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Dispatches from the Kitchen on Fish, Soy and Breakfast

For those of us raised on a Western diet, these three topics may seem odd bedfellows. Nevertheless, all three have been on the center of the plate of late in the Willy Street Kitchen. Here’s the good, the bad, and the ugly.


Seemingly since time immemorial, American diners have gravitated heavily towards two fish over all others: cod and Salmon. In restaurant kitchens, these have historically occupied the same role on the menu as white-meat chicken—cheap, readily available and sure to move quickly. But, as in all things, increasing demand results either in increased market costs....or increased costs somewhere else. To keep up with the demand for these two fish while trying to bid competitively price-wise, two things have happened. The Atlantic Coast Cod population has been fished so hard that a supply thought for over a hundred years to be literally inexhaustible is now nearly depleted. In the case of salmon, the establishment of fish farms, primarily off the Atlantic coasts of Canada and the U.S., have resulted in steady supply at a low price. The “hidden” costs have been depleted health and quality—for fish, for consumers and for the marine ecology. For years now, the salmon of choice for the discerning consumer has been wild-caught Pacific Salmon, associated not only with boutique eateries but also a minimal and closely monitored ecological impact.

This year, the waters of the Pacific Northwest (all of California and most of Oregon) have been closed to salmon harvest for the duration of the season. The precipitating factor for the closure, and there is dissension on the root cause, is the decrease in salmon returning to the Sacramento River Chinook run—a decrease of 90 percent from just a few years ago. A drop of this magnitude has raised the question of whether or not the industry at large will recover at all.

We at Willy Street Co-op have made the decision to discontinue salmon on our menus until such time as the Pacific harvest returns to health and has been re-opened. This will mean discontinuing a couple of our favorite dishes—Sake-Roasted Salmon and Lemon-Ginger Salmon—and I wanted to break the news personally and apologize in advance. Part and parcel of this news is also a caveat that the price of high-quality and ecologically sound salmon, when it returns, is not going to be low. We will plan on forecasting a likely shelf price in spring of 2009 to test the waters, as it were. Meantime, I will be looking for another fish that might meet the flavor profiles of these dishes favorably.

Simple Soyman

Another recent interruption in our usual food supply, although with less drastic consequences: our perennial local supplier of bulk tofu and tempeh, Simple Soyman, experienced a sudden cutoff of their raw working material—organic soybeans. Needless to say, we were not excited about taking on unknown, non-local products in an attempt to replace these items, which are essential to many of our recipes. We kept in close contact with the business and are happy to report (with fingers crossed), after a brief conversation this morning, that the issue is tentatively resolved and we will be able to continue using Simple Soyman tofu in our preparations. After surveying all of his customers, RJ at Simple Soyman identified a strong leaning in favor of keeping costs close to current levels while prioritizing non-GMO soy crops and staying local. Certified organic soy is expected to return to market this fall at prices more in line with recent levels and Simple Soyman will at that time return to using certified organic soybeans for their products. A switch to certified organic soy at this time would likely mean an increase of 40¢ to 50¢ per pound in raw tofu, which would translate into untenable costs for consumers all along the line. I myself, when asked, supported the notion that our membership would prefer to keep the supply local and affordable rather than paying a steep premium for organic certification. I welcome your feedback on this issue.

Breakfast pastries

Lastly: If you have not been by the bakery case adjacent the Juice Bar counter of late, zut alors! You haven’t had one of our breakfast pastries, made fresh each morning using organic flour and Organic Valley unsalted butter. We deliver these to the Juice Bar at 8:00 each morning, less than 30 minutes out of the oven, and you owe it to yourself at least one morning a week to indulge in a pain au chocolat and café au lait before facing the day. We are very proud of this new line of bakery products and plan to use them as a palette on which to feature seasonal fruit and perhaps even some locally made flavored chocolates. Be sure to come while they’re still warm.

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