Canadian Atlantic Seafood Festival:Learning New Concepts

Went to the Atlantic Seafood Festival organized by the Canadian Consulate at the Taj Mahal Hotel,Mumbai.I have never been to Canada.I had a sense of the amazing fare at Canada thanks to my blogger friend Pree who posted pictures of the St Lawrence Market in Toronto.But I knew little of the East Coast...until yesterday.Atlantic Canada comprises of Nova Scotia,New Brunswick,Newfoundland,Labrador and Prince Edward Island.Imagine 40000 km of coastline with the pristine ocean,boats bobbing in the waves and fish jumping now and again out of the water...doesn't it sound like a dream?

At centrestage was Chef Stefan Czapalay, a "culinary activist".Now that's a new term I've learnt and most happy to.I hope this concept catches on in our country.He is well known for promoting local and wild produce and cooking with minimal ingredients so that the flavors of the principal food remain the prime focus.This we all experienced.Subtle flavors and light styles of cooking.I strongly believe that chefs have a great role to play in people's health as a lot more people eat out these days.The best chef is one who can cook something healthy yet make it look glamorous and taste great.I wrote about this  sometime ago.

In the past month,I read two outstanding books on"The Fish On Your Plate" by Paul Greenberg and the second "Following Fish" by Samanth Subramanian.From the first book, I learnt about "sustainable harvesting",a concept I first heard from my friends who lived abroad.Then I heard that Chef Stefan also believed in it, as did the rest of his team from Clearwater.The concept being that fishing has to be be done in particular zones at particular times only so that breeding can continue, fish  not harmed and supplies remain for future generations.Canada follows a code for responsible fishing.Wild produce is preferred.The resultant product ends up being a  premium (expensive) one, else quality would be compromised and the global stores depleted in no time.
I was happy to read that the concept is getting popular and San Francisco in fact has its own sustainable food restaurant.

Chef Stefan has been cooking for the past 29 years.His creativity skills shone out in his choice of dishes for the day....Pok Choy and Crab Salad with Sesame Vinaigrette,Steamed Mussels with a sauce made from their juices,Fennel Poached Scallops with Pureed Cauliflower,Thyme Roasted Lobster with Sweet Corn Succotash and Smoked Salmon Wrapped Asparagus.We were told that the pinkness of the salmon is due to carotenoids (antioxidants) that krill eat which then are eaten by salmon.Just last week,I saw krill on television.They look like tiny transparent shrimp.Chef Stephan told us about his childhood days and how cheap lobster was then cos of the abundance.To think,it's one of the more expensive items here.

With unpolluted waters and less of a population than most countries,Canadian seas which are also rich in phytoplankton, provide seafood distinctively sweet.They freeze the fish within 45 minutes of being caught and transport it.This concept is called "Frozen At Sea".In my opinion,the best thing would be to use these at the earliest rather than wait till the expiry date nears.

So the thought might come to our minds....would this product availability affect the business of our fisherfolk.Seems unlikely.Fish sold by fisherfolk is for gets all kinds of fish at the local markets. and most of it is affordable by the common man.Atlantic Seafood is premium seafood...expensive.The fishes too in Canada differ from those in our seas.As regards farming,today aquaculture is recognized as important in India.With the needs of the rising population and the wonderful benefits of fish,we have to look for all kinds of alternatives.In his book,'The Fish On Your Plate" Paul Greenberg talks of the importance of choosing the right fish to farm.The goal is to have encourage people to have seafood that is nutritious and free of heavy metals and PCBs.

Today there is great concern globally about chronic diseases like heart disease,diabetes and cancer.These have been linked to a high omega 6 to omega 3 ratio....thanks to high intake of cooking oils and meat as well as low intake of fish.Omega 3 fat is present in long chain form in fish and in short chain form in flaxseeds,almonds,walnuts,fenugreek and mustard seeds.A large amount of the vegetarian short chain source is required to form long chain and this too is blocked by a high omega 6 intake.
This leads to changes in cell membranes and changes in eicosanoids.Excess Omega 6 fat generates eicosanoids that promote inflammation,platelet aggregation and thrombosis.Omega 3 fat has the opposite effect.
Heart disease is a huge problem in our country.Scientists Thies,Garry and Yakoob published a study in Lancet 2003:361:477-481 showing fish oil supplements got incorporated into plaques in  blood vessels and stabilized them...this being important as plaque rupture leads to a heart attack.

Prof Michael Crawford proposed years ago that it was the lake fish and shellfish in the African Rift Valley our ancestors ate that lead to the dramatic evolution of the human brain.I was privileged to meet him in person.A paper by Prof Faye Dong talks of  the nutritive value of shellfish and its fat content ..The American Heart Association recommends that people with no heart problems to eat less than 300mg of cholesterol each day and those with heart problems should limit it to less than 200mg per day.In its dietary recommendations, the American Heart Association includes shellfish.It's all about balance.In our country Vitamin B12 deficiency is common as many are vegetarians.For those that have shellfish,this is one of its nutritive contents.

Another common problem today in India is Vitamin D deficiency.I have written about this.Among foods,wild salmon is a good source with 600-1000 IU in 3.5 oz.and farmed salmon providing 100-250 IU as per Michael Holick's article in the NEJM 2007:357:266-281....As of now we do not get milk fortified with vitamin D in our country.It's not enough to merely have a nutrient has to be added in the amount that's beneficial.Among vegetarian sources,mushroom is the only significant contributor.

Currently the VITAL study is underway....a large scale study which is studying the effect of fish oil and vitamin D supplementation on risk of developing various diseases

Today the word "cholesterol" creates fear.Shouldn't be so.It is required by the body for lining of nerves and for making various hormones.The intake need not be zero but within the limits advised by health organizations.The cholesterol content of a portion of crab,lobster and shellfish such as mussels,clams and oysters is within this limit,provided one doesn't have it with other cholesterol containing foods.A doctor or a nutritionist will help you make these decisions based on your medical status.

Today lifestyle related diseases are being seen in the young.If we can present healthy food in a more attractive fashion like the chef has,it will definitely attract the attention of children and promote healthy eating habits.We ought to be more aware of what we eat and where it comes from.Cooking techniques matter...steaming,baking,grilling seafood rather than frying is far healthier.Making time to attend various exhibitions on food along with our children will also help.While we consider having the best today,we need to think of whether there will be stores left for their future.

This festival was enjoyable to say the least.We met people from different corners of the world and shared perspectives.A regular intellectual exchange between the food industry and the outside world is a must so that both sides can benefit.Not just that...fostering harmony between countries and exchanging the best of what each of us have can only result in a healthier and happier world.


Nikhil Merchant said…
Loved the festival myself, delicious looking pictures must say !
Sassy Fork said…
Nikhil,it was great meeting you yesterday! I am looking forward to your pics!! That food...I would have it everyday if I could! :)
The knife said…
I wish sushi was more easily available here...i guess low demand and logistics come in the way :(
Sassy Fork said…
I think the important thing is to maintain freshness in sushi,Kalyan....not everyone can manage that

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