I had the pleasure of talking this month with Alaiyo Kiasi-Barnes, creator of Pescetarian Journal, a food website presented with an eye toward why and how we should maintain sustainable seafood practices and cooking with organic produce. I’ve never encountered anything but delicious-sounding, visually-inspiring meals on her site, and despite my being neither exclusively pescetarian nor vegetarian, I routinely encounter easily-prepared dishes for which I’d gladly forgo my much-loved steak and poultry a bit more often. It was a real treat to have her join me to share her thoughts on the diversity of kitchen cultures influencing her cooking, dispelling popular myths about vegetarian cooking, and a great deal more. And because treats are more enjoyable when shared, I’m happy to present this interview you’re sure to enjoy.
Flavorful World: Compose a three-course cookout-themed meal whose main course is best enjoyed hot off the grill and tell us why you chose those foods.
AKB: I think of flavors first, so for a cookout-themed meal: smoky, tangy, and sweet. Grilling is great for entertaining, because I can be out among the guests and participating in the conversation. Why not grill all three courses and hang out with everyone? I’d start with a smoky appetizer: grilled jumbo shrimp with a chipotle-orange glaze. I choose this dish as an appetizer because the flavor of chipotle sauce with orange juice and zest is just made for grilling. It’s an easy marinade, combined with a little salt and pepper, and it grills beautifully. The main course would include grilled tuna steaks over a leafy green salad with lime vinaigrette and grilled corn with miso butter. For dessert, grilled mango, because grilling heightens the sweetness of the mango. Everybody is ready to take a nap after this meal!
FW: What do you think is the best means of engaging young people as early as possible regarding the concept of food sustainability and its importance?
AKB: I think parents are their children’s most important models and influencers regarding food choices and how food should be approached. What I mean by that is this: if a child learns that food, any food, is best eaten in a way that is not wasteful, then that’s an important attitude to grow up with. Gardening with children or taking them to local farms that invite consumers to pick their own produce is another way to communicate the message that locally available food is desirable. I don’t think the word “sustainable” has to be mentioned, necessarily, but showing its importance through actions is what will be remembered. It’s what I remember from my childhood.
FW: From ingredients to cooking methods, your recipes cross a wide range of cultural styles. Which two styles best lend themselves to combination with regard to pescetarian/vegetarian cooking and why?
AKB: Well, Gulf-Coast, southern-style cooking is varied in its approach and includes influences from the French, Spanish, Native Americans, and Africans. If you’ve ever been to New Orleans and eaten food there, you know that the influences are many, and the food is beyond fabulous. Shrimp and grits, seafood gumbo, oysters, and red beans and rice, etc., are dishes that excite the palate and are comforting as well. If beans and rice is part of your culinary past, it’s not thought of as a vegetarian dish, necessarily, it’s comfort food. It’s the taste of home.
FW: Heywood Campbell Brown is credited with the quote, ”I doubt the world holds for anyone a more soul-stirring surprise than the first adventure with ice cream.” Replace “ice cream” with a food with which you most recently enjoyed your first adventure, and tell us about the experience.
AKB: Without a doubt, that food for me is oysters. Although I’ve eaten cooked oysters all my life, I tried them raw on the half shell for the first time last spring. My husband and I were celebrating our anniversary, and the waiter talked me into trying them raw. He said the oyster’s “blood” was the water from which it was harvested. Weird as that sounded, I was intrigued. He brought Salutation Cove Oysters from Prince Edward Island in Canada. It was the purest taste—like cucumber water. I’ve been eating raw oysters ever since.
FW: Which of your recipes would you say you took the most time in perfecting, and what aspect of that dish made it challenging?
AKB: Some fish, like cod, are delicate and the thickness of the fish belies its delicateness. I tended to overcook the cod and, of course, when it’s overcooked it’s bland and tough. I had to learn to cook the fish for less time, but making sure the internal temperature was 145 degrees.
FW: What do you think is the most popular misconception about vegetarian cooking, and what would you say to dispel that myth?
AKB: I think the most popular misconception about vegetarian cooking is that vegetarian dishes are bland. I can’t count the number of times when friends and family remarked that a particular meatless meal was something that they could “eat every day.” Meals don’t have to include meat to be flavorful, of course. Movements such as “Meatless Monday” are great, because it introduces more people to flavorful and healthful meals.
FW: Tell us about the best meal you’ve ever eaten outside the state in which you currently reside, and what made that meal remarkable.
AKB: The Marietta Diner in Atlanta was wonderful. The restaurant has been featured on Food Network’s “Diners, Drive-Ins, and Dives.” I ordered seafood paella and it exceeded my expectations. The seafood was plentiful and the sauce seemed homemade. It was just a righteous dish. Somebody’s European grandmother was in that diner’s kitchen cooking that paella. I just know it.
FW: Excluding the name of any of your pre-existing blogs, websites, or print/online personas, tell us what name you would give to your memoir about your culinary exploits?
AKB: “A Pescetarian’s Food Journal.” Too dull sounding?
FW: When you aren’t cooking and/or eating delicious foods, how do you most enjoy spending your time?
AKB: I enjoy losing track of time because of an all-absorbing novel or memoir. I love reading the memoirs of chefs and politicians. I like to spend time in my garden and I’m enjoying photography more each day. I enjoy my family.
*Notes to Readers: Want to learn more about delicious, sustainable seafood options and how to bring out their tasty best right in your own kitchen? (of course you do, because who wouldn’t?) Then you’ll be as happy as I am that aside from Pescetarian Journal, you can also stay current on Alaiyo’s food musings and recipes by following her on Pinterest and Twitter.