Guest Host: Marc Fisher

Lawmakers in Maryland are debating a new proposal that would make it illegal for restaurants and markets to mislabel the food they sell and require them specifically to note the origins of crab meat they offer to consumers. We examine what’s at stake in this new debate about food and traceability, and what it means for consumers and producers here in the Washington region.

Guests

  • Matt Baker Chef, Occidental Grill and Seafood (Washington, D.C.); Owner, Well Fed Hospitality Group
  • Steve Vilnit Fisheries Marketing Director, Maryland Department of Natural Resources
  • Jeff Black Chef; Owner, Black Restaurant Group

Transcript

  • 13:25:09

    MR. MARC FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher of the Washington Post sitting in for Kojo. If you go to a restaurant and you're tempted by a Maryland-style crab cake on the menu, you might want to know that Maryland-style could mean a lot of things. It could tell you something about how much filler is used or whether the crabmeat is broiled or fried. But one thing Maryland-style may not mean at all is any guarantee that the crabmeat came from Maryland waters. It actually may have come from the Gulf of Mexico or waters around Indonesia.

  • 13:25:36

    MR. MARC FISHERThat may soon change in Maryland however. Lawmakers in Annapolis are considering a proposal to require restaurants and markets to specify the origins of any crabmeat they sell and establish new penalties for mislabeling seafood they offer customers. Joining us to explore how and why seafood mislabeling became so pervasive in our food system and what changing the rules for labeling could mean for businesses in our region are Matt Baker. He's chef de cuisine at Occidental Grill and Seafood in the district. He's also the owner of the Well Fed Hospitality Group. Welcome to the program.

  • 13:26:11

    MR. MATT BAKERThank you for having me.

  • 13:26:12

    FISHERAnd Steve Vilnit is fisheries marketing director for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Welcome.

  • 13:26:18

    MR. STEVE VILNITGreat to be back.

  • 13:26:19

    FISHERAnd Jeff Black is a chef and owner of the Black Restaurant Group which includes the restaurant Black Salt in the Palisades and five others including one new one opening in Tacoma, as I understand.

  • 13:26:29

    MR. JEFF BLACKYes.

  • 13:26:30

    FISHERAnd so he is here in studio with our other guests. And let's start with you, Jeff Black. What -- when you sell -- what you sell at your store and in your restaurants, is it always clear to the customer where -- what the seafood is in particular, where it came from?

  • 13:26:50

    BLACKAbsolutely. And it's something that we take a lot of pride in. And it's a challenge and it's expensive. And it's a little frustrating when you see your peers or competitors take advantage and not necessarily sell the protein as it's described. So I'm actually in favor of the legislation and I believe it's going to be a good thing all around.

  • 13:27:13

    FISHERThe -- now you have at your restaurants a seafood traceability program that was partly inspired by a sketch on the TV show Portlandia where characters who were curious about a chicken dish on a restaurant menu on shown photographs of that exact chicken which has a name.

  • 13:27:31

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALESo here is the chicken you'll be enjoying tonight.

  • 13:27:35

    UNIDENTIFIED MALEYou have this in for me -- this is fantastic.

  • 13:27:36

    UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE #2Absolutely. His name was Colin. Here are his papers, okay?

  • 13:27:41

    MALEThat's great. He looks like a happy little guy. He runs around. My friends, other chickens as friends, putting his little wing around another one and kind of like paling around.

  • 13:27:50

    #2You know, I don't know that I can speak to that level of intimate knowledge about him. They do a lot to make sure that their chicken's...

  • 13:27:58

    FEMALEWhen you say they, I mean, who are these people raising Colin?

  • 13:28:01

    #2It's a farm that's located about 30 miles south of Portland.

  • 13:28:05

    MALEAnd would you have good relationship with this farm?

  • 13:28:10

    #2We do.

  • 13:28:11

    MALEIt's not some guy on a yacht who lives in Miami who's just saying that he's organic...

  • 13:28:14

    #2Oh goodness, no.

