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Aug 11, 2015 10:39 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

Montauk's Dock to Dish Steers The East End Toward Locally Caught Seafood

Sean Barrett and Theresa Douthwright display their catch. KYRIL BROMLEY
Aug 11, 2015 3:11 PM

There’s no shortage of seafood in East Hampton.

Restaurants and markets throughout the town are stocked with favorites like shrimp, squid, swordfish, cod and more. However, not all fish are caught and distributed equally. While a consumer may think the “catch of the day” they just ordered is locally caught, in truth it might have come frozen and packed from a country thousands of miles away.

Dock to Dish, a Montauk-based company, set out to change New York’s primarily import-based seafood industry in 2012. Since then, they’ve provided local chefs with some of the freshest, most sustainable fish in the state, while also getting fishermen a fair profit. Three years later, their operation is going global—with Vancouver, Los Angeles and London locations opening consecutively in the next few months.

Their motto is “eat wild, eat American, know your fishermen,” said Dock to Dish founder Sean Barrett. They do this by returning to the basic idea of supplying restaurants with what comes off the boat—the real catch of the day. All fish goes through an official Dock to Dish safety certification process. The guaranteed fresh fish is picked up directly from the dock and is guaranteed to never leave a 150-mile radius.

“Dock to Dish reconnects the community to the fishermen,” said Mr. Barrett. “There’s a whole series of benefits: much fresher fish, more transparency and getting a higher dollar after dock.” He said the company borrowed this concept from farmers and community-supported agriculture.

“We were curious to see if it would translate to fisheries. Once we put it in place, suddenly we started to see everyone, from the environmentalists to fishermen to diners to chefs to everyone, just saying, ‘Wow.’”

Dock to Dish has already made strides in re-creating the seafood market in Montauk, the state’s largest commercial fishing port, Mr. Barrett said. Chefs prepay and buy memberships and are willing to accept whatever is coming off the docks. “There’s no more of this demand, ‘we want this’ or ‘we want that,’” Mr. Barrett said.

Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, said the demand for certain species of fish is one of the reasons why the market is under so much strain. “If you totally freak out about one fish, the demand is going to be overwhelming,” she said.

Dock to Dish tries to eliminate the heavy pressure on certain stocks and instead provides chefs with fish that is more sustainable, Mr. Barrett said. Light harvesting pressure is applied to the entire ecosystem instead of mainstream, high-demand species.

“We’re really pushing for chefs to stop writing species on the menus,” Mr. Barrett said. “You think, if you’re a chef and you’re printing a specific type of fish, a wild fish, on your menu, you’re actually creating a targeted demand for that specific fish.”

Bryan Futerman, chef de cuisine at Nick and Toni’s in East Hampton, is one of the chefs who receive a delivery from Dock to Dish each week. The fish is delivered on Thursdays, followed by a dock report email on Friday detailing the process by which the fish was caught and who caught it.

This week, Mr. Futerman opened large, ice-filled boxes at Nick and Toni’s to reveal sushi-grade fluke. For the weekend’s menu, he created a Mediterranean-inspired sushi dish complete with a sriracha-infused soy sauce.

Mr. Futerman tries to use almost every part of the fish for main courses as well as fish stock and pasta dishes. He said that every step Dock to Dish makes in catching and expediting the fish is reflected in the taste.

In the case of fluke, bleeding them at sea is critical in achieving clean, mild-tasting fillets. “It’s a Japanese technique. They take a needle and they insert it up the spine, and it kills them instantly, so it actually gets them out of duress and they won’t release antihistamines,” explained Joe Realmuto, executive chef at Nick and Toni’s. “A lot of people who have allergies and can’t eat fish are said to be able to eat certain fish that are handled properly because of things like that.”

Chefs on the East End and in New York can receive any species, from tuna the size of a child to dogfish, a type of locally caught shark that has an overwhelming population in Montauk.

Nick and Toni’s, Mr. Futerman said, is trying to lean away from European and farmed imports. However, non-local fish like wild salmon and red snapper from the Northwest and the Gulf, respectively, are exceptions. “We don’t want too many carbon miles on the fish,” he said. “We’re careful about where we get our shrimp from especially and try not to buy from Indonesia, Thailand, because they’re having problems with the labor they use to farm these fish.”

Ms. Brady said shrimp from Asia is nothing more than “slave shrimp.” She referred to women and children in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, who are trapped in the harsh labor conditions of seafood farming. “They’re locked into buildings for 18 hours a day. These are young girls and young women,” said Ms. Brady. When bringing in such imports, the United States is not only supporting slave labor, but they also selling consumers shrimp pumped with hormones and formaldehyde, she said.

Mr. Barrett said the best fresh, wild American seafood is being exported to Asia, while the United States is importing non-regulated and potentially dangerous product.

“We’re in the state’s largest fishing port, and yet there’s junk seafood in our stores, when it should be local,” Ms. Brady said.

A huge part of Dock to Dish is making strides to educate the consumer about the fish they are eating, said Mr. Barrett.

“I think you have to educate consumers, because they don’t know,” Ms. Brady agreed. “Most people want to do the right thing, but they don’t know how. It’s teaching people to eat what’s available and what’s good.”

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By G (338), Southampton on Aug 15, 15 12:33 PM
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