Chef Sheila’s Travels: From Sustainable Seafood Advocacy In Washington D.C. to Cooking at the James Beard Gala in Chicago



May has already been a busy month for me! I was in Washington D.C. last week with three other chefs—Daniele Leoni, Bun Lai, and Sam Monsour—and some of the Monterey Bay Aquarium (MBA) team. I’ve been working with the Monterey Bay as a member of the sustainability focused Blue Ribbon task force for a while now, and I traveled to the capitol with them a couple years ago.

This time we were there to present the Portland Pact to members of Congress. The Portland Pact is a document that a group of us chefs, along with the MBA, got together and wrote back in October in Portland, Oregon. It’s a one-pager on the importance of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, a piece of legislation that’s super important to keep fisheries at healthy levels. Magnuson-Stevens has been really successful for recovering our fisheries in the U.S.—we’re the global leader and we set the standard. So we were in D.C. to talk about the importance of fishery management and what it means to chefs and the future of seafood for everybody.

It was a jammed day. I met with around 15 members of Congress. Since there’s (luckily) not a lot of movement currently to reevaluate Manguson-Stevens right now, the purpose of the visit  was more of a tap on the shoulder reminding lawmakers that we’re still here, and that our business in the restaurant industry depends on the access of great seafood for generations to come.

Before we met with each representative, the Monterey Bay group briefed us on what was important to him or her. For example, if I knew one of the senators was big on supporting small businesses, we’d talk about how we built the Jax brand around sustainable seafood, and why sustainability is so important to our brand and to our careers as chefs. They were all really receptive, taking notes, listening, engaging.

Then I was off to Chicago to cook at the James Beard Foundation Award Gala. For the past year or two I’ve been working with the James Beard Foundation (JBF). I attended the JBF’s Chef’s Bootcamp for Change a couple of years ago, and the Foundation has been doing something similar to Monterey Bay Aquarium in terms of seafood sourcing standards, which is called Smart Catch. All of our Jax restaurants are involved as leaders in that program.

It was my first time being invited to cook at the gala, which was a huge honor. There were 25 of us chefs cooking at this year’s gala, and the theme was ‘good food for good.’ We were very particular about the fact that what we were going to serve was going to be sustainable.

We did a barramundi tiradito, working with Australis Barramundi, who donated the fish. We broke down the barramundi, cubed it, brined it quickly, and rinsed it. We served it with a cold black pepper dashi, aji amarillo crema, puffed grain furikake, daikon radish, and cucumber.

It was so cool to see Frasca Food and Wine win the James Beard Award for Best Service, representing Colorado. After the gala, we popped in quickly to an after party at Girl & the Goat around 1 in the morning, but we were so tired we didn’t stay long!


-Executive Chef of Jax Fish House, Sheila Lucero