On a ‘C’ food diet

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PF Chang’s. Really? A Chinese restaurant? For real? That’s what we are supposedly putting on the St. John’s waterfront? Right next to the chain steakhouse? A Chinese chain restaurant, which will be no more than a good rock-throw away from arguably the best Chinese restaurant — a locally owned one I might add — in St. John’s?

Dear friends in Christ, will this city ever get it or what?

Another summer is upon us, and the place is about to be flooded with tourists whose first question is and always will be: “Where can I get some fresh Newfoundland seafood?”

The answer is, “um, ah, well, I’m not really sure. But I know about 17 places we can get chicken balls!”

Oh yes, PF Chang’s has seafood to be sure. They have shrimp from southeast Asia battered and sauced up in all ways shapes and forms. They have “whitefish” (which usually translates into something like butterfish). They have Norwegian salmon — from Norway! And Chilean sea bass — from Chile!

But please tell me, where can I go to enjoy some fresh Newfoundland cod, abundantly tasty snow crab, delicious coldwater shrimp salad, locally produced mussels, Atlantic scallops and fresh local lobster? Sure, there are some places that have some of these things on their menu, but they are nestled alongside the beef, pork and chicken dishes, provided they are available at all (how many times has your server informed you that some form of seafood on their menu is unavailable that evening?).

In Nova Scotia you can’t find a restaurant that isn’t serving local seafood, including lobster, mussels, salmon and haddock and they always seem to have a good supply. The Halifax waterfront is littered with great places serving local fare at all levels from the basic over-the-counter pub, right up to the white-tablecloth gourmet joints.

P.E.I. is very much the same, offering a mix of their prime seafood and farmed veggies (potatoes being chief among them, of course).

But here in Newfoundland, oh no, we can’t be at the likes of that. We get a prime piece of waterfront space and we think: “Hey! Let’s stick a Chinese chain restaurant in there!”

Look, I’m not shouting down Chinese food or even PF Chang’s, because I’m sure I’ll try it at least once. But the fact that we are surrounded by goddamned water, filled with all kinds of tasty seafood that comes ashore in the millions of pounds, and you can’t find a dedicated seafood place to eat any of it that hasn’t been blast frozen, thawed and then deep fired to death is at best ridiculous and at worst a crime against common sense.

The other Atlantic provinces recognize this fact, and are capitalizing on it in a variety of ways.

And it’s not just about tourism; it’s about availability of a prime product, promoting it and creating a culture around our seafood as being the best. That kind of word of mouth (pun intended) is what helps build taste for a product and in turn helps markets improve or develop.

But then, if we don’t even look to push our own seafood to our own people, I guess it’s a tad silly of me to advocate promoting it to others right?

Jamie Baker is the managing editor for The Navigator magazine, www.thenavigatormagazine.com

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