  • 13:28:16

    FISHERSo I'm deeply hoping that this is immediately recognizable as satire because it does ring a little too close to the truth that we experience at some restaurants.

  • 13:28:27

    BAKERYeah, we served Colin last night. He's gone.

  • 13:28:31

    FISHERBut his children are available tonight, right? So...

  • 13:28:35

    BLACKBrothers and sisters.

  • 13:28:36

    FISHERRight. Why did this resonate with you and those you work with?

  • 13:28:40

    BLACKWell, the -- you know, obviously we do take a lot of fun, you know, poking fun at that exact skit. But the reality is people do want to know. They want to know where their food's from. They want to know that it's being handled ethically and humanely. And so we go out -- my fish monger M.J. will go and meet our sources. And we see how they run their facilities and make certain that they're clean and well organized. And we actually visit some that we've actually cut out because of the way they run their practice.

  • 13:29:09

    BLACKBut, you know, it is important and people like to know. They like to know where their stuff comes from and that it's -- you know, there's a lot of bad things that go on with a lot of food.

  • 13:29:20

    FISHERMatt Baker, what do you find the customers at your restaurant typically want to know about the fish you serve them and how do you go about making sure they have access to that information?

  • 13:29:28

    BAKERWell, for us, you know, we don't go to the extents Jeff goes to but, you know, we start ours at the server level. We try to inform our staff as much as possible where we're getting it from. You know, we let them know when it came in, what's fresh, what they should push. We try to educate them as much as possible. You know, our clientele, you know, they're just like everybody else in D.C. right now. They want traceability. They want -- you know, they want transparency and they want to know, you know, is it local, you know? And if it's not local then you need to label it such. You need to label what it truly is.

  • 13:30:00

    FISHERYou can join our conversation about seafood sourcing by calling 1-800-433-8850 or email us at kojo@wamu.org. Do you care where the seafood on restaurant menus really came from? Do you ask about it at restaurants and what kind of response do you get? Have you ever been served fish that was clearly different from what the menu described? Let us know at 1-800-433-8850. And Steve Vilnit, as fisheries marketing director for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, this is your bailiwick. And there's a lot of discussion now about how and whether to regulate in new ways.

  • 13:30:38

    FISHERBut it's become apparent that food fraud, particularly seafood fraud is pervasive across the American food system. A study published last year found that roughly a third of more than 1200 seafood products purchased in stores nationwide were mislabeled. How bad is the problem and why is it so easy for someone to say, sell tuna that's actually a completely different species?

  • 13:31:00

    VILNITI think it's a problem because there's profit to be made. If you take a Vietnamese basa and sell it as a grouper, you're obviously making a lot more money. And I think people are looking for ways to make profit. It's a very tough business climbing out there. And anywhere they can find this profit, they might take advantage of it. Not saying that every restaurant does this. Most restaurants don't and I think it's a very small percentage of the restaurants that are actually doing -- mislabeling and doing things the wrong way.

  • 13:31:27

    VILNITBut it is out there. I mean, you know, this is something we have to be concerned about because as a consumer you go into a restaurant thinking you're getting black grouper and you're really getting catfish. This is a big problem.

  • 13:31:35

    FISHERAnd where along the chain is the fraud generally occurring? Is the restaurant generally cognizant that they are selling something by a different name from what they bought or does it happen higher up on the chain at the wholesaler or somewhere else?

  • 13:31:49

    VILNITI think years ago it was more towards the restaurant level. You could get in, you know, that catfish and sell it as grouper. I think restaurants now are much more concerned about this. They're dialed into more of where their products are coming from. Chefs are coming around to learning about exactly where their fish is coming from. So I think this fraud is happening very high up on the supply chain, even before it gets to the wholesale level.

  • 13:32:11

    VILNITThis is coming from -- you know, directly from the producers as it's coming into the country. It's this emperor fish being sold as grouper because nobody knows the difference. And it goes all the way through the supply chain as such. And unfortunately the restaurants are the ones that -- are the fall guy for it at the end.

