Posts Tagged ‘FoodChain’

At Smithtown Seafood, ‘local’ is measured in feet

Dried whole tilapia at Smithtown Seafood in Lexington, KY
Chef Ouita Michel, who calls Holly Hill Inn (www.hollyhillinn.com) in Midway, Kentucky, her home base, is completely on board with the vision of FoodChain (see previous post). She’s so on board that she opened the little takeout seafood restaurant inside the Bread Box called Smithtown Seafood (smithtownseafood.com) and installed the immensely talented Jonathan Sanning as her chef de cuisine. (That’s Jonathan below holding the fried fish.)

Jonathan Fanning, chef de cuisiine at Smithtown Seafood in Lexington, KY Ouita (as everyone in Lexington seems to call her because everyone in Lexington who cares about food knows her) studied at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, and took as her primary lesson the observation that the best French and Italian chefs create meals out of what they find around them. She’s inculcated that same respect for local products in Sanning, who is Kentucky trained but has the chops to cook anywhere and at any level. For the moment, he’s getting a kick out of working hard at Smithtown, and Lexingtonians are lucky that he does.

Smithtown Seafood is easily the chief customer for the tilapia being raised on the other side of the wall at FoodChain, and is also a big user of FoodChain’s herbs and lettuces. You order at the counter, and when your food is ready, you walk about 20 feet to the taproom of West Sixth Brewing, where, if you’re smart, you order a Lemongrass American Wheat to go with the fish dishes or an amber with the meat.

The fish excite us the most. Smithtown offers three variations of tilapia baskets using the FoodChain fish. The one shown above is Tilapia Singapore, a fried whole fish with sweet and spicy pickled vegetables and FoodChain microgreens. Another version pairs the fish with a tomatillo-serrano salsa verde and corn tortillas. And finally, there’s a basket of fried pieces battered in Weisenberger cornmeal, served with fries and hushpuppies (of course).

Smithtown Seafood fish tacos in crispy rice paper Sanning’s own palate skews Mexican, Southeast Asian, and West African—and he’s not afraid to mix them up. The Rockin’ Rice Paper Catfish Taco pictured here is a smart twist on the Baja fish taco with pieces of fried wild-caught saltwater catfish and Thai-style pickled vegetables and microgreens on puffy pieces of fried rice paper. The rice crisps are far better than a taco shell for holding everything together in your hand.

Another good way to enjoy Sanning’s signature acid-spice style is by ordering a side of one of his salads. The Nebbe Black-Eyed Pea Salad could be a vegetarian meal all by itself. Here’s the recipe:

NEBBE BLACK-EYED PEA SALAD


This adaptation of a spicy Senegalese bean salad is typical of Jonathan Sanning’s propensity for using an ingredient that’s traditional in Southern cuisine as the base for something light, bright, and completely contemporary.

Makes about 16 cups

Ingredients
1 lb. dry black-eyed peas
1/2 cup lime juice
1 cup minced parsley
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 teaspoons black pepper
1 habañero pepper, seeded and finely minced
1 cup light salad oil (olive, sunflower, canola, blended….)
10 green onions, thinly sliced (both white and green parts)
2 roasted red bell peppers, peeled and diced small
1 English cucumber, peeled and diced small
2 cups cherry tomatoes (quartered) or grape tomatoes (halved)

Directions
Cover black-eyed peas with water and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer and cook until tender (about 1 hour, less if pre-soaked). Leave the peas in the water and salt heavily—a real brine. Let sit for 2-3 minutes, then drain.

Combine lime juice, parsley, salt, pepper, and habañero in a food processor. Add oil and blend until smooth.

Combine black-eyed peas, green onions, red bell peppers, cucumber, and cherry tomatoes. Toss with lime and herb mixture. Taste and adjust salt and pepper, if necessary.

Lexington’s FoodChain redefines ‘local’

microgreens growing at FoodChain in Lexington
A Saturday afternoon tour at FoodChain (foodchainlex.org) in Lexington’s Bread Box complex might change the way you look at “local” food. At the very least, it can give you a peek into a somewhat promising food future where excess building space is converted into a living factory to produce vegetables and protein—or, more specifically, salad and microgreens and big plump tilapia.

The brainchild of Rebecca Self, native Lexingtonian, MIT graduate, and spouse of Ben Self (see last post on West Sixth Brewing), FoodChain is a demonstration project of an “aquaponics” farm. The growing techniques are a hybrid of aquaculture and hydroponics, which have complementary strengths and weaknesses. Aquaculture is generally used to grow fish or crustaceans in closed tanks or ponds. Most cheap frozen tiger shrimp, for example, are farmed this way in Southeast Asia. So is a lot of cheap tilapia from China. Hydroponics is most widely used in cold climates to grow vegetables indoors under lights on a soilless medium. A lot of microgreens, baby lettuces and spinach are produced this way.

Snipping cilantro at FoodChain in Lexington KY Both practices have significant shortcomings. Aquaculture produces a lot of waste that has to be cleaned from the water before it makes the fish or shrimp sick. Hydroponics requires a lot of nutrients to be added to the water that the plants grow in. To grossly simplify, aquaponics uses the plants to scrub the waste from the fish tanks, and the “waste” provides the nutrients to grow the plants. The details, of course, require considerable ingenuity and fine tuning.

The system at FoodChain circulates about 7,000 gallons of water through the growing trays and the fish tanks. Weekly harvest is about 35 pounds of lettuce and herbs as well as seven large trays of microgreens. About 15 pounds of full-grown tilapia—10-20 fish—are harvested from the tanks each Friday as well.

tilapia swim in TV aquarium at FoodChain in Lexington KY The plants are grown under lights (FoodChain uses Inda-Gro induction lighting, which draws less electricity than conventional grow lamps) and some minerals are added to the water for proper plant and fish nutrition. FoodChain is experimenting with feeding spent grain from West Sixth Brewing to the fish.

Becca Self is a bit of a visionary, as the aquaponics project is just Phase I of an envisioned three phases for FoodChain. Phase II is projected to grow mushrooms in the basement using the brewery’s spent grain as a substrate while simultaneously expanding to raised beds and hoop houses to grow food on the 20,000 square feet of flat roof over Bread Box. Phase III will be a kitchen incubator, with cooking stations to do small-batch processing. Tours are offered on Saturdays at 1 p.m. at a charge of $10 for adults, $5 for children. See the web site for details.

In the meantime, Lexington restaurants are gobbling up the greens and the tilapia are stars of the plate at adjacent Smithtown Seafood. (The future is now!)

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08 2015