Tuna from Hawaii. Lamb and veal from Colorado. Shrimp and crab from the Chesapeake Bay.
Chef Peter Pahk searches far and wide — and close to home — for the foods served at his restaurants at the Kingsmill Resort. But it's not where these items come from that concerns him as much as the methods used to obtain them.
As executive chef of this James City County community, Pahk looks for food products that have been farmed or caught using sustainable practices. The word "sustainable" refers to methods that are least harmful to the environment and the seafood and animals that inhabit them.
Pahk works closely with Seafood Watch, a program created by the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California that monitors the harvesting of seafood around the world and provides information on which countries are using the best sustainable practices. Before coming to Virginia in 2010, he worked as executive chef of the Silverado Resort and Country Club in California's Napa Valley.
Wherever he goes, Pahk preaches the benefits of the Seafood Watch philosophy. His products carry the Certified Sustainable Seafood label. He's a member of Chef's Collaborative, a network of more than 1,000 chefs and others in the food industry who promote sustainable cuisine by partnering with local farmers, producers and fishermen.
"We miss Peter a lot, but we're glad to have him as an emissary out there," says Sheila Bowman, senior manager of the Seafood Watch program. "More and more chefs are starting to get it. If a chef like Peter Pahk stops serving farmed raised salmon, it will have a huge impact."
More than half of the fish eaten today comes from fish farms, and popular fish such as salmon and tuna are raised in large netted areas off the coast of Chile and other countries. In many cases, the chemicals and high concentration of fish waste stress the fish and pollute the surrounding ocean.
Seafood Watch advocates obtaining salmon and tuna through other fishing methods such as gill nets or purse seine nets that reduce the number of turtles and other by-products that get caught up in the process. They also favor raising salmon and other fish such as trout and tilapia in inland tank farms that are 100 percent contained and eliminate waste products.
Pahk serves wild-caught Alaskan salmon and tuna from Hawaii that is caught under strict guidelines. He's also been working with local seafood wholesalers to provide sustainably caught fish for his "Dayboat Special" that shows up each day on the menu and is used for large catering events. It could mean serving rockfish, tile or drum fish as well as Chesapeake crab meat, oysters and shrimp.
"Right now the Chesapeake Bay is teeming with stuff," says Pahk. "I research what's local and ask my purveyors what's swimming out there."
Bowman and Pahk say part of the challenge is getting consumers to eat things other than tuna, salmon and shrimp. Even the wild-caught Alaskan salmon Pahk serves has a stronger taste than some diners are accustomed to.
His philosophy extends to the meats he serves as well. His veal and lamb come from free-range animals raised on farms in Colorado. He also serves high-quality beef sanctioned by the Certified Angus Beef program.
Pahk came to Kingsmill when the resort was purchased by Xanterra last year. He has worked for the resort company since 1997. A native of Oahu, Hawaii, Pahk began his career as an apprentice working in local restaurants in Waikiki. He studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y., and also spent 14 years working for Ritz-Carlton Hotels.
Since arriving at Kingsmill, Pahk has been retooling the menus and giving them his own personal touch. Entrees include ahi tuna with a seaweed salad and spicy aioli, grilled Colorado lamb chops with a roasted apple and mustard chutney, and a local seafood trio of Chesapeake crab meat, prawns and pink shrimp.
Xanterra recently announced major renovation plans to Kingsmill, including construction of a large restaurant at the marina.
Pahk realizes he must balance serving foods raised under sustainable methods with the higher costs that can come with it and with the resort's goal to provide its guests with an enjoyable, affordable experience. But he's committed to these methods.
"We've got to feed our world's population," he says. "Everybody has got to work together to save our culture."
The Seafood Watch program at the Monterey Bay Aquarium in California provides recommendations for obtaining seafood caught under methods that best protect the environment. The organization opposes overfishing and fishing methods such as dragging giant nets across the ocean floor.
"No one is saying don't eat fish — just be smart about it," says Sheila Bowman, senior manager of the Seafood Watch program.
Here are some of their suggestions for where to obtain popular kinds of fish and which ones to avoid:
Salmon — Best Choice: Wild–caught salmon caught with gill nets or purse seine nets, two types of net fishing that reduce the number of by-products caught. Also U.S. salmon farmed in tank systems that eliminate the waste products. Avoid: Salmon raised in large ocean fish farms.
Tilapia — Best choice: Tilapia grown in the U.S. environmentally friendly systems. Avoid: Farmed tilapia from China and Taiwan, where pollution and weak management are widespread problems.
Chilean Sea Bass — Avoid: Illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing has depleted some populations of Chilean sea bass.
Tuna — Best choice: Albacore from the U.S. and Canadian North Pacific caught with troll- or pole-caught methods. Avoid: Tuna caught with longline-caught method, which results in large quantities of by-catch, including threatened or endangered species such as sea turtles, sharks and seabirds. The exception is Hawaii, where longline-caught tuna is subject to strict by-catch regulations.
More information is available online at http://www.montereybayaquarium.org/cr/seafoodwatch.aspx.