  • 13:32:28

    FISHERAnd it's an interesting point you raise that nobody knows the difference. Jeff Black, I mean, is there a certain amount of affectation behind all this? Most consumers really don't know fine differences between, you know, several different fishes that they've never really heard of before. And, you know, I can't tell you how many times servers, when asked to describe a fish, they say well it's real white flaky fish. That's like 90 percent of the answers. So, I mean, how do you deal with the sort of ignorance of, you know, many consumers on the one hand versus the idea that you ought to be honest on the other.

  • 13:33:02

    BLACKWell, you always want to try to take a high road. And that's the approach we take. And that's -- it's also kind of the frustrating thing for a restaurateur. If you're spending the money and you're buying the actual protein and you're selling, you know, a yellow tail snapper versus, you know, some imitation, you -- we do it because it's ethically right. And we feel like most of our consumers, they'll know the difference. Do they really know the difference? I don't know if they do or don't.

  • 13:33:34

    BLACKAnd, you know, we try and educate people. We try as hard as we can to share the knowledge that we have. But you can only go so far. It's -- you know, at the end of the day you're still running a business. You're managing lots of employees. You're dealing with vendors and landlords and insurance companies and a whole manner of other things. So you really -- it's not like you can take a whole chunk of your day out to say all right well, today we're going to talk about the difference between rockfish and striped bass, which people don't...

  • 13:34:05

    FISHERAnd...

  • 13:34:07

    BLACK...a lot of people around here don't realize it's the same thing.

  • 13:34:10

    FISHERAnd do you and the people who work for you always know the difference or do you find that you're sometimes bamboozled by people who are selling you the fish?

  • 13:34:18

    BLACKWell, I have -- I'm very fortunate that with the size of our company I have a full time fish monger. And if somebody tries to slide something past us, they'll get cut out.

  • 13:34:29

    FISHERAnd has that happened?

  • 13:34:30

    BLACKNo, because they're afraid of me. I've actually had vendors tell me that they wouldn't sell to me anymore because my standards were too high, too difficult. So...

  • 13:34:37

    FISHERWow. Okay.

  • 13:34:38

    BLACKBut, you know, it takes time to get to that level. And when I was young and just a new chef, people did try and they tried a lot of different stuff. And you just sort of develop a reputation of being somebody that's -- you know, I actually got a full page rebuttal in Washingtonian when Anthony Bourdain came out with a book that says you can't eat seafood on Monday because in theory that fish has been sitting in the warehouse all weekend.

  • 13:35:04

    BLACKWell, the reality is if you take bad fish on Monday, you take bad fish seven days a week. And...

  • 13:35:09

    FISHERWhat do you mean by that?

  • 13:35:09

    BLACKThe distributors, they have great stuff and they have bad stuff all the time. And the guy that takes bad fish on Monday takes bad fish on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday. He takes bad fish all the time. And once they know you have a standard and you're not going to tolerate it, the last thing they want to do is send a truck out, have you send it back and send a second truck out, possibly send that back. So your vendors start to understand. They start to appreciate, you know, what your standards are. And it is, it's a battle. It's a fight. It's not something that comes just by opening the doors and saying, hey bring me some product.

  • 13:35:49

    FISHERSo, Matt Baker, have you had experience with people trying to sell you fish under different names, false labels?

  • 13:35:56

    BAKERYou know, just like Jeff said, you know, when I was younger, yeah, you know, you came into a couple of instances of that, you know, Really what we try to do is forge those relationships with our suppliers, with our -- you know, with the fishermen so that we know -- you know, we know what we're getting and they know what our standards are. And they know what we want. And, you know, once they realize that you're not playing games, they're not going to play games with you anymore also.

  • 13:36:17

    FISHERSteve Vilnit, let's bring us back to the politics. What exactly is the proposal that's now making its way through the Maryland general assembly?

  • 13:36:25

    VILNITHouse Bill 913 is basically a bill that's going to require restaurants to put the origin of their crabmeat on the menu. In addition it's also making it so that it's legal to mislabel your fish intentionally. So you can't label that, you know, flounder as halibut or whatever you're going to do. You can't do that. That's illegal. But the meat of the bill is is meat -- is crabmeat. And it comes down to you have to put the country or origin on the menu to show the people where the crabmeat's coming from.

