It’s a little before 10 a.m. when I arrive at the Epic Hotel in Downtown Miami on Friday. I was there to meet Area 31 chef John Critchley for a trip to Key Largo, where he would present the Marine Mammal Conservancy (MMC) with a donation representing proceeds of his sustainable seafood prix-fixe menu.
Area 31 with Critchley at its helm has received much notice in its first year. Most recently, Esquire named it one of the best new restaurants of 2009. At the restaurant’s core is its commitment to using sustainable seafood and eco-friendly practices. Like other restaurants under the Kimpton umbrella, Area 31 adheres to the Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch guidelines.
“When we decided to embrace Monterey Bay throughout the whole company I wanted to do something more local,” said Critchley.
His team researched many organizations before selecting MMC as the beneficiary of a portion of the proceeds of the sustainable seafood prix-fixe menu Critchley launched in July.
“A key to sustainable seafood is protecting marine mammals and marine life,” he says. “We wanted to give to an organization that is about educating the public.”
And MMC does just that, the volunteer-run organization focuses on protecting marine mammals and their habitats through research and rehabilitation. The check Critchley traveled to deliver was the first but he says he hopes to be able to give MMC somewhere in the neighborhood of $10,000 by the end of next year.
“We determined the cause of the mass stranding was a starvation issue,” he said. “That means overfishing.”
When Lingenfelser couldn’t get enough fish from the fisheries to feed the 26 dolphins, the National Marine Fisheries Services put a catch limit on herring fishery for two years to help it recover. “Part of what we do is important in fisheries management too,” he added.
After lunch we head to the MMC site for a tour. Now there I was, imagining we would be getting a tour of a building but what we arrived at was more like a triage site. A fish kitchen and a classroom building are in construction but the organization is trying to pay off its mortgage so it can devote funds raised to building the rest of the eco-friendly research facility.
Our final stop was at Dolphins Plus, an entity that works closely with MMC and is the home of Castaway, a deaf dolphin treated by MMC that can’t be released back into the wild due to her condition.
After spending some time in the water with the dolphins, it’s time to head home.
Back at the Epic, I say goodbye to the chef who was off to make sure his kitchen was running smoothly, and I’m left with the thought that we know very little about the life that surrounds us, including what we eat.
Area 31’s five-course, $50 prix-fixe dinner menu will continue year-round to benefit MMC. For other ways to help, visit the MMC website.