Chef Jamie Malone won The 2013 Sustainability Award in our Trailblazing Chef Awards.

By Robin Bashinsky
October 18, 2013
Photo: Kevin Miyazaki

Perched on the headwaters of the Mississippi, almost a thousand miles from the nearest ocean coast, sits an important seafood restaurant, creative in its cooking and deeply attendant to the issue of sustainability. Sea Change makes the critical point that, in an age when fresh fish can be flown anywhere on the globe, every kitchen that serves seafood, locally sourced or not, must play its part in minding the stocks.

"Sustainability is such a moving target these days," says chef Jamie Malone, "and getting the right information is difficult. It is as much research and reading as anything else to make sure that the sourcing is just right. Ninety-five percent of our seafood meets the standards set out by the Marine Stewardship Council or Monterey Bay Aquarium Seafood Watch, but I always leave a little wiggle room to vote with my pocketbook for the little guy who is doing things the right way but has not achieved the label yet."

A worthy commitment, backed up by dazzling cooking.

At the raw bar, Malone's briny/earthy/delicate plate of abalone with shaved asparagus and oyster mushrooms had us at "hello." The abalone was thinly sliced, the vegetables slightly warmed, the dish accented with yuzu gelées, marrow powder, and pickled chiles. Then came addictively delicious warm sea urchin atop adorably tiny brioche toasts, slathered with fennel butter. An odd match, but the first bite tasted of classic oysters Rockefeller.

Then came a supple bisque made with locally sourced crayfish from Minnesota's fledgling industry, a nod to the aforementioned little guy.

"For Jamie, sustainability isn't something her PR people talked her into. It's in her DNA," says Minnesota resident and Bizarre Foods host Andrew Zimmern, who's a big fan. "She represents a new generation of cooks for whom buying, cooking, and selling food is a passion and who understand the privilege inherent in making a person's life different, better, through the simple act of sharing a meal."

Close your eyes and take a bite, and you'll think you're eating in San Francisco or New York: Malone's cooking is a startling mix of traditional and forward-leaning. A velvety-smooth chawanmushi (steamed custard) is studded with lobster and scallops set off by a hint of bacon. Risotto-like smoked farro with almonds is perfectly earthy and robust on its own, then brightened by roasted grapes into a real center-of-the-plate satisfier. You eat the last bite reflecting on the surprise of Malone's cuisine: thoughtful, sensible, and completely unexpected.