  • 13:36:52

    FISHERAnd how do you go about enforcing that? Are you going to have people actually inspecting in restaurants or...

  • 13:36:57

    VILNITYou know, that's where it's going to be based off of complaints from consumers. So if a consumer comes in to a restaurant and they think they're getting Chinese crabmeat and they're being told it's a product of the USA, they make a complaint. And the health department would go in there and actually check it, check invoices to make sure that the product they're using actually is what they're saying it is.

  • 13:37:15

    FISHERAre there similar laws in place in other states?

  • 13:37:17

    VILNITNo. This is something first of its kind. You know, this is a groundbreaking law. I think if this goes through this kind of -- it's going to change the way restaurants work in the future. And I think this is a good thing. Retail stores are already required to do this. If you go into your local Wagman's or Whole Foods, they have to have in the case country of origin and method of harvest. Restaurants don't have to do this at this point, so this might be something that really changes things.

  • 13:37:44

    FISHERJeff Black, you have restaurants in both the district and Maryland, so this would affect you. What do you think of it?

  • 13:37:49

    BLACKI think -- I'm buying it 100 percent. I mean, it's -- again, it sort of levels the playing field. And as Matt said, you know, you fight really hard to develop these relationships and do the right thing. And, you know, without throwing anybody under the bus you -- I as a consumer go out to other restaurants. And I get products that I know are not -- they're not what is on the menu. And they're not necessarily correct.

  • 13:38:14

    BLACKAnd, you know, you see -- we were talking about this before the show. You own a restaurant and they've got crab cakes for $10. You're probably not going to get any domestic crabmeat in that.

  • 13:38:23

    FISHERThat's a good clue. Here is Bruce in Baltimore. Bruce, you're on the air.

  • 13:38:28

    BRUCEHi. I placed my call several minutes ago, so I've heard a little bit more of the intricacies of -- and I want to thank you for taking my call. Actually, I've worked in a number of seafood restaurants and...

  • 13:38:40

    FISHERYou're breaking up, Bruce. Can you move to somewhere...

  • 13:38:43

    BRUCEI'm sorry. I'm sorry. I've worked in a number of seafood restaurants in Baltimore. My contention is the people in Baltimore -- and this relates specifically to crab -- they really don't want to know where it comes from in terms of what state, what country perhaps. But people don't want to think that they can only have their crabmeat from Maryland in September. And I think that the legislation, if it relates to states, may have a very detrimental effect on the seafood industry and in the restaurants here in Baltimore.

  • 13:39:18

    FISHERSteve.

  • 13:39:19

    VILNITYeah, and I agree. If you put it to a state law I think it'll be too much of a hardship on the restaurants. And it would be a negative effect on the impact -- or a negative impact on the industry overall. The delegate actually has amended the bill to make it so it’s a country of origin only. So that this won't be as much of, you know, a problem for the restaurants. And it'll -- you know, Maryland can't handle -- we don't have enough crabs in Maryland to supply every restaurant. But keeping it domestically I think is the way to go.

  • 13:39:48

    FISHERAnd, I mean, there is a discussion about whether it is actually better for customers, better for the oceans, et cetera to have such a strict focus on local crabmeat. There are places in the world where crab is more plentiful. Does it make sense to mix it up and have crab from a variety of places around the world, to Jeff Black?

  • 13:40:09

    BLACKI personally -- we -- as far as our restaurants go, we only buy domestic crabmeat. Now that being said, there's no way I could serve Maryland crab year round. You can't. Even in the season you can't automatically get Maryland crab.

  • 13:40:25

    FISHERJust there's not enough.

  • 13:40:26

    BLACKThere's just not enough. There's not enough. Whatever price you're willing to pay. And so we do buy a lot of crab that comes from Louisiana, Texas, Alabama. You know, it's -- the reality is it's a supply situation.

