Seaweeds and Community: A Workshop on Cooking with Seavegetables
Local food on the seacoast typically means an abundance of farm fresh vegetables and fruits, local meat, and local seafood. Local seavegetables never make it to the top of the list of delicious things found at the farmer’s market. Until now.
On Thursday evening, the dining room at Stages at One Washington in Dover was filled with educators, aquaculture and agriculture researchers, and home cooks for a public workshop to explore the uses of seaweed in the kitchen. Sarah Redmond, aquaculture expert from the Maine Sea Grant, guided the discussion on seaweeds and the invaluable role they play in the underwater ecosystems, educating participants on seaweeds as the “organic link to the inorganic world,”absorbing and filtering the nutrients and minerals that exist in the sea that humans, animals, and plants need. Traditionally, native coastal people foraged seavegetables as an abundant food source as well as a valuable source of minerals for plants and livestock. The Maine and New Hampshire Sea Grants are revitalizing the traditional uses of indigenous seavegetables, and excitement is growing among the community.
Redmond introduced the “Gulf of Maine Ten,” explaining the variety of brown, red, and green algaes that are harvested or grown in the Gulf of Maine, and that are native to New England. Aquaculture is in its fifth year in Maine, and Redmond walked through the nursery process, sourcing tissue from the wild, and seeding seavegetables to grow throughout the winter. (Kelp is a winter crop!) Gabby Bradt and Michael Chambers, from the New Hampshire Sea Grant and UNH Cooperative Extension were present to increase awareness of New Hampshire’s small, but growing, aquaculture initiative. Oyster farms in the Great Bay will benefit greatly from the continuous development of aquaculture in New Hampshire. Seaweeds utilize the natural excretion of nitrogen and phosphorus by animals to grow, not unlike plants in agriculture, providing a more sustainable environment for fish and oyster farming.
An hour into the two hour workshop, attendees moved into Stages kitchen where participants were able to witness cooking with seaweeds first hand. Seavegetable creations made by Chef Evan Hennessey, as well as what Redmond and Brandt deemed “common food,” grilled cheese with Dulse seaweed sandwiches and smoothies, were passed around for participants to taste. Redmond addressed the challenge of incorporating seaweeds into an everyday diet by “thinking about what you like to eat everyday, and then put seaweed on it.”
The greatest value of the evening was the interaction. The Maine and NH Sea Grants and Chef Hennessey united home cooks, educators, and researchers side by side in the kitchen at Stages to taste, share, engage and ask questions about cooking with seavegetables. Dried seaweeds, seaweed flakes, and fresh foraged seaweeds were available for guests explore. This innovative research and development event dedicated to foraging, aquaculture, and cooking with seaweeds everyday was a cornerstone for connecting chefs, specialists, and the public in a movement to not only expand locally sourcing to seavegetables, but also to foster relationships. Chef Hennessy opened his kitchen to locals who care deeply about their food, and has subsequently opened the door to continuing education and exploration as a food community through collaboration.