NYC Chefs Unite With Montauk Fishermen To Create NY State’s 1st Sustainable Fishburger For School Lunch Program

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An alliance of established chefs from multiple east end communities announced today a unique initiative designed to reconnect local elementary and high school students to an increasingly abundant nutritional resource being responsibly harvested, under strict federal and state fisheries management regulations, from the waters off of eastern Long Island.  The unified group of culinary leaders are all founding members of Dock to Dish, the first Restaurant Supported Fishery program in the country, and have now created a first-of-its-kind partnership with The Long Island Commercial Fishing Association and the Bridgehampton Edible School Garden program, in a new effort to make wild, sustainable, traceable local seafood accessible to area youth using a novel fishburger format.

Dubbed ‘The Montauk Fishburger Project’ by the program founders,  plans for a pilot program launch were released today and will include distribution to more than two-hundred and fifty students in the Bridgehampton school system this month.  The prototype fishburger, which utilizes only local species of wild finfish that are rated sustainable by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association, was designed using an adaptation of a recipe provided by chef Eric Ripert of Le Bernardin. It will be served to students on buns created with a blueprint for sustainable bread designed by visionary chef and author, Dan Barber, of Blue Hill Restaurants; utilizing organic flour from indigenous strains of wheat that were grown and harvested locally at Amber Waves Farm, in Amagansett.  The fishburger will also include aquacultured kelp from the Long Island Sound, grown and harvested by ocean farmer Bren Smith in the Thimble Islands.

Program founder Joseph Realmuto, chef and owner at The Honest Man Restaurant Group with locations spanning throughout the Hamptons, said today,  “We are in the middle of a movement to bring back our long lost farming and fishing culture here on the east end.  Two things that have stood in the way of returning local seafood to our households and school system has been the amount of labor that goes into preparing fish dishes, along with a resistance from younger people to try foods that they are unfamiliar with. The Montauk Fishburger Project finally solves those problems. We can create them with a relatively low amount of labor and, more importantly, the fishburgers are delicious. In the end, good taste and flavor are absolutely mandatory requirements to successfully convincing students not only to try, but to actually like, and to continue eating healthy dishes.”

Realmuto’s comments on the launch were echoed by fellow initiative founders Stefanie Sacks, a culinary nutritionist and Montauk-based radio host and author of the popular local food advocacy book What The Fork Are You Eating; and Bonnie Brady, Executive Director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association.

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“Reconnecting our local school systems with steady, reliable access to the incredibly robust bounty of nutrient-dense wild seafood being landed right here in New York’s largest fishing port has been a goal of east end communities for many decades.  The hardest part was that we first had to figure out a way to turn what was local and abundant and most nutritious, into something the students would find to be totally delicious. The chefs have now solved that problem, in a big way, and the Montauk Fishburger Project has suddenly opened the door to a new model that we envision will become commonplace throughout school systems across the state in the coming years.” said Sacks.

According to Brady, “In the U.S. marketplace over ninety percent of seafood is imported and more than half of it is farmed seafood, mostly from Asia.  It is imperative to allow our remaining commercial fishermen here to return to their historical and critically important role as providers of locally landed seafood to New York State residents. In this program we are honoring a local tradition and preserving our connections to surrounding communities. By having the chefs collaborate and create the fishburger format using our local catch, we have combined the best of both the culinary and the commercial fishing worlds. For serving students, the chefs were very smart to use a familiar food item like the burger, which we expect will be a big hit with the kids. This enables us to now provide high quality servings of healthy, local protein to a larger sector of the local population than ever before.”

Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz, Environmental Design Teacher and co-founder of the Bridgehampton Edible School Garden program, and Jason Weiner, chef owner at Almond Restaurants, worked closely with Sam McCleland, chef and owner of The Bell and Anchor in Sag Harbor, to create special signature sauces for the students after sourcing a range of local toppings for the Montauk Fishburger Project from participating organic farming operations, Amber Waves Farm and Quail Hill Farm, in Amagansett.

Small-scale production of the fishburgers is currently being conducted by the Dock to Dish Community Supported Fishery program of Montauk, with artisanal bun baking for the project being spearheaded by baker Carissa Waechter, at The Amagansett Food Institute’s South Fork Kitchen on the campus of Stony Brook University in Southampton. Pilot-program launch and distribution is scheduled to begin at Bridghampton High School on Friday, January 22, 2016.

Above: Judiann Carmack-Fayyaz (left) and chef Jason Weiner showcase a Montauk Fishburger with locally sourced sides and toppings at Almond Restaurant, with Bridgehampton School Superintendent Dr. Lois Favre (right).