  • 13:40:40

    FISHERAnd do you -- you have the rule about having only domestic crab because it's fresher or tastes better or what?

  • 13:40:46

    BLACKI grew up on the Gulf coast and all I've ever enjoyed is blue crab. And I just -- when I see the Venezuelan crab I could spot it. It's bleached, it's beautiful big white chunks and it tastes like water.

  • 13:40:59

    FISHEROkay. And, Matt Baker, do you have a similar rule about domestic crab?

  • 13:41:05

    BAKERWell, for us, you know, I think it goes to, you know, educating the consumer that, you know, obviously you can't have a Maryland-style crab cake year round. So, you know, at the Occidental we don't -- you know, we have to have certain items on our menu year round, crab cake being one of them. We are, you know, especially in the summertime a big tourist spot. But we don't label them Maryland crabmeat if we're not putting Maryland crab into it.

  • 13:41:27

    BAKERYou know, as a chef, there's a lot of things that you're kind of fighting against. You know, freshness, flavor's a big one, but also price per pounds is another one that we fight with. So there are times when the domestic prices shoot up that we have in the past gone through, you know, to use Venezuelan crabmeat. We do try as much as possible to use domestic but, you know, like I said, it's always that game that you're playing with trying to make some money and also, you know, being honest with the consumer.

  • 13:41:54

    FISHERLet's hear from George in Falls Church, Va. George, you are on the air.

  • 13:42:00

    GEORGEHi guys. I was calling actually just to ask you a quick question. First and foremost I want to say thank you to the three guests for joining this conversation. It's very informative and I appreciate your all's efforts and concerns. I did want to mention that Black Salt is probably one of the best seafood restaurants I've been to in the city and definitely can tell they have really good high quality meat -- or seafood there.

  • 13:42:22

    GEORGESo the question really is just in sorts a growing concern that in the Pacific there's some radiation levels that are rising and how that's basically affecting the seafood stock. And I was just curious -- and I don't think there's a silver bullet answer to this, but I was just curious if you guys -- some of your guests were aware of this and maybe what tactics or solutions might be available to identifying seafood with high radiation levels.

  • 13:42:52

    FISHERSteve Vilnit from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources.

  • 13:42:55

    VILNITI think, you know, with respect to the radiation things, I mean, in terms of crabmeat we don't have to really worry about it because where the radiation is is not where any of the crabmeat's really being harvested from. In terms of seafood in general, I think this is really important. I think we need to look at the maps to see where the radiation levels are going and beware of where our seafood's coming. It goes back to the chefs knowing their sources and knowing that their tuna may be coming from Japan or it might be coming from South Africa. And knowing exactly where it comes from and being cognizant of, you know, that problem out there and just buying accordingly.

  • 13:43:28

    FISHERThere have been reports about the radiation from Fukushima moving toward Washington State as it crosses the ocean. Is that something that the industry tracks? Jeff, do you...

  • 13:43:38

    BLACKWell, as far as Black Restaurant Group is concerned, my fish mongrel stays on top of all these components. And oftentimes, even if you elect not to buy seafood from a particular region, this actually goes back to when a hurricane blew through the Gulf of Mexico. What you end up doing is putting added pressure on other species. You can put added pressure on other stocks or on the world when one stock becomes depleted. And we're paying very close attention to the Pacific.

  • 13:44:11

    BLACKAnd again, we try, as much as possible, to know the -- not just who our vendors are, but the politics of our vendors, their policies, their standards. And make sure that their standards are in lock and step with what we're trying to achieve.

  • 13:44:27

    FISHERJeff Black is chef and owner of the Black Restaurant Group and -- which has restaurants including Black Salt and the new one Republic in Tacoma. And we're also joined by Matt Baker, chef de cuisine at Occidental Grill and Seafood in the district and Steve Vilnit, fisheries marketing director for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. When we come back after a short break, more about crabs and we'll talk about oysters and we'll talk about restaurants generally. Your calls at 1-800-433-8850. I'm Marc Fisher and this is "The Kojo Nnamdi Show."

