Q+A: Giovanna Kupiec, Seamore’s

We all know Seamore's is one of the best restaurants Dumbo has to offer. What you might not know is that they are leading the charge when it comes to sustainability in seafood. Did you know that wild fish stocks are predicted to be gone by 2048? Or that more 50% of all fresh fish ends up in the trash? Seamore's "Dish the Whole Fish" uses all parts of the fish in new and unconventional ways to reduce food waste, and they're setting the example for other restaurants moving forward.

We sat down with Giovanna Kupiec, Seamore's Sustainability & Marketing Manager, to talk about sustainability and how they're moving the needle for the future. 

Giovanna Kupiec, Seamore's Sustainability and Marketing Manager
Giovanna Kupiec, Seamore's Sustainability and Marketing Manager

What is the Seamore’s story? How did Seamore’s start their journey with sustainability?

Michael Chernow started Seamore’s in 2015 with the idea to bring the fish taco to New York. But in understanding the seafood supply chain, he realized he wasn’t going to be able to do that without making it sustainable. He decided to partner with Greenpoint Fish and Lobster, a wholesale fishmonger and restaurant. The owner Vinny Milburn is a fifth generation fishmonger from Boston, who saw a need for quality seafood in NYC. Greenpoint Fish and Lobster connects fishermen directly to restaurants, cutting out the middle distributor and ensuring quality.

Michael's partnership with Greenpoint allows us to get it straight from our wholesaler to our restaurant. It started off with a want for local, good quality fish. That just happens to be sustainable in so many ways in comparison to all the other types of fish that we could be procuring, and that message grew once we realized that we could have 30 different kinds of local fish on the menu. For us, local doesn’t have to mean just New York, but it does mean the East Coast. It was a game changer: you can get porgy in a sandwich, blue fish in a paté, etc. You can great all of these creative and amazing dishes with all these types of fish that people might not be familiar with. I think that’s where the sustainability branding for Seamore’s came about was focusing on local and fresh fish, and then it just made sense to go with that.

Can you go into more detail as to what it means when your seafood is “sustainably caught”?

Our definition of sustainable seafood is in line with seafood watches. What that means is all of our wild fish comes from stocks that are stable or growing, and all of our farmed fish comes from sustainable fish farms. We make sure that when fish are fished, the environment is not harmed in the process. We also recognize that sustainability is something so much broader than just the fish and the habitat; it has to do with fisherman’s rights and making sure that we’re helping local businesses. I think that’s where we really need to grow if we’re going to continue to talk about sustainability.

This definition has allowed us to shift to farming perspective. Originally we were only focusing on wild fish, but as fish farms have become more sustainable, we've added more of these items to the menu. We have steelhead on our menu now, for example, and have completely removed salmon. Steelhead is like a cousin of salmon, it tastes just like it, I personally think it’s really hard to tell the difference, and the sustainability angle is that it comes from just two hours north, in Hudson, New York. It comes from an inland fish farm that doesn’t impact the river system, it doesn’t impact any wild habitat, they don’t need antibiotics because the environment is heavily controlled. And all of their Co2 emissions and byproduct go into a greenhouse that they have in upstate New York. It’s a really circular process, and that’s also a way we can sustainably harvest fish. We’re looking at a very diverse group of sources, and learning how to use all of these in balance in order to make sure we spread out our responsibility.

Also a part of our brand is our “Daily Landings”. It's what we call our fish which change daily because of where we get our seafood. It’s only natural for us to start bringing in things that people haven’t heard of before. I think we’re looking to be game changers in that aspect. Going back to steelhead vs salmon; most salmon is farmed nowadays anyways. It’s difficult to be sustainable when it comes to wild salmon. The problem with salmon is that it’s always in high demand, but the point of Seamore's is what's available, not what's in demand.

From a brand perspective, instead of flying in our salmon from Norway twice a week on an airplane, it made sense to go with a really local partner who has an incredible mission. Sustainability is a diverse issue, and right now you kind of have to pick and choose where you want to have the biggest possible impact.

