Companywide responsible-sourcing goals pushed Elior North America to make the switch to sustainably fished salmon recently. Working with Seafood Watch, a recognized organization in the fight for aquaculture, Elior is adding frozen wild-caught salmon, and in 2020 plans to add responsibly sourced canned tuna and shrimp.
With all the new salmon headed for about 800 Elior accounts, Guy Kellner, senior VP of culinary development for Elior, got to work visualizing menu items to showcase the sustainable salmon in on-trend ways.
But first, “Seafood Watch conducted an analysis of our annual seafood purchasing to identify opportunities for improvement,” Kellner says. The program has been aligned with the Elior Group Positive Foodprint Plan, an outline toward more sustainable ingredients overall.
“We sent them our entire seafood purchasing info from 14 distributors, then Seafood Watch finds out the source—which vessel did this come off of and getting information to verify that it’s actually accurate,” Kellner says.
Next, Seafood Watch helped Elior develop a three-step plan, which will begin with frozen sustainable salmon (happening right now) and canned sustainable tuna and shrimp (in the planning phases now). Wild-caught salmon in frozen form was decided on as the best choice. While there are sustainable ways to farm salmon, “this is the direction we’re going in, and I think wild-caught salmon is a better product,” Kellner says.
Seafood sourcing is a complex topic, with more than just our oceans at stake; it’s also a human rights issue, something the Monterey Bay Aquarium spotlights with education and research.
all the more reason to pay attention to where that shrimp comes from.
“Human trafficking on fishing vessels is horrendous,” Kellner says. “They [workers] don’t know what they’re getting into, and they can be on a boat for three or four years without ever leaving. It’s inhumane.”
“I’ve never met a chef who doesn’t want to get more sustainable, responsible seafood,” Kellner says, “but the problem often is, they don’t know how…they don’t know what’s right or what’s wrong.”
That’s where an organization like Monterey Bay Aquarium comes in, the standard in letting foodservice professionals know which species of seafood is currently “green, yellow or red” in their ratings system.
“The goal is to get more species out of the red,” Kellner says, something a company like Elior is poised to do with the sheer volume of seafood purchasing they do. But that’s also what makes sourcing sustainable seafood trickier for Elior than, say, a 50-seat independent restaurant, which can make last-minute adjustments on menu and price.
“The issue in foodservice is the volume,” Kellner says, adding that Elior operators will definitely be impacted by the new purchasing program, but it’s something the company is committed to.
“Sustainable seafood does not come free, and the cost is going up. But, as an organization, you make decisions. We can’t just bump our prices overnight, but we want to have strong corporate responsibility. So, we do it over time so the impact to our operators is less painful.”
Communication of the new salmon plan has been done with Elior operators through culinary road shows and quarterly webinars.
“Most chef are delighted,” Kellner says. “Don’t we all want to do right?”
At the culinary road shows, the salmon was featured in chef demos then used as the main ingredient in a cooking competition, providing the first answers to the question of what to do with all this great, responsibly sourced salmon? For Kellner and his team, just adding barbecue sauce has become a little too basic, he says, and he’s looking for more nuance.
“We use barbecue sauce a great deal with salmon in our units, but it’s been somewhat overused in recent years,” says Paul Basciano, corporate chef with Elior. “One of the first dishes I enjoyed preparing early in my career was seared salmon filet with a mango-coconut sauce…very simple, but elegant.”
Basciano (left) says he’s also thinking about teriyaki glazes with strong ginger component for a salty-sweet flavor combo for salmon. Technique-wise, most accounts will sear salmon on cast-iron skillets, and a few have started using the Spanish la plancha technique for salmon. In Spanish cooking, a la plancha means “grilled on a metal plate,” which some consider the world’s first flattop grill.
Another great use for salmon is in Asian broths like pho, which was the focus of one of the culinary road shows. “When you think about Vietnamese food and broths, there’s many ways to use salmon,” Kellner says. “And there’s also a bunch of cold applications; smoked salmon is one thing, but you also have cured salmon. Just put it in raw with salt and maybe parsley in the fridge for three days. And that’s lox and bagels for breakfast.”
As for the upcoming canned tuna and shrimp, Kellner envisions those items as more of a pantry ingredient, although currently “we do offer a French tinned sardine appetizer tableside,” a trend that’s popping up at trendy white-tablecloth restaurants around the country.