  • 13:46:37

    FISHERWelcome back. I'm Marc Fisher and this is "The Kojo Nnamdi Show." We are talking about seafood and sourcing and truth in labeling with Matt Baker from the Occidental Grill, Jeff Black from the Black Restaurant Group and Steve Vilnit from the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. And we'll get back to your calls in a moment. But I wanted to pick up on this question of foreign fish. And, Jeff Black, you mentioned earlier that you tend to buy domestic in part out of loyalty and it's what you grew up with. But you're also concerned about some of the practices overseas.

  • 13:47:07

    BLACKRight. And, you know, a lot of times it's very easy as Americans or U.S. citizens for us to bash the government for various things. But one thing that we do very well is we maintain our fisheries. And our -- there's a lot of information that we have about where our boats go, how our boats are harvesting fish, what practices the wholesalers are dealing with. And whenever you talk about farm fish, there's a very high standard in the United States. And if you buy domestic tilapia, it's going to be two or three times the price of Indonesian tilapia.

  • 13:47:40

    BLACKBut what they're doing in other countries where they're not heavily regulated is -- so there's some bad practices going on.

  • 13:47:51

    FISHERCan you name a couple of them?

  • 13:47:52

    BLACKWell, if you go see -- if you get salmon and you see salmon at a grocery store and it's $4.99 a pound, okay, that fish has probably been fed a whole lot of bad things...

  • 13:48:03

    FISHERLike...

  • 13:48:04

    BLACK...like steroids, antibiotics, chemicals, things to get it large fast and on the market. And, you know, it's a fight you fight because, I mean, they'll come in and they'll say, well why is your, you know, farm salmon from Scotland, that, you know, the IEU has an organic standard for salmon which we buy. And it's exponentially more. My wholesale price is exponentially more than I would have to pay if I went to the local grocery store. But I know what I'm getting. I'm getting a fish that's been raised on an organic diet of eating actual fish meals, not eating antibiotics and corn and filler and...

  • 13:48:44

    FISHERBut as a result, of course, a fish entrée at a restaurant runs well north of $20, 30, 40, 50 and more in many high-end restaurants. So clearly there is a separate class developing that has access to domestic fish that has guaranteed good progeny and for the rest of the folks...

  • 13:49:08

    BLACKNot necessarily.

  • 13:49:10

    FISHER...who rely on that $4.99 fish.

  • 13:49:11

    BLACKRight. There's a lot of -- you know, a couple years ago, the Washington Post called me about doing sort of a trash story on tilapia, how bad tilapia is. And I managed to get them to rewrite the story as a point -- counterpoint. Whereas tilapia as domestic product, it's a vegetarian fish. It comes in at a very competitive price, as far as the protein goes. It' very competitive with most other proteins you'll find in a grocery store. It's -- you've got Omega 3s. It's a healthful food to eat. It's low in fat. But again, it's getting people to try different species. And that's one of our big advocacies is trying to get people to eat some of the lesser-known fish. Because, hey it alleviates pressure on...

  • 13:49:59

    BAKER...the big fish.

  • 13:50:00

    BLACK..you're right, exactly. Matt's right. It's like you get the people that come in and they're going to get salmon, they're going to get swordfish, they're going to get tuna.

  • 13:50:06

    FISHERSo people who come to Black Salt I think it's fair to say might be a bit more adventuresome than folks who go to some other restaurants. I mean, Matt Baker, you talked about having a big tourist traffic at Occidental. Presumably they might be more inclined toward the better known fish.

  • 13:50:23

    BAKERYeah, exactly. I mean, you put tuna on our menu, it flies out the door. You know, I gave these guys an example. You know, we brought in a local fish called sheepshead recently. We ran it for a special.

  • 13:50:35

    FISHERNot the most attractive name for a fish.

  • 13:50:36

    BAKERAbsolutely not. And if you look at pictures of it, you pull it up, you know, it is not the prettiest fish in the world either. You know, we try to inform and educate our servers about it. We bring it for a special. You know, and we had -- you know, the question came up, well why can't we just rename it? And -- well, that's not the right things to do. That's not how we want to run our business.

