As ingredients drift further from their natural state—packaged in boxes, cans and plastic—a fresh food movement is on the rise, and its focus is not just vegetables.
Dock to Dish, a new community supported fishery based in Montauk, is attempting not only to supply its members with fresh-off-the-dock seafood but to reestablish the bond between fishermen and the people they feed.The program kick-started Memorial Day weekend with 60 members, who received fresh fish until June 29. Subscribers essentially buy a share in the catch and get a delivery of a certain size each weekend.
After its initial success, the CSF began its second season of the summer on July 5, still more than 60 individual members strong. One major difference? Nick & Toni’s restaurant in East Hampton also hopped aboard.
Joe Realmuto, executive chef of Nick & Toni’s, who also manages the kitchens at Rowdy Hall in East Hampton and La Fondita in Amagansett, Townline BBQ in Wainscott, and Nick & Toni’s Cafe in Manhattan, said just three weeks in that the program is “spectacular.”
Dock to Dish founder Sean Barrett keeps Mr. Realmuto in the loop each week about what fish his corps of 30 fishermen are catching so that when the time comes to prepare the menu, Mr. Realmuto can plan accordingly.
“Every Friday, he texts us, and Dock to Dish delivers on Saturday,” Mr. Realmuto said. “On Sunday, after he fills his CSF membership deliveries, if he’s got extra fish, we take whatever he has left over. La Fondita and Rowdy Hall reap the benefits” after members, including Nick & Toni’s, have gotten their orders, he said.
The real “beauty” of the program is the variety of fish that is harvested for members, according to Mr. Realmuto. While it depends on what fishermen are able to catch, Dock to Dish members are privy to a wide array of fish: black bass, blowfish, bluefish, haddock, hake, monkfish, pollack, porgy, skate, swordfish, tuna, mahi-mahi and many others.
Mr. Barrett said Dock to Dish’s effort to get the fish from the dock to the kitchen in virtually no time flat is something he is proud of.
“Two weeks back, Joe had big, beautiful, rod-and-reel-caught striped bass that were landed in Montauk, then scaled, cleaned, dressed and packed in slurry ice and delivered to his kitchen in about 110 minutes,” Mr. Barrett said. “Local seafood does not get any fresher than that.”
The Dock to Dish fish are put on the specials menu at Nick & Toni’s. Waiters explain to their patrons what fish was caught that day and, if asked, more about Dock to Dish itself.
Mr. Realmuto said the 65 orders of striped bass that were delivered last Saturday were gone by 9 p.m. that night. “It’s nice, because we’re really getting the message out.”
For nearly 25 years, Nick & Toni’s has had its own garden outside, where fresh ingredients are picked and selected for each dish. Mr. Realmuto helped start the Seedlings Project with Project MOST, an after-school program, at the Springs School in 2010. The greenhouse and garden classroom teaches children about “slow food” and the importance of farming and buying local produce.
According to Mr. Barrett, Mr. Realmuto and his team gave a “big, strong hug” to the Dock to Dish program.
“Joe speaks the ‘language of fresh’ fluently, and has a sincere reverence for wholesome, locally sourced ingredient that is humbling,” Mr. Barrett said. “He wants to know what kind of fish we are catching, what tackle and equipment we are using and what the conditions are like out there.”
Mr. Barrett, a fisherman who has frequented the waters off Montauk for more than 30 years, said there’s no fish like this at any supermarket.
“When seafood is fresh out of the water it has special properties that it loses after spending time on land,” he said. “I always wanted to open the door for other people to experience what we [as fishermen] enjoyed all the time.”
He said he was convinced to bring the concept home when visiting the little Spanish coastal town of San Sebastian, where fishermen arrived at the docks in their skiffs in the early evening to deliver their bounty.
“They unloaded their haul, sardines and mackerel, and marched them right up to the restaurants in wicker baskets,” he recalled. “Moments later, the camareros [servers] came around offering that same fish, minimally prepared, to the guests. The fish went from dock to dish in under 20 minutes.”
In the fall of 2012, feeling inspired by Scott Chaskey, director of Quail Hill Farm, a community supported farm in Amagansett, Mr. Barrett decided to “carbon-copy” the CSA concept and apply the model to the sea.
He has gained support from a number of organizations, including the Concerned Citizens of Montauk, Amber Waves Farm, Trace & Trust, Brewsters Seafood, