Photos by Steve Smith, VisionFire Studios
Sustainability Matters to Chef Shane Robilliard
Shane Robilliard once drove across Nova Scotia with three Styrofoam boxes jury-rigged together and filled with rapidly melting ice in the back of his truck. It wasn’t pretty and it wasn’t easy, but the content of those boxes made it all worthwhile. As the executive chef at Fox Harb’r Resort, he had been trying for months to get hold of a sustainably caught swordfish. That’s a fish that’s been harpooned rather than caught on a long line — a practise that results in lots of unwanted and unfortunate bycatch, like turtles.
Though harpoon fishing does happen in Nova Scotia, the fish is usually shipped south immediately after landing. Getting one locally is next to impossible. But Robilliard didn’t give up and after about 50 phone calls and lots of pleading, someone finally agreed to sell him one. He just had to get to the dock, load it up and somehow get the five-foot-long, 60-pound fish back to his restaurant safely.
That’s just one example of the lengths to which Robilliard will go in support of his quest to use sustainably harvested seafood.
“I grew up on the ocean and I love the ocean,” he explains. “We have an obligation as chefs to do the right thing. There are fish I choose not to buy because they aren’t sustainable, like sea bass from Chile. There’s no need for me to use it.”
Similarly, he won’t cook with dredged scallops, non-land-based farmed salmon or lobsters with too many traps to a line. He uses Ocean Wise to help with his choices. The Vancouver-based organization publishes a sustainable seafood guide and labels seafood as recommended or not recommended.
But, of course, nothing is ever as simple as it first appears. Bluefin tuna stocks are in deep trouble as a result of over-fishing off Prince Edward Island, for example. Big boats catch 35 at a time and ship them to Japan within minutes of harvesting them. Normally such an endangered fish would be off the menu at Fox Harb’r simply because of the non-sustainability of the majority of the harvest. But Robilliard believes there can be exceptions.
“There are a lot of factors you have to take into consideration. If I know the fisherman and he catches two fish a year, it’s hard not to think about the local effect of his fishery.” As he explains it, the local fisherman isn’t the one doing the damage to the tuna stocks and supporting him supports the entire community.
Which is one of the reasons why shopping locally is another important tenet of Chef Shane’s cooking philosophy. He reckons that 90 per cent of the seafood served at Fox Harb’r is locally sourced. And it extends beyond seafood. The beef comes from P.E.I. and most other proteins are sourced in the Maritimes as well.
You are also unlikely to see asparagus, for example, on the menu in the early spring. At that time of year most of that vegetable comes from California or somewhere else with a warmer climate than our northern shores. So instead, he relies on root vegetables like beets and parsnips that have been saved over the winter.
Robilliard says the attitude towards ethical dining is slowly changing — a little more slowly on the East Coast than in British Columbia where he is from. “It’s a long process. Chefs in nice places with high-end product are training the up and coming, and all the culinary programs now focus on sustainability. We’re changing the culture in the food service industry.”
After serving as executive chef at Fox Harb’r for seven years, Robilliard now has the opportunity to showcase that change in attitude in his very own kitchen.
“I don’t know if there’s a single chef out there who doesn’t have a dream to have their own place,” he says. Robilliard once fulfilled that dream for three short months and then had it snatched away when the building his restaurant was in burned to the ground. Now, he’s giving it another shot. He and his wife, Stephanie Thompson, have purchased the Whirligig Cafe in Wallace and have big plans to turn the space into a casual bistro restaurant.
Thompson will be in charge of the front of house and Robilliard will rule the kitchen.
He and his wife, Stephanie Thompson, have purchased the Whirligig Cafe in Wallace and have big plans to turn the space into a casual bistro restaurant. “We love the authentic interior,” says Robilliard. “The bright colours, the booths and the best sunsets in the entire area.”
They have no plans to alter the layout and décor. “We love the authentic interior,” says Robilliard. “The bright colours, the booths and the best sunsets in the entire area.” But the restaurant will be rebaptized as Wiley’s By the Wharf in an homage to Wiley Grant, who established Grant’s Store in that location in 1941.
Robilliard plans on offering everything from Wagyu beef (occasionally) to standard hamburgers. Defining itself as a
bistro means the menu will be subject to change. What won’t change is Robilliard’s belief in the importance of sustainably sourced food and shopping locally. “I’m committed to
100 per cent sustainable and I can be even more supportive
of small farmers.”
But what about everyone else when it comes to ethical eating? For people who don’t have the resources of an upscale resort like Fox Harb’r — Robilliard admits that when chasing down that first swordfish, money was no object — sustainability can look like more of a problem. But there are ways to achieve a more sustainable diet. It takes effort and time, but he insists, “the effort is a bit less than you think in the first place and we only have one Earth.” It’s a compelling argument.
One easy method is to look for the blue MSC label when shopping or dining out. The Marine Stewardship Council guarantees that such fish have been ethically and sustainably harvested. Another is to choose carefully where you shop. Robilliard is a big fan of Afishionado Fishmongers in Halifax, which sells local, responsibly sourced products.
As for hunting down swordfish, Robilliard now has a regular supply, proving his contention that all it takes is time and effort. And maybe a pile of Styrofoam on the bed of your truck.
Sous vide lobster with pea risotto, lemon gel and Acadian sturgeon caviar beurre blanc
By Chef Shane Robilliard
For the sous vide lobster
2 whole live lobsters, about 1.5 lb each
2 tbsp unsalted butter
2 sprigs fresh tarragon
- sprigs fresh dill
- Start with blanching your 1.5 lb lobster in heavily salted water for five minutes then immersing them in ice water to release the flesh from the shell.
- Carefully remove the lobster meat from the shells to ensure you have nice presentation. To remove claw meat, break off the small pincer, being careful to get the meat out of it. Using kitchen shears or the spine of a heavy knife against the cutting board, crack the bottom of the shell to create an opening large enough to extract the meat. Carefully remove the claw meat by shaking the shell up and down or by using the back of a wooden skewer to prise it out.
- To remove knuckle meat, snip open the shells with kitchen shears and use the back of a wooden skewer to remove the meat. If the knuckles are especially spiky, use a kitchen towel to help grasp them.
- Place meat in a heavy-duty zipper-lock bag or a vacuum bag. Add 2 tbsp butter and tarragon sprigs. Remove all air from bag using the water displacement method or a vacuum sealer.
- Set your Precision Cooker to 62 degrees and cook for 12 minutes
1 onion, finely chopped
300g frozen or cooked fresh peas
1.7l hot vegetable stock
350g risotto rice
200ml white wine
25g parmesan, or vegetarian alternative, grated
2 good handfuls pea shoots
extra-virgin olive oil, to drizzle (optional)
Melt the butter in a large pan, add the onion and gently sweat for about 10 mins until really soft. Meanwhile, put 100g peas into a food processor with a ladleful of stock and whizz until completely puréed.
Stir the rice into the onion, increase heat to medium and sizzle the rice for one min. Pour in the wine, then bubble and stir until completely absorbed. Continue cooking like this, adding a ladleful of stock at a time, and stirring continuously until the rice is tender and has a good creamy consistency. This will take 20-30 mins.
Stir in the puréed peas, remaining peas, Parmesan and some seasoning, then turn off the heat and leave to stand for a few mins. Give the risotto a final stir, spoon into shallow bowls and top with some pea shoots and a drizzle of olive oil, if you like.
For the lemon gel
1 ½ tsp agar agar
100ml lemon juice
- Combine the sugar and agar agar in a saucepan with 100 ml water. Set aside for 15 minutes to allow the agar agar to soften.
- Stirring constantly, slowly bring the mixture to a simmer. Stir over medium heat for 10–15 minutes, or until the agar agar has completely dissolved. It should be completely smooth and you should not be able to see any grains.
- Cool to room temperature, then whisk in the lemon or lime juice. Pass through a fine strainer, into a container. Cover and set in the fridge for a few hours.
- Once set, blitz in a blender on high speed until smooth and glossy, scraping down the side as necessary. Taste the gel and add more lemon or lime juice or sugar if needed. Pour into a clean jar, seal and refrigerate until required. The gel will keep in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.
For the beurre blanc
1-lb cold unsalted butter
1 cup dry white wine
1/2 cup white wine vinegar
1 tbsp finely chopped shallot
1 tbsp acadian sturgeon caviar
Kosher salt, to taste
Steps to Make It
- Gather the ingredients.
- Cut the butter into medium (1/2-inch) cubes and return them to the refrigerator to keep them cold.
- Heat the wine, vinegar, and shallot in a saucepan over high heat until the liquid boils. Continue boiling until the liquid has reduced down to about 2 tablespoons, about 30 to 40 minutes.
- Reduce the heat to low, take the cubes of butter out of the fridge and start rapidly whisking them in, one or two at a time, to the reduction. As the butter melts and incorporates, add more and keep whisking. Continue until you only have two to three cubes remaining. This process should take about 25 to 30 minutes.
- Remove from the heat while whisking in the last few cubes, and whisk for a moment or two more. The finished sauce should be thick and smooth.
- Carefully fold in the caviar?
- Season to taste
- To serve, place the risotto in the middle of the plate and then the lobster arranged carefully on the top of the risotto, lemon gel dabbed on top of the dish and then drizzle with the caviar beurre blanc. Garnish with dill sprigs.