By Maria Cerretani
On Saturday, July 13th, Slow Food NYC faced off against the Brooklyn Food Coalition in a friendly Iron Chef-inspired Seafood Throwdown at the Grand Army Plaza Greenmarket. The event was co-hosted by GrowNYC and the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance (NAMA) to spotlight the importance of local seafood and sustaining fishing communities. Slow Food NYC was represented by board members and home cooks Cristina Sciarra, Dee Dee Tiller, Kate Ferranti, Maria Cerretani, and Martina Rossi-Kenworthy — all wearing stripes to show team spirit. Culinary instructor Mukti Banerjee and Myrtle Eats Fresh Community Chef Darrell Robinson competed for the Brooklyn Food Coalition.
Just past 11am on an extremely muggy day, Stephanie Villani of Blue Moon Fish revealed the mystery fish: local sea bass! A sigh of relief from the competitors, who had been plagued by nightmares about tackling sea robins in front of an audience. Stephanie reminded market goers that the waters off Long Island contain delicious sea bass, which is a great local alternative to imported Chilean sea bass (an unrelated species). The long line snaking out from the Blue Moon Fish tent provided visual proof of the freshness and quality of the fish that the Villani family brings to Greenmarkets around the city.
Thrilled to be working with such fresh fish, the Slow Food NYC team set off to shop for ingredients! With 30 minutes and a sea of shoppers to navigate through, the ladies fanned out across the market to fill their shopping basket with fresh, local ingredients. Trying not to get distracted by new additions to the market, such as jewel-like fairytale eggplants, the team sourced some of the first corn of the season, sweet cherry tomatoes, fresh basil and mint, a bundle of fragrant chives, shallots, garlic, and even local hot sauce. In a last minute decision, zucchini and a loaf of bread were thrown into the basket for a quick side dish. In addition to staples like olive oil and seasoning, each team was allowed to bring three outside ingredients. Team Slow Food NYC brought lemons, vinegar, and white beans to supplement the dizzying array of summer produce overflowing in the market.
Back at the manager's tent, the two teams got to work cleaning and filleting three sea bass each. Cristina and Maria tackled the fish and produced beautiful fillets that were then marinated in olive oil, lemon, fresh herbs, and salt and pepper. Kate, Dee Dee, and Martina juggled a maze of cutting boards and burners to get started on the salad and side dish. Corn was quickly shucked, boiled, sliced off the cob, and added to a mixing bowl with the white beans, sliced cherry tomatoes, fresh herbs, and a vinaigrette. Zucchini was shredded on a box grater and sauteed with garlic, olive oil, and mint. And the bread was sliced, brushed with olive oil, and rubbed with cloves of garlic before being tossed onto the grill. With ten minutes remaining, the herb marinated sea bass fillets were pan-fried skin side down and then flipped until just perfectly cooked through. With just minutes before the clock ran out, the Slow Food NYC team worked together to plate the final dish for the judges' table, finishing with time to spare!
As the judges deliberated, samples were plated and passed out to market goers who had been watching the drama unfold. Emcee Matt Timms, of The Takedown, had provided colorful commentary throughout the cooking process and a large crowd had gathered to get tips on cooking with whole fish and for a chance to sample the two competing dishes. Slow Food NYC had purposefully prepared a dish that was uncomplicated, but delivered big on flavor to remind the audience that cooking "slow" food is within everyone's ability. Those gathered around the tent watched intently as the sea bass were cleaned and filleted, and many people commented that they had been intimidated by working with whole fish, but now realized it was not that difficult.
The panel of judges included GrowNYC Executive Director Marcel van Ooyen, Chef Cheryl Smith of Cheryl's Global Soul (and last year's Throwdown winner), and Stephanie Villani from Blue Moon Fish. Soon it was time for Niaz Dorry, the Coordinating Director of NAMA, to gather the two teams together to announce the winner of the Seafood Throwdown! The Brooklyn Food Coalition's team had cooked up a gorgeous sea bass korma, and Slow Food NYC was nervous, but in the end, Slow Food NYC was declared the winner!!!
NAMA organizes Seafood Throwdowns all over the region as a fun and engaging way to educate consumers about the importance of protecting small-scale, community based fisheries. The fun of the competition aside, Slow Food NYC was honored to be able to draw attention to the work NAMA is doing to advocate for good, clean, and fair seafood and policies. We thank NAMA for their continuing work and GrowNYC for hosting the competition and providing viable markets in our community for local fisheries. And, of course, thank you to Blue Moon Fish for providing the sea bass and bringing quality local seafood to New Yorkers week after week.
View more photos from the event: Click here
Vew the recipes prepared by our Slow Food NYC team: Click here
Maria Cerretani has been a Slow Food NYC board member since 2013 and was selected as a delegate to Terra Madre in 2012. She works in television production on projects ranging from comedy to educational children's programming.