, only, and freshness was measured in hours not days. All us kids would sell cod tongues door to door for pocket change to buy candy and soda. My mom and dad were back-to-the-landers, and my mom made stacks of bread, churned all our butter, made endless cans of jam from the berries that grow wild everywhere. I grew up eating pickled moose, bakeapple preserves, wild squid that we gathered on the beaches and charred over driftwood fires. Just as romantic are my memories of when the first McDonald’s opened in Newfoundland, and I waited in line over three hours to try my first Big Mac.
Barbecue Kelp and Carrots
This is the recipe by Brooks Headley that sold out at his New York hole-in-the-wall restaurant Superiority Burger every night. This was the first recipe that totally blew up our idea of what you could do with kelp if you just treated it like another vegetable instead of seafood — and it’s insanely delicious.
1 white onion, chopped small dice
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
2 cups water ½ cup maple syrup
½ cup tomato paste
½ cup white wine vinegar
2 tsp. molasses
2 TB. yellow mustard
1 TB. hot sauce (your choice)
freshly ground black pepper
Sweat the onion and garlic in olive oil until soft. Add rest of the ingredients and simmer slowly until reduced and thickened.
1 pound large carrots, chopped in oblique shape
½ cup olive oil
½ cup labne or greek yogurt
fresh lemon juice
crushed corn chips
½ pound mustard greens
½ cup fresh kelp ribbons
Roast carrots at 400 degrees with some of the olive oil and salt and pepper until softened and charred around the edges. Toss together with the kelp and BBQ sauce until coated. Top mixture with a dollop of yogurt and crushed corn chips. Dress mustard greens lightly with lemon juice and salt and add to the top of the carrot and kelp mixture. Sprinkle bread crumbs over top and dress with a squirt of olive oil. Serve immediately.
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is a former commercial fisherman turned ocean farmer who pioneered the development of restorative 3D ocean farming. Born and raised in Newfoundland, he left high school at the age of 14 to work on fishing boats from the Grand Banks to the Bering Sea. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, National Geographic, The Atlantic
, and elsewhere; his ocean farm won the Buckminster Fuller Challenge for ecological design, and, in 2017, was named one of TIME
magazine’s Best Inventions. He is the owner of Thimble Island Ocean Farm, and Executive Director of the nonprofit Greenwave, which trains new ocean farmers. Eat Like a Fish
is his first book.