  • 13:50:54

    BAKERYou know, and what we found is actually by educating our staff even more and having them taste the fish, you know, having them look at pictures, read a little bit about it, we actually ended up selling out of all the sheepshead we brought in. And actually the people that we -- the consumers that we did have try it and that ordered it, they actually really enjoyed it. And we kind of educated them that day.

  • 13:51:12

    FISHERAnd Steve Vilnit, is there anything that the state does to encourage the consumption of these lesser-known species?

  • 13:51:19

    VILNITYeah, underutilized species is a very important thing. Everybody focuses on those -- the tuna, the salmon, the shrimp, the tilapia. There's other species out there that are great and affordable. We have a couple right here in this area that are invasive species. These are things that shouldn't be in our water. We have blue catfish, extremely affordable, a great product. And this is something...

  • 13:51:39

    BLACKAnd delicious.

  • 13:51:40

    VILNITAnd delicious. That's the key point here. And this is something that we can get on the menus locally. It's cheap. And not only is it helping to have a lower price point but you're helping the ecosystem by getting this invasive species out of the water.

  • 13:51:51

    FISHERSnakehead too.

  • 13:51:52

    VILNITSnakehead, too.

  • 13:51:53

    BLACKNot so delicious.

  • 13:51:55

    VILNITSnakehead's delicious.

  • 13:51:57

    FISHERWe'll have to have a taste-off on that. Let's turn to a call from Doug in Silver Spring. Doug, you're on the air.

  • 13:52:04

    DOUGYes. Hi, Jeff, this is Doug. I used to work -- I was a fish monger for you over at Black Salt a while back.

  • 13:52:10

    BLACKYes. How are you?

  • 13:52:12

    DOUGI'm good. How are you doing? I just wanted to let everybody know that it is correct. Jeff will send stuff back. I sent trucks back. He does not take garbage fish at all. And the Scotland salmon has got to be one of the best salmon I've ever had in my life. And I...

  • 13:52:29

    FISHERAnd so...

  • 13:52:29

    DOUG...well, I didn't love salmon until then.

  • 13:52:31

    FISHERSo Doug, wait. When you would send trucks back, what was the response from the guy on the truck?

  • 13:52:36

    DOUGSometimes we'd get a phone call and they'd say, well, what was wrong. And I'd have to concur with the market manager who was the head fish monger and reconfirm that it was other -- one time there was a -- they sent us like ten pounds of tuna that was -- the blood line was running right through it and it just didn't look right. And it smelled awful and so we sent it back. And they got really upset. And then the head fish monger said something along the lines of, well fine then. If you're not going to bring us something back then, you know, then we won't deal with you anymore.

  • 13:53:11

    FISHEROkay.

  • 13:53:12

    DOUGAnd they tried everything in their power to basically be our friends again. But we were always iffy about them. I don't remember the name of the actual company...

  • 13:53:21

    FISHERThat's okay. We could probably do without the name.

  • 13:53:23

    BLACKExactly.

  • 13:53:25

    FISHEROkay. Thanks for the call, Doug. Here's Jim in the district. Jim, you're on the air.

  • 13:53:30

    JIMHi, yeah, I make crab cakes for one of my food products that I make that I sell wholesale and I was just curious, is this going to be a federal law or is it just a state law?

  • 13:53:39

    FISHERThis...

  • 13:53:40

    JIMOnly because the people who I sell to, it's a rather large chain and they have other crab cakes in there that advertise as Maryland-style. And I keep telling them there's no such thing as Maryland-style. The crabmeat either comes from Maryland or it's made in Maryland or it's not. You know, just because somebody throw old bay in there doesn't mean it's Maryland-style. So I'm just curious, is this a federal or a Maryland State law?

  • 13:54:02

    FISHERIt's a state bill and Steve Vilnit, would it -- is there any prospect of it going beyond Maryland, do you think?

