Cooking for Solutions at the Monterey Bay Aquarium, Part 2—with the Chefs!

The second part of Cooking for Solutions (see part 1) involved cooking, and lots of it! On Saturday night, 2,500 people paid $150 per person to roam about the aquarium and drink wine and eat small dishes to their hearts’ and stomachs’ content. More than 70 chefs and 60 wineries participated, and although I tried very hard to eat one of everything, I stopped at around 30 or maybe 40. All the participating chefs and wineries are committed to sustainable and organic food. It was absolutely fabulous, and worth a mini-vacation if you like that sort of thing.

The celebrity chefs included people like Alton Brown, Carla Hall, Nathan Lyon, Charles Phan, P. Allen Smith, and Robert Irvine. The quality and creativity of the food, served on bite-sized little plates, was amazing and yummy.

Some of my favorites from the tastings were: Virginia Willis’s Pan-Seared Georgia Trout with Pecan Brown Butter (yum!), Regina Charboneau’s Shrimp in Smoked Tomato Sauce over Rosemary Grits (not only do I love those Southern women, but after trying this, you will find me this summer experimenting with making tomato sauce over a wood fire). Jesse Ziff Cool’s Asparagus, Green Onion, and Potato Croquettes with Spring Shoots Salad were melty-crunchy in the mouthy. And Carla Hall’s Spring Pea and Fresh Ricotta Torgelini with Lemon Thyme Buerre Blanc was just perfect. As I write this, I am noticing that I preferred the women chefs’ food. I think a lot of the other dishes were way too complicated. It was if the guys were trying to one-up each other with technical daring, rather than focusing on satisfying flavor. For example, one chef had “horseradish gravel” which was made into dry ice by applying CO2. Sorry, there are better uses for greenhouse gases than that.

I didn’t nearly get to taste everything, but it was a true culinary adventure…finished off with a delightful pineapple cotton candy!

The setting at the Monterey Bay Aquarium couldn’t be finer, or more magical. This is the aquarium that has brought the amazing seafood watch list to millions of Americans, helping us to make better choices about what fish are safe and best to eat and not safe, based on contamination, overfishing, and worldwide fish availability. So it was a perfect setting in which to focus on sustainable and organic food.

Myra Goodman and I did a panel discussion together, moderated by the lovely Kristine Kidd, author and former food editor of Bon Appétit. Unfortunately, all my scary warnings about the health of our children tied to agricultural chemicals were confirmed by a first-grade teacher in the audience: She said that at least 50 percent of her students are either severely autistic or have ADHD. She lives and works in the heart of the chemical “conventional” strawberry-growing region.

How is that OK? How is that “conventional?” It’s not. And if it takes celebrity chefs to get people to pay attention, then I’m all for it. But it’s definitely time to wake up, or we won’t have any healthy kids left.

Beautiful jellyfish at the aquarium.

Real fish, not fake, at the aquarium.

Those are not rocks on the beach, they are seals and their pups!

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