GLASGOW – Restaurant Inver is just a fraction of the longest sea lake in Scotland. From its windows, the diner can see the remains of a 15th century castle and the Highlands Hills, but a bright star is not a view. This is a meaty halibut head that Chef Pam Brunton sautés on the wood and finishes with melted homemade ndujis and a ball of fried green onions.
The small halibut she slaughters was raised in seafood pens on Giga Island, a nearby community-owned island, and the farmed halibut has become a favorite of people who care about where their fish and shellfish come from.
Miss Brunton, who may have been Alice Waters’ Scottish niece, runs Inver with her partner Rob Latimer. The tiny restaurant and hotel is about 70 miles from Glasgow, where heads of state including President Biden, thousands of diplomats and scores of environmental activists like Greta Thunberg gathered in November for COP26, the United Nations’ global climate conference.
Ms Brunton’s halibut heads may not seem like a good defense against the catastrophic effects of fossil fuels and methane emissions, but a group of chefs and diners say putting organic Scottish seafood on a plate is at least one tangible (and tasty)) move. to a better planet. Moving away from fins and molluscs whose populations are threatened by climate change or fishing methods.
“This is all part of an incremental change,” Ms Burton said in an interview before participating in a discussion on food waste hosted by The New York Times Climate Hub that coincided with COP26. “Restaurant Inver is not going to change anything in its life, but I hope we are helping the current one to move in this direction, and not in that direction. We are changing the flow. “
Guy Grieve of the Isle of Mull Ethical Shellfish sees his work in exactly the same way. He delivers hand-picked Scottish scallops, rope-caught mussels, and syringe-caught crabs and langoustines to urban chefs in the UK.
In 2010, Mr. Grieve began scallop diving in the waters of western Scotland. His catch – with shells six inches in diameter and crescents of orange caviar attached to the muscles – went to restaurants whose chefs were reluctant to sell scallops harvested from the ocean floor using methods that were shrinking their populations and destroying marine habitats.
“We are trying to pick apples in the garden without trampling flowers,” he said.
When the coronavirus pandemic began, restaurants in the UK closed. Mr. Grieve and his fellow divers on other boats went from collecting about 10,000 scallops a week to zero. He had to sell his fishing boats. To make money, he started helping other divers sell their catch to any markets he could find.
One promising market, much to his delight, was home cooks in Edinburgh. Although the restaurant business is back, his company still ships about 50 cardboard boxes of combs to private homes, each order carefully wrapped in lambswool for insulation.
These customers are just one piece of evidence that the number of Scottish chefs and visitors caring about the origin of their fish is growing, he said.
Part of the attraction is the romance of food from the west coast of Scotland, where Scottish kings are buried and the first Celtic church in Scotland was built around 563 AD.
“This is a really attractive place where people can buy their own food,” he said. “In the minds of people, you bring them things from their dreamland.”
But the health of the climate and the environment also matters.
“There is some degree of resentment, which is great,” he said. “Unfortunately, there is a never-ending tide that will never stop and it is called greed. All we can do is get a little distracted. “
Seafood is Scotland’s largest export commodity. Almost 400,000 tons were discharged in 2020. This does not include wild salmon, which are no longer commercially fished anywhere in Britain. Scotland, however, is the third largest producer of farmed Atlantic salmon. Langoustine, thin and delicate in comparison with lobster, is the most valuable catch; more than two thirds of the world’s reserves come from Scottish waters.
Before the UK split from the EU or Brexit, most Scottish seafood went straight to markets such as Spain and France. Due to the Brexit bureaucracy, European trade has become extremely complex and the local Scottish and wider UK markets have become more attractive.
But getting seafood – especially niche staples like Mr. Mane’s scallops or Gigh’s halibut – to home cooks’ kitchens is still a challenge, said Rachel McCormack, a food writer and TV host based in Glasgow.
“The difficulty of promoting Scottish fish in Scotland is a very big topic,” she said. Scottish fishmongers are few in number. “Supermarkets tightly control food supplies and have no interest in Scottish fish, unless it’s cheap, farmed salmon.”
Mrs. McCormack’s two Scottish water favorites are Gigha, which she fries with caper, parsley and coriander salsa, and langoustine, which she cooks in butter, garlic, ginger and white wine and then processes it. ” with bread and pieces of langoustine that I bought in Spain. “
She sends visitors looking for a restaurant with lots of Scottish seafood to Crabshakk. Architect John Macleod and his wife Lynn Jones opened a cozy two-tiered restaurant in what was then a desolate part of town in 2009 when the economy collapsed and most of the fish in the restaurants were covered in batter.
It was an instant hit and remained so popular that the couple plans to open a second outpost in West Glasgow early next year.
Over a cup of espresso, Mr. Macleod talked about how he constantly adjusts his menu to suit the climate. The conversation followed a long lunch, which showed scallops from the waters around North Uist sizzling in oil from anchovies, and crab cakes made from a bunch of Scotland’s sweet brown crabs. He grew up on the Isle of Lewis, part of the ancestral home of the MacLeod Highlands, on the far west coast of Scotland, where almost everyone he knew was fishing.
“The cod was in my bones, right in my toenails and fingernails,” he said.
He specifically talks about what he likes. He still cooks wild halibut because he prefers denser flesh, but he is more likely to replace Scottish cod with hake, which is not under such pressure on the fishery. Its chefs are dedicated to finding more uses for all parts of the fish.
“We are not in the business of just accepting it and ‘what the hell’,” he said of the environmental impact, “but it’s not as easy as people might imagine, to feed people in large quantities and be close to every one the product on the menu is as environmentally friendly as possible. “
But the pressure is mounting, especially from a new generation of eaters who care about what’s on the plate and how it got there.
“It’s a new day,” said Ruarid Fraser, 24, who serves tables at Crabshakk. “There is fear in people now.”