The Responsible Diner: Beast & Bottle's Paul Reilly on Fish

November 20 2013, 12:45 PM

When this article about the fish we should be eating hit my in-box a couple weeks ago, it got me thinking—again—of how to be a responsible diner. If the most popular options—cod and salmon among them—are dangerously overfished, why are we still eating them? Doesn't the chef (or the grocery store buyer) need to assume some responsibility for educating the public? The fact is, if endangered fish are on menus and available at the seafood counter, we're going to buy them because they're familiar, easy choices. So where to go to break the cycle?

"You can go to any restaurant in Denver and get salmon and shrimp," says Paul Reilly, chef-owner of Beast & Bottle. "Our customers know that we're not going to have those things on our menu. Some say that's snooty, others say 'thank you for serving something different.'"

The fish you will find on Reilly's menu—wild grouper, Bangs Island mussels, wild fluke from Long Island, Gulf-caught albacore—is responsibly harvested. Reilly uses that term instead of sustainable because, "for every fish we're pulling out of the sea, we're not throwing one back." 

An awareness of supply (and demand) is something Reilly delved into as part of the Jean-Louis Palladin Professional Work/Study Grant in 2012. (He was one of just eight chefs from around the world chosen for this illustrious James Beard Foundation program.) After time spent in Maine working on boats and learning about fish harvesting and butchery, Reilly came away understanding that although Iceland's fishing practices are the gold standard, domestically caught fish is an excellent option. "America has done a good job of honing it in and doing it the right way."

So, the next time you’re about to buy fish (either at the market or in a restaurant), do a little digging first. Ask about the origin of the catch: If the fish was netted in Maine, the Gulf, or elsewhere domestically, chances are it was done so responsibly.

At Beast & Bottle, Reilly's dedication to selling only fish that he knows is good for the ocean, the fisherman, and the diner, is paying off. "We've had success with whatever we've run."

Bonus: For more on the seafood dilemma, listen to this NPR interview.

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