As the April 20th first anniversary of the devastating BP Oil Spill approaches, the nation’s front-page attention is focused on an averted government shutdown, crises in Japan, rebellion in Libya.
The story of the Gulf oil disaster will no doubt be revisited when the anniversary date arrives. The news networks will trot out their anniversary follow-up stories.
But at the forefront of the independent seafood restaurant industry, two champions of Louisiana seafood have never relaxed their vigilance, nor missed a chance to support the suppliers at the heart of their life’s work.
One is Jeff Tunks (photo: above), chef/partner of Washington’s DC Coast, TenPenh, Ceiba, Acadiana, and PassionFish restaurants. Tunks is also chair of the Southern Food & Beverage Museum, and a regular at such events as the annual Great American Seafood Cook-Off.
Another is esteemed restaurateur Ralph Brennan (photo: below), whose New Orleans-based Ralph Brennan Restaurant Group includes Red Fish Grill, Ralph’s on the Park, and Ralph Brennan’s Jazz Kitchen in the Anaheim, California Downtown Disney District. A past chairman and president of the National Restaurant Association, he literally wrote the book on the subject of Louisiana seafood: Ralph Brennan’s New Orleans Seafood Cookbook, and is hard at work on its second edition.
Tunks still purchases, on average, $25,000 worth of Gulf seafood per week for his restaurants. “I am on the phone with my seafood sources daily to assess the volume, price, and safety of the supply,” he assures us. “I remain dedicated to Gulf seafood as I have been for years — especially after the issues fade from the spotlight.” In addition to keeping up demand in D.C., Tunks helped to raise nearly $20,000 for the St. Bernard Project last summer, to benefit fishermen and their families affected by the spill, and continues to raise awareness locally and nationally about the safety of Louisiana seafood.
After the spill, Ralph Brennan testified before the Congressional Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade, and Consumer Protection, stating with great poignancy that “the environmental, economic, and societal impact cannot be underestimated, minimized or abandoned.” Nearly a year later, he reflects, “Congress and the entire federal government, as well as the state and local governments – and the U.S. Coast Guard – did a really good job, especially considering that we didn’t have a playbook for this kind of catastrophe.”
For his Red Fish Grill alone last year, Brennan purchased over 102,000 pounds of Gulf seafood. That means his guests were ordering it, and eating it – which means that his leadership message about the safety of the product has had a compelling impact. “We analyze our numbers every day, and there’s no question that our guests feel comfortable with our seafood,” Brennan says. “I certainly do, because it’s my business to use products that are safe beyond a doubt. My first priority is guest experience and well-being.”
Brennan credits the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board with taking the lead to promote consumption, and he meets with and hosts members of the media to help with this effort whenever he can. The challenge now, Brennan points out, is convincing the skeptics. “Nationally, there still seems to be a lingering reluctance about Gulf seafood, and that’s what we have to keep working at: changing that misperception. Until we do, the whole industry, the entire culture of Gulf fishing commerce is at risk.”
And until that risk is averted, fishermen and shrimpers of the Gulf region can depend on the support and advocacy of Ralph Brennan and Jeff Tunks — placing the orders, getting the word out, and keeping the issues alive.
Photo credits:Tunks: LouisianaSeafoodNews.com, Brennan: David Nehmer, The Food Channel