Chef Andrew Gruel Shares Insights and a Crave-Worthy Recipe for National Seafood Month

Did you know that October is National Seafood Month? Chef Andrew Gruel, founder of modern seafood franchise—and the nation’s fastest growing seafood chain—Slapfish knows it. Chef Gruel has made it his mission to raise awareness about prevalent misconceptions surrounding farmed fish. Throughout October, in honor of the month-long observance dedicated to our finned friends, Slapfish is working in partnership with Regal Springs to premier all-natural new dishes that feature Regal Springs’ lake-grown tilapia to its menu.

 

Available at Slapfish’s flagship Huntington Beach location, menu highlights include:

Regal Ramen Burrito [$12]
Crispy Regal Springs Tilapia, veggies, miso sauce, braised pork

Tilapia Power Bowl [$13]
Regal Springs Tilapia, avocado, greens, quinoa, veggies, honey lime vinaigrette

Insanely Hot Tilapia Burger (not for amateurs) [$8]
Grilled or Crispy Regal Springs Tilapia, caramelized onions, Angry Chile Sauce, lettuce, tomato

 

Why tilapia?, you may wonder. As fish go, tilapia has frequently taken a backseat to other, more illustrious fruits de mer. Well, part of the decision to work with tilapia lie in the fact that more chefs, including Gruel himself, are turning to seafood industry thought leaders making great inroads in the way we view farmed fish, tilapia in particular. Aside from being among the one of the most affordable and versatile fish on the market, it’s also the third most popular fish purchased by consumers. It’s more than a little good for you too, with being free of mercury counted among its numerous health benefits.

Chef Gruel was kind enough to share one of his recipes with us, as well as to offer his passionate insights on both the benefits and the evolving importance of aquaculture in modern life, and to set the record straight on some of the more damaging fallacies about farmed fish vs. wild-caught:

Slapfish is committed to spreading awareness on topics like responsible fish farming, over-fishing, and other harmful fishing practices. What do you consider to be the most damaging seafood sourcing myths), and what can be done to take the most significant step(s) toward sustainable change?

The most damaging seafood sourcing myth, not just for the seafood industry, but for our entire food system and “economy”, is that aquaculture or fish farming is a bad thing.
While we are no longer a leading maritime nation like we once were, we are a leader in terms of ocean research, technology, development and innovation. But we suffer major problems as well like obesity, diabetes and malnutrition from not eating enough healthy foods such as vegetables, fruits and seafood.

We import over 90% of our seafood, the majority of which is farmed, yet we only farm less than 5% of the seafood consumed in US waters. We have the best scientists and aquaculturists who can set up sustainable aquafarms, yet we don’t because of the public’s misperception that farmed fish is a bad thing. We are exporting our knowledge and technology to other countries so they can make $$ and sell our ideas back to us in the form of seafood. The US has the largest Exclusive Economic Zone of any other nation in the world and most of it is favorable to developing one of the most advanced marine aquaculture systems in the world. According to the United Nations, using marine aquaculture in this nation could produce an amount of seafood equivalent to all the world’s wild capture fisheries in a space as small as the state of Vermont. Less than 1% of this nation’s ocean. We as chefs, consumers, and citizens need to understand the power of fish farming for the United States.

You’ve partnered with seafood producer Regal Springs to educate consumers about the merits of aquaculture and will premier new Regal Springs tilapia-based dishes in honor of October being National Seafood Month. What attracted you to tilapia as your medium to work with in creating these new dishes, and what are some benefits of eating farmed fish as opposed to wild-caught?

Regal Springs is emblematic of how a species that was once thought of as a “dirty” fish can be transformed into a center plate, amazing and delicious protein that isn’t just good for the gut, but good for a community as well. Their story is exactly the story of positive fish farming that needs to be replicated hundreds of times over, specifically in the United States.
Farmed fish doesn’t have bycatch, i.e., fish that is accidentally caught and thrown away. The idea of accepting bycatch as a norm is astounding when we have so many people dying of starvation worldwide.

As consumers, what should we all be mindful of when shopping for and selecting our seafood? What are some red flags to be avoided?

Avoid Wild Caught fish that is caught from countries that don’t have a rigorous management plan in place. Understand how their fish is being managed. Avoid fish that is treated with CO2. Avoid fish that doesn’t have any back story for its farming practices.

