Should Ethics Be Put Aside When the Boss Asks for Chilean Sea Bass? Or, Worse, Foie Gras?
Chef Sara Ventiera is on a three-week trip to the Bahamas, manning the kitchen on a 91-foot yacht. She will file regular updates from the waters about what it's like to work on a yacht, from pretrip provisioning to seaplane produce delivery. Click here for previous reports.
It's 8 o'clock Thursday night. We just completed our last dinner service for the trip. Tonight's entrée was Chilean sea bass served over a brown rice pilaf with sautéed zucchini and a warm tomato vinaigrette. The boss and his wife loved it. I, on the other hand, had mixed feelings about the dish.
The flavors melded together beautifully: the tangy, warm tomato and red onions over the sweet fish with the garlicky, tender zucchini, on top of the nutty brown rice. To top it off, it was paired with a supple meursault. Just enough finesse to nicely round out the meal. The praise from the boss should have been enough to keep me satisfied for the evening, but I couldn't get over the guilt I was feeling. I've been feeling terrible for ordering the sea bass.
In the process of planning the menu, I received an email
from the boss' wife stating that she is currently on a Chilean sea bass
kick. I probably could have ignored that tidbit without anyone noticing,
but I am in the business of doing what it takes to please. I ordered
the sea bass.
She told me was the only kind she supplied. This made me feel a
bit better, but even so, I had my doubts. Since the 1990s, the huge
demand on Chilean sea bass has caused the population to decline to
dangerous levels. Worse, it is caught by long-line fishing, which can
decimate other fish species as well. Add in the issue of illegal fishing
due to the high demand and you have an ecological nightmare.
There is, however, one fishery that has obtained the MSC certification, the South Georgia Island fishery.
It's a co-op of sorts. While I respect the authority and opinion of the
Marine Stewardship Council, a part of me wonders about the
certification process of the individual fish. Even though I was told the
fish I purchased did indeed have this certification, could I really be
sure? Apparently, some mislabeled fish even turn up at high-end
supermarkets. How could I know that my Chilean sea bass was not
mislabeled as well? I didn't, but I bought it anyway.
I do have a
certain amount of leeway in terms of the dishes I choose to prepare. I
do my best to appease the boss and his guests, but there are some items I
would downright refuse to cook on moral grounds: veal, foie gras, blue
fin tuna. Besides, I highly doubt they would even ask. Other dishes are a
bit trickier, as much as I have a great rapport with the owner; it is
not appropriate to push my ethical beliefs on him or his guests. I do my
best to provision the boat with ethically conscious, sustainable foods.
Furthermore, I have no budget holding me back. This allows me to buy
pasture-raised dairy products, grass-fed beef, free-range poultry. I try
my best to abide by my values. Unfortunately, in this position, I'm not
paid to teach ethics. No one wants to be chastised or criticized for
what they choose to put in their mouths, and it's not my place to do that.
I'll save that for my next career path.
Get the Food & Drink Newsletter
Our weekly guide to South Florida dining includes food news and reviews, as well as dining events and interviews with chefs and restaurant owners.