Eating-up Stratford
Bite by Byte

Sunday, April 3, 2011

Save Our Oceans - EAT OYSTERS! The Simple Fish and Chips Sustainable Seafood Dinner Club

For the past two weeks I've been fortunate to attend the first two installments of the Simple Fish and Chips Sustainable Dinner Club series. Stratford is so lucky to be the home of the only fish and chip shop in Ontario that guarantees all of its product comes from sustainable Canadian fisheries. Our luck just got even better as this favourite spot for take-out and casual family dining has been transformed into a weekly venue showcasing sustainable fish and seafood created with an elevated (but still, of course, simple) culinary style.

Shawn Hartwell of Simple Fish and Chips has been hooking our town up all winter with incredible frozen fish and seafood from his stall at the Slow Food Sunday market at Anything Grows. This month, with his four part dinner club series, he stepped his mission to connect the people of Stratford with sustainably harvested maritime product  up another notch.

I'm a huge fan of fish and seafood. You may remember my exploits as the first person to attempt to eat the Mammoth Lobster Sandwich in honour of the first anniversary of Simple Fish and Chips back in December. For the past two weeks, my dining experience at Simple has been slightly more refined, as Shawn and a couple of friends have presented the dinner club guests with a spread of gorgeous fish and seafood creations.

The first night saw Shawn joined in the kitchen with a fellow activist/entrepreneur striving to change people's consumer habits by providing them with the best quality fish imaginable. Dan Donovan is the owner and fishmonger at the new store Hooked Inc., which recently opened in Toronto's hip Leslieville area. While he and Shawn were putting together dozens of citrus cured salmon rolls (above) in preparation for everyone's arrival,  Dan told me how he and Shawn connected with one another, "The currents of sustainable seafood brought us together." [Knowing Shawn well, I think that means they follow each other on Twitter...]

 Dan spoke quite eloquently about the growing movement in consumer demand for fish harvested in ways that do not harm the oceans. My favourite part was when he told us all that eating farmed oysters actually helps clean the oceans, since they are natural filters.

That evening, we all did our part to save the aquatic ecosystem by slurping back a couple of fresh, raw Canadian oysters on the half shell (below).

Things got spicy with one of Shawn's signature ingredients: I never tried spot prawns before I had them Jerk-style at Simple last year, and my appreciation for this delicacy was amplified even more after trying them in a zingy tomato sauce at the first sustainable seafood dinner (below). 

For the main, we were treated to a creamy green curry with giant chunks of Pacific Black Cod served over a bed of aromatic rice (below).

One week later, and Shawn was right back at it with a whole new dining-room-full of folks eager to taste and learn about sustainable seafood. Everything Shawn and Candace serve at Simple Fish and Chips is Oceanwise approved; Oceanwise is an information program developed by the Vancouver Aquarium to help consumers at restaurants and stores choose fish and seafood options that are ocean-friendly. The speaker on the second Monday dinner was none other than the Oceanwise representative for Eastern Canada, Theodora (Teddy) Geach, who informed us of the possible collapse of the global fisheries by 2048 if consumer habits don't change:

Teddy was right - the best way to convince people to eat sustainable fish and seafood is to let them taste the difference for themselves - we all had a few of this week's selection of Canadian oysters followed by some spicy mussels (below).

For the main Shawn served up some sablefish cooked in a sumptuous oyster mushroom sauce over rice, with some more of those special spot prawns on the side.

For both dinners, the dessert that was served featured some little sweet and savoury creations by Lindsay's Bakery (who you can also catch at the Slow Food market every Sunday), accompanied by some blueberry teas with liqueurs (featuring tea from Stratford's Tea Leaves Tasting Bar).

If you're kicking yourself that you missed these two amazing dining events, don't worry - there are two more! On Monday, April 4th and Monday, April 11th, Shawn and Candace will continue with their wonderful series. There are still seats available, but I would book ASAP since the first two nights were completely sold out and I imagine these will be too.


  1. This all looks for fantastic. What presentation! Simple is definitely the best fish and chips place in town - and every other town too! - and if I can ever drag myself away from the fish and chips, I would love to try their other offerings.

    And sustainability does make it much more delicious. One thing I always found so interesting about Western tastes in fish is that, unlike other meats that we consume, for fish, we eat almost exclusively predators. When you look at the food pyramid, it's not a sustainable choice. I wonder how this preference evolved?

    Anyway, thanks for your review and the gorgeous pics!

  2. Thanks for the insightful comments Rachelle. I agree that we should all be seeking out fish a little lower on the food chain. I love local perch (preferably ones I catch with my kids) and mackerel (preferably smoked), and I've been waiting for BBQ season to grab some of the full sardines Shawn's been selling all winter at the Slow Food Sunday Market. Maybe the preference for predators evolved out of people wanting to cook one fish for dinner instead of a dozen?