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“What’s the fish today?” a lunchmate asked the server in the Grill at Silverado Resort one day last week.

“It’s Chilean sea bass served ...” she replied before being interrupted mid-sentence by our lunch companion, the chef who purchases the seafood served at the landmark wine country resort.

“No, it’s not,” shot back executive chef Peter Pahk. “That’s the worst thing you could have said — we haven’t served that in 10 years.”

Pahk was upset because he and Silverado are celebrating an important anniversary — a decade of sustainability, a practice that includes compliance with the West Coast sustainable seafood guide issued by Monterey Bay Aquarium.

Because the survival of Chilean sea bass, Atlantic swordfish, blue fin tuna and shark is threatened by overfishing, the opportunity for restaurants to get these species “doesn’t exist anymore,” Pahk insists. It seemed ironic that that very message had somehow missed a member of chef Pahk’s team.

One of the leaders in sustainability in the local hospitality industry, Pahk voiced his concern, even though he was but a few short hours away from joining the ranks of the unemployed. (Pahk was one of some 20 executives and managers axed when new owners and management team took control of Silverado last Thursday.)

If anything at all, Pahk hopes his legacy of manning the stoves at Silverado the past 13 years will be one of sustainability.

“My signature,” he’s quick to tell anyone who’ll listen, is “anything local and sustainable.”

Pahk is also quick to point out he’s not the only one in the local hospitality industry on the track to sustainability — singling out Farmstead’s Seamus Feeley, Silverado Brewing Company’s Michael Fradelizio, Napa Valley Wine Train’s Kelly Macdonald and Bardessono’s Sean O’Toole.

And his attention is not only on what comes into the kitchen. According to Napa Recycling and Waste Services, the food and beverage program’s recycling and composting efforts save Silverado Resort about $100,000 a year. In 2007, Silverado was spending $140,000 on waste services, said Napa Recycling and Waste Services Tim Dewey Mattia. “They’re on track for a total cost of $40,000 in 2010,” he noted. “Silverado has the most impressive recyling/composting program in Napa and chef Pahk was the driving force.”

Early involvement

Celebrated seafood chef Rick Moonen, an early champion of sustainable fishing practices, piqued Pahk’s interest a decade ago while Moonen was running restaurants in New York City. Even before Moonen relocated to Las Vegas, Pahk signed onto the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch program he advocated.

“The first thing I did was stay away from farmed salmon,” Pahk adds. “Today we follow the guide issued by Seafood Watch, using what’s available (from seafood wholesalers). That might be local or Alaska halibut, Alaska wild salmon (“This is the third year fishing for wild salmon off the California and Oregon coasts has been prohibited.”), sand dabs, Petrale sole ... I serve Oregon pink shrimp 10 different ways. We are encouraged to go way down on the seafood chain, to use sardines and mackeral, to use smaller fish. Clams, mussels and oysters are also good choices.”

The term “line caught” is a descriptor bandied about encouragingly by waitstaffs these days, Pahk adds, informing diners that the catch of the day doesn’t come from “farms” or huge netting operations.

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In addition to offering wild Alaska salmon instead of farmed salmon, Silverado serves abalone produced by Abalone Farm, a California facility that employs sustainable practices.

The culinary team at Silverado also offers diners American Kurobuta pork from Idaho’s Snake River Farms and in the Royal Oak, it’s certified Angus Natural prime beef that’s being carved.

“We just added an all-Napa Valley beef burger to the menu,” Pahk points out. Rancher Paul Tarep grinds up prime rib, fillet and all choice parts of Belted Galloway steers grass fed on the former Stewart’s Dairy site in Carneros. “He grinds up the whole animal, all the choice cuts, and it makes for a sensational burger,” Pahk adds.

Whatever tack new managers take when it comes to menu planning, Pahk likes to believe his successors will continue with the sustainability, recycling and composting programs he and his culinary team started. After all, Nolan Bradley (executive sous chef), Cuco Rojas (Grill chef) and Pablo Bernal (Royal Oak chef) remain in the Silverado kitchens and are prepared to carry on, says Pahk.

And that fish of the day was no mystery, really. Returning from a quick jaunt to the kitchen, Pahk informed his lunch companions it was bluenose sea bass. “There are three main varieties of corvina — gulf corvina, bluenose sea bass and Hawaii has hapu’puu ...” Pahk tells us, always eager to share nuggets of wisdom mined from an illustrious career.

The genial Oahu native will now move on, as he’s received employment offers from several local restaurateurs as well as a very attractive proposal from the owners of a new Hawaii resort.

“No matter where I go, I’ll remain a spokesman for the Seafood Watch program,” he promises. “It’s as important as ever to inform the public that the choices they make do directly affect the health of our planet.”

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