You can enjoy great food and feel great about doing it–that’s the entire point of what we’re trying to do

Does your value on sustainability dictate the menu options at Seamore’s? And does getting your seafood more locally ensure freshness for your customers?

Absolutely. The fish we get locally is going to be fresher than salmon that’s flown from Norway, especially when we have monkfish coming in daily from Montauk, New York. It’s fresher, we support local fishermen in the process, and we also support a local network of New Yorkers. That makes it mean so much more to us, and that all came from the fresh product. The overall goal is freshness and all these other steps just fell in line with that.

For our menu options, I like to use the term “It’s about the dish, not the fish”. So our whole menu is curated in a way that we have general favorites, like the Beer-battered Fish Sandwich, or Baja Fish Tacos, or a salad with a piece of fish on top; and as our daily landings change, that changes within those fish. So one day it could be hake, another it could be Acadian redfish but it’s whatever we get that day, we’re able to insert into our menu item favorites. I also think people really enjoy having a wide range of choices. “Today I’m going to get my favorite Kale salad but today it’s going to be with a monkfish instead of Acadian redfish great!” It’s a completely different experience, but it’s still about the salad! We have an incredibly flexible menu, which is key when you have fish changing every day like we do. But that's also a challenge: how do we maintain consistency across our restaurants when we have flexible menus? That’s something we’re learning how to deal with, but it’s totally possible to continue to grow this dynamic.

Tell me about your “Dish the Whole Fish” concept. How do you use fish in different ways to make sure nothing gets wasted?

Half of all the edible seafood caught in the United States is wasted every year. A lot of it is at the consumer level–a lot of that comes from filleting. The amount of organic material people are throwing away when you try to get that perfect rectangle is insane. At Seamore's, we have a menu that includes a bunch of ways that we you eat a fish that's not just that perfect rectangle. We have our Greenpoint fish cakes made from delicious fish scraps, fried and served with  a Romesco sauce–they taste amazing. Those "scraps" are actually really great quality fish that doesn’t get used. We also do that with the steelhead fish: the steelhead scraps we put on people’s salads go into our burgers as well. We use the skeleton and the collar to make broth. We're trying to really use all the parts of the fish,

You can enjoy great food and feel great about doing it–that’s the entire point of what we’re trying to do. We have an amazing clientele of really passionate, young, and fun people who are not only adventurous eaters, but are also curious about making the world a better place. That’s something we’re happy to cultivate and we’re happy to do things a little more dangerously if it means that this way of cooking and procuring seafood takes off.

we’re happy to do things a little more dangerously if it means that this way of cooking and procuring seafood takes off.

The theme of this year’s annual meeting is futurists! Where do you see the future of sustainable seafood, and food in general, going?

That is the ultimate question. There are two categories. First, there's dealing with the need to update our food systems, to make them a better process in terms of transportation, methane gas emissions, climate change, etc. And then second, there's the question of reducing waste. One third of all produced food is wasted every year globally. That is an insane statistic given that people in developing countries don’t have access to food in the first place. Our food waste here in the United States is around 40% a year, and generally it comes from the home. That huge gap is something that we need to fill before we can start to develop new sustainability ways. But it's difficult to ask people to change their way of life in a very fast manner. It’s going to be a balancing act essentially.

For Seamore’s, as we focus on seafood, ideally we’d love to fill that waste gap. The way we’re tackling that is using as much as we can, dishing the whole fish, and opening people up to new seafood possibilities.

What brought you to Dumbo?

Easy! From the very beginning this place was about good vibes, and enjoying quality fish. New Yorkers, especially Brooklynites, were super desperate for quality fish and we saw that along need along with Greenpoint Fish and Lobster as well. There’s an ethos around food that exists here particularly in Dumbo in comparison to the rest of the city. It was a natural step for us to move here.

And finally, what’s your favorite place in Dumbo?

I grew up in New York, and when I was in school we would take field trips to the Ample Hills down at the pier - I still love it! The walk from Brooklyn Heights along the water, where you can look at Downtown Manhattan, always blows me away, especially at night. I’m never not amazed by this place and I’ve been here for almost 20 years. That walk is beautiful and the creamery is just childhood in a nutshell.

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