Scales and Tales Dinner Series: A New Way to See-Food

If you’ve been living under a rock or asleep for a really, really long time (think Rip Van Winkle), I have some news for you: Donald Trump is president (yes, that guy), Russia is the enemy again and local, sustainable food is all the rage. That last one is really great news.

One reason for this phenomenon is flavor. After all, nothing tastes better in New England than tomatoes in August and crisp, juicy apples in September. Aside from flavor, eating locally is the right thing to do. It takes an unnecessary amount of resources to fly bananas from Jamaica or ship salmon from the Pacific Northwest. Also, and perhaps more importantly, eating the way we do is not sustainable, particularly with regard to seafood. Our oceans are overfished, enabling entrepreneurial types to create underwater farms to grow and harvest fish. These fish are raised in nets or cages, creating many of the same issues facing the agricultural industry, such as inhumane treatment of animals, disposal of waste and food safety.

So what’s the solution? We could stop eating seafood altogether, but is that realistic in a culture that’s used to getting whatever we want, whenever we want it? Not likely. Fortunately there is another option: moving away from traditional over-fished seafood toward species that are more abundant. Enter Eating with the Ecosystem (EWTE), a local non-profit dedicated to promoting a “place-based approach” to seafood in New England. By partnering with local chefs and educating the public, EWTE seeks to inspire people to forego mass-farmed fish and try seafood that’s both sustainable and delicious.

One way EWTE hopes to get the word out is via the Scales and Tales Mobile Food Boat. The vision is this: A skiff that has been converted into a mobile platform where local chefs, fishermen and food experts conduct educational talks, cooking demonstrations and tastings. This “boat with wheels” will travel around the state’s various farmers markets, fairs and public events, selling these abundant alternatives and teaching methods of preparation that are easy to try at home.

At this point, the boat is merely a dream — a hope for the future that requires funding. To raise money, EWTE and EatDrinkRI have partnered to host a series of Scales and Tales dinners. Aside from fundraising, the main goal of this dinner series is the same spirit of the mobile food boat: teaching the public that alternatives to traditional seafood can be appetizing.

The first in this series took place in June at the Statesman Tavern in Bristol. I spoke to Dave Dedakian, founder of EatDrinkRI, to get the skinny. The Tavern’s head chef, Chris Kleyla, put together a menu that combined alternative seafood with an explosion of flavor. The first course was a periwinkle salad. If you’re unfamiliar with periwinkles, they’re those tiny black snail-like crustaceans that cling to rocks. As a kid, I recall spending hours at the beach pulling those poor suckers off the rocks, watching them retreat into their shell out of fear. (Don’t judge. You know you did the same.) It never occurred to me to eat one, but edible they are. The downside is they’re labor intensive, as it takes a while to get the meat out of that tiny shell, and it takes many shells to produce a meal. Kleyla mixed the periwinkles with capers and fresh herbs to create a salad that he piled on crostini. Think snail salad meets bruschetta, only different.

Also on the menu was fluke, sea robin and scup, also known as porgy, which is primarily a bait fish. All of the fish served are abundant in our oceans, flavorful and versatile. For example, due to issues of availability and freshness, Kleyla did a last minute substitution of fluke for black seabass, which he served raw with jasmine rice, cabbages, kings kelp, furikake and cucumber. This flexibility is a perfect example of ETWE’s mission: to adapt our diet to what our ever-changing ecosystem provides.

Aside from dining on excellent food, guests met Chef Kleyla, who talked about how he chose the seafood for each course and determined the best way to prepare it. They were later regaled with stories from local fisherman Tom Hoxsie. I admit when I heard about the “tales” portion of the dinner, images of a salty boat captain like Quint from Jaws came to mind. I pictured him smoking a pipe and recalling the day he hauled in a fish the size of a Cadillac, all told in a cockney accent. Instead Tom showed up in a dress shirt and boat shoes – no pipe, no accent, no drama. The tales were fascinating nonetheless.

There are two dinners left in the series: August 29 at Nick’s on Broadway and October 23 at Easy Entertaining. Tickets include a 5-course meal and drinks to accompany each course. Chef Kleyla paired his courses with cocktails; Chefs Derek Wagner and Ashley Vanasse might choose a wine pairing. Who knows – it’s the chef’s whim, which could change at any given moment, making for quite the culinary adventure.

Advance reservations are a must for Scales and Tales. To order tickets, visit EatDrinkRI’s website You’ll have a great night out and support a unique but important local cause. To learn more about Eating with the Ecosystem, their website contains a plethora of information. And don’t forget to keep an eye out for that mobile skiff in 2018.

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