In three years, you built Slapfish from two food trucks into an enterprise of more than 10 restaurants with dozens more in development slated to open by 2020. Tell us about the most challenging aspects of that rate of expansion, and to what aspects of your decision-making and your history working in fine dining establishments you credit your earliest successes.

It’s all about customer service. This I learned working for the Ritz Carlton. We can spend hundreds of dollars to get 100 guests in the door. Or you can give the guests that walk through the best experience possible and they will come back – again and again. Sometimes we forget about what is right in front of us in an attempt to overthink the obvious. That’s why I encourage every restaurateur (or franchise partner) to save money from marketing and just spend a little more on labor so you can work on guests retention and loyalty instead of gambling for a flow of unknown customers.

 

Chef Andrew Gruel’s Citrus Poached Tilapia BLT

(Serves 2) 

Ingredients:

  • 4 thick slices sourdough bread (cut from a loaf ideally)
  • 2 each Tilapia Filet (6 oz. ideally)
    (Chef Gruel recommends a sustainable lake-grown Tilapia such as Regal Springs that’s antibiotic free)
  • 1 quart water
  • 3 lemon – sliced in half
  • 1 limes – sliced in half
  • 3 sprigs fresh thyme
  • 6 cloves garlic
  • 1 head bibb lettuce
  • 2 large beefsteak or heirloom tomato
  • 8 slices bacon – cooked
  • 1 avocado sliced
  • 1 tablespoon lemon juice
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil

For the dressing (Whisk together):

  • ¼ cup mayo
  • ¼ cup sour cream
  • 2 tablespoon sriracha
  • 1 lemon (zest and juice)
  • 2 tablespoon chives
  • 1 tablespoon Old-Bay Seasoning

 

Instructions:

1. For the Tilapia: Bring 1 quart of water, lemons, limes, thyme, and garlic to a boil. Add the tilapia and turn the heat down so it cooks at a lazy bubble until firm, about 4 minutes. Strain and cool in the fridge. When cool, gently flake into large pieces and toss in a touch of lemon juice and olive oil.

2. For the Sandwich: Toast/Grill the sourdough bread. Brush base of bread liberally with the dressing. Top with lettuce tomato, avocado, bacon and Tilapia. Drizzle the second piece of toast liberally with more dressing. Top and slice to serve.  

 

For more information on Slapfish, visit www.slapfishrestaurant.com. To learn more about franchising opportunities, visit www.slapfishrestaurant.com/index.php/franchising. For more information on Regal Springs Tilapia, visit http://www.regalsprings.com/.

 

About Slapfish
Slapfish is a Modern Seafood Franchise – seafood redefined with a fresh attitude, simple flavors and a healthy smack of fresh. Slapfish has created a distinct brand that revolves around drool-worthy “boat-to-plate” cuisine in a casual, relaxed setting. Chef Gruel’s menu boasts a variety of daily and seasonally changing features, seafood fresh from Sea to Table, and bib-worthy dishes with bold flavors. The brand currently has ten units open, with over 100 more in development both domestically and internationally. As the nation’s fastest growing seafood chain and largest fast casual seafood concept, Slapfish has received numerous accolades, most recently coming in at number three in the “2017 Fast Casual Top 100 Movers & Shakers” list and QSR magazine’s “The 40/40 List”. Chef Gruel has also received top honors in Restaurant Hospitality’s “18 Innovators to Watch in 2017”, and in Nation’s Restaurant News’ “2017 Power List”.

About Regal Springs Tilapia
Founded by Swiss entrepreneur Rudi Lamprecht in 1988, Regal Springs is the largest vertically integrated aquaculture company in the world. The company runs state-of-the-art fish farms in Indonesia, Honduras and Mexico and is committed to producing premium all-natural tilapia while building communities. All Regal Springs tilapia are raised in large floating nets in pristine deep-water lakes and are free from antibiotics, growth hormones and chemicals.  Regal Springs has emerged as a dynamic example of a food production enterprise that invests in its employees and their communities that leads to the prosperity of both the company and its workers. With social projects ranging from healthcare to education, the company invests millions of dollars each year to support and improve the lives of employees and their communities. 

 

This article first appeared on FlavorfulWorld.com.

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