How do Clean Plates’ favorite chefs get their hands on fresh, sustainably sourced seafood? Many turn to Sea to Table, a service that delivers seafood directly from sustainable, wild fisheries to chefs nationwide.
Sea to Table grew out of Tobago Wild, an operation founded by the Dimin family in 2004 to connect fishermen using sustainable practices in Tobago to New York chefs. I spoke with Sea to Table co-owner Sean Dimin to learn how this clever company is helping to build a healthier–and tastier–relationship between dock and diner.
Q: Were you or any family members involved in the seafood industry before Tobago Wild?
A: My great grandfather, Grandpa Mo, had a trucking company in the Lower East Side called Eldridge Trucking. Before Tobago Wild, my father was in plastics. I always loved fishing and grew up watching fishing shows and reading magazines about it. I started working at Tobago Wild during college breaks.
Who was the first chef/restaurant to work with Sea to Table?
A: I think it was Mary Cleaver. She was actually my mom’s college roommate.
Q: How many fishermen and chefs do you currently work with?
A: We work with over 500 restaurants across the country. It’s hard to give a fisherman count, but we work with nearly 20 docks across the country (with one from Nova Scotia in the works), and there will be anywhere from one to 30 vessels at a given dock.
Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the logistics of the business?
A: We operate differently than other distributors: We don’t necessarily sell what a restaurant wants to buy, we work with fisherman to see what they’re catching sustainably and sell that to chefs.
We work only with fisherman whom we’ve personally met and seen how they work. Every morning, we talk to them on the phone to get an idea of what they’re catching over the next few days. Restaurants access that information on our “On the Dock” page and choose one or a combination of species for a minimum weight on a dock. If an order’s in by noon, they can receive it the next day. We rely on FedEx to make the deliveries in the most efficient way possible.
The chef loves to be able to source directly from the fisherman and vice versa.
Q: Sea to Table grew from delivering fish from Tobago to New York, but how do you feel about eating as seafood that’s as local as possible?
A: The transportation issue has its place. You don’t want to be needlessly sending things around, but our primary focus is making sure the fish that’s being caught—whether it’s here on the other side of the world—is being harvested the proper way. Why not support the guys in Africa or Tobago over a faceless fish farm?
We do try to make it in the chef’s best interest to order locally. If you’re located within 300 miles of the dock, you don’t need to use FedEx Express to get the order in 24 hours.
Q: Has Sea to Table introduced you, and chefs for that matter, to “new,” underutilized species?
A: Surprises at the dock are fun. Sometimes we’ll get Rhode Island conger eel. It’s a bycatch to the black seabass, and we don’t waste it, so we’ll find a chef who will appreciate an underappreciated species. Sometimes preparation ideas for lesser-known species come directly from the fishermen, though we also have chefs who are generous with their information. If one chef figures out a great way to cook yelloweye rockfish (a bycatch of halibut), we can share that with other chefs. They also see that as a way to support the fisherman.
We’re enjoying saithe (Atlantic pollock) from Portland, Maine, right now in the office. It’s an abundant, sustainably caught, wild fish with a low market value.
Q: Favorite fish in the sea or on your plate?
A: I have to say striped bass. It’s like the Labrador of the sea; everyone loves it.
Q: Any closing words?
A: Ask where your fish came from. If your server doesn’t know, he’ll ask the chef. If he doesn’t know, he’ll ask the purveyor, and if he doesn’t know…. then the chef won’t work with him. Keep asking the questions that will make a change.
All images—including photo of Kevin O’Malley with two fluke in Montauk, NY—courtesy of Sea to Table.