This post is sponsored by Regal Springs Tilapia.
Ethical and sustainable food sourcing is increasingly important to consumers, and seafood is a particular area of concern amid reports of seafood fraud and overfishing. Building a relationship with a seafood supplier committed to ethical practices empowers restaurant operators to serve a product they feel good about, said Guy Lott, corporate chef and vice president of sales for Regal Springs Tilapia.
In this interview, Lott gives advice on what to look for in a seafood supplier and how to communicate with customers about what’s on the menu. He also shares tips for reducing waste in the kitchen by cooking with the whole fish and offers menu inspiration for incorporating versatile tilapia into on-trend dishes.
What trends are you seeing influence consumer choice in seafood?
Food sourcing has become a more prominent concern with consumers and many are educating themselves on where their seafood comes from and how it was treated. In our global marketplace where information flows so easily, many consumers are willing to pay a premium for seafood with a “clean label” which might cover sustainable certifications, socially responsible practices and an uplifting product origin story.
Sustainability is a top concern for chefs and customers. How can chefs and restaurant operators be sure that the fish they are sourcing is sustainable?
One of the biggest challenges is understanding the origin of seafood and how it is produced and harvested. With significant issues like slave labor and sustainability coming to light within the seafood industry, it’s incredibly important for operators to familiarize themselves with the supply chain so they can avoid anything that could compromise their reputation. Choosing to do business with suppliers and seafood companies that they know are reliable and trustworthy can be a great asset for long term success.
A reputable, knowledgeable seafood supplier can be an invaluable partner. Operators who establish a level of trust with their seafood supplier, can feel confident knowing they are getting seafood that meets their standards.
What are some other challenges operators face in the seafood market, and how are those problems being solved?
Sustainability and traceability are big issues now. Now more than ever, operators are concerned about the origin of the seafood that they serve their customers. I suggest sourcing from vertically integrated companies. This helps the operator ensure they are getting what they are paying for and ensures they serve their guest the best possible product.
How can restaurants communicate to customers that they use sustainable seafood?
Proper marketing is essential. An effective menu can be a strong marketing tool to clearly communicate where the seafood is sourced. Using descriptive terms like “antibiotic-free” or “responsibly-raised” can also help the customer understand the restaurant’s commitment to quality, while including certifications like Best Aquaculture Practices or Aquaculture Stewardship Council somewhere on the menu can help add credibility. I also recommend sharing this information on the restaurant’s website, email newsletters and social media. Most importantly, operators are responsible for making sure their staff is properly trained to clearly communicate these details. The server is the direct link to the customer, so they should be well prepared to speak about the menu.
Sustainability starts with sourcing, but minimizing waste in the kitchen is also an important practice. How can chefs reduce waste when cooking with seafood and employ a nose-to-tail philosophy?
Using the whole fish can eliminate waste. It just takes a little creativity. Crisping the skin can add a textural component to a dish while boiling the bones and fish scraps is a great way to make flavorful stocks and sauces. Not only is it more sustainable, it’s more economical.
If you source from a supplier like Regal Springs you can feel confident knowing you’re investing in a product with a zero-waste policy.
As corporate chef for Regal Springs Tilapia, you must have an endless arsenal of tilapia recipes. What is your favorite way to cook with the fish, and what suggestions do you have for chefs looking to put tilapia on their menus in ways that take advantage of current flavor and ingredient trends?
One of my favorite ways to cook tilapia is a simple butter basted loin with fresh herbs. It lets the quality of the fish shine.
Tilapia is incredibly versatile -- it’s a mild white, flaky fish so it easily takes on other flavors. Because it is so mild, it works really well in some of the hottest trends we’re seeing that use a lot of global spices from Africa and the Middle East.
It’s also commonly used in Latin American cuisine. Regal Springs Tilapia has a naturally sweet flavor and hearty texture so it works well in ceviche – it maintains its texture and takes on the fresh flavors it’s paired with. It’s a great base for fish tacos -- whether you grill it or fry it, it holds up in the taco, but still has a flaky texture.
I also think it’s a great protein to use in the trendy “bowl” concepts. We actually just featured a Tilapia Power Bowl at a recent event. We combined fresh pan-seared Regal Springs Tilapia Loins with spicy quinoa, fresh corn salsa and creamy queso blanco cheese. The guests loved it!
Guy Lott is corporate chef and vice president of sales for Regal Springs Tilapia. Lott began his career in several award-winning restaurants in Birmingham, Ala., before leaving the kitchen to work in brokerage, sales and culinary consulting.
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