  • 13:54:10

    VILNITYou know, if it became successful in this area I think other states would definitely bring it on. We hope that it does go national. This would be a fantastic thing to have restaurants across the country. You know, we'd probably get that -- 90 percent of our seafood that's consumed in the United States is being imported, we'd probably get that number down if everybody was required to tell you where that product came from.

  • 13:54:29

    FISHERLet's go to Arlene in Rockville. Arlene, you're on the air.

  • 13:54:32

    ARLENEHi, yeah, I was just wondering about shrimp. Do you carry shrimp?

  • 13:54:38

    FISHERYes. Matt Baker, go ahead.

  • 13:54:40

    BLACKYes, we carry...

  • 13:54:41

    ARLENEOkay. Because the reason is the last that I knew is that in order to raise shrimp you really have to go into the mangroves and they get destroyed and can't really be rebuilt. And mangroves, of course, are, you know, an important ecosystem for breeding of many, many species. And also for protecting the land, you know, against kind of like wetlands would against storms and surges. And so I didn't know if there was any new kind of ways that people -- sustainable ways to...

  • 13:55:15

    FISHEROkay. Let's ask Steve Vilnit.

  • 13:55:18

    VILNITMost of the domestic shrimp that we have is actually wild. There are some shrimp farms in the United States but they're really limited. And the ones that we do have in the United States are typically land-based. They're recirculating water systems. So you're not actually impacting mangroves or the natural environment. But most of our shrimp fisheries are wild either along the Atlantic coast or the Gulf coast.

  • 13:55:39

    BLACKYeah, and you have -- the shrimp is a generalization that's pretty broad stroke. But like Marvesta is a prime example of a local company that's doing a great product that is farmed. They're a Maryland company. They make a fantastic product. But most of the shrimp that we sell at Black Restaurant Group come out of the Gulf of Mexico. And it's a wild-caught. It's caught with (word?) . It's a pretty clean practice. None of these practices are completely clean so you try and do the best you can.

  • 13:56:11

    FISHERWe're running short on time. We have a call from Leslie in Vienna asking about the concern about the BP oil spill and products from the Gulf coast. We also have an email from Bob saying, "Restaurants in Maryland should be required to show where in the United States crabmeat is coming from." And he's concerned because of the chemicals that BP used in their cleanup of the massive oil spill. Are you using Gulf coast products, Jeff Black?

  • 13:56:38

    BLACKWe do use some Gulf coast products. We don't use a lot but we do use some. And again, we're constantly in contact with our suppliers. And we want to -- we're in the same boat. I mean, I eat the products that I buy and I feed them to my children. And we try to be very, very conscientious about who, what, when and where with all of our products.

  • 13:56:58

    FISHERMatt Baker, what's your view on Gulf coast products at this point?

  • 13:57:02

    BAKERYou know, I think, you know, I'm with Jeff. You know, we use a handful of Gulf coast products. You know, shrimp, crabmeat is probably the extent of it. But, you know, it's just about the relationship you have with your supplier, making sure you're getting a good product that's healthy and, you know, that you're not going to pass onto your consumer.

  • 13:57:18

    FISHERJeff Black, we just have a few seconds left. How's the new restaurant in Tacoma doing, Republic?

  • 13:57:22

    BLACKRepublic's doing fantastic. It's been well received and we were very fortunate. We actually had to close our first restaurant Addies and we managed to get the entire staff located in the Republic. So no one lost their job so we moved our whole crew over there. And it helped quite a bit with the opening because we had a lot of people that sort of understood our philosophies and our approach. So...

  • 13:57:45

    FISHERYou have six restaurants now, is that right?

  • 13:57:47

    BLACKWe have five restaurants and Black Jack, which is the bar we have above (unintelligible) .

  • 13:57:52

    FISHERJeff Black is chef and owner of the Black Restaurant Group. Matt Baker is chef de cuisine at Occidental Grill and Seafood in Washington. He's also the owner of the Well Fed Hospitality Group. And Steve Vilnit is fisheries marketing director for the Maryland Department of Natural Resources. Thanks to all of you for being here. And thanks to all of you for listening. I'm Marc Fisher of the Washington Post sitting in for Kojo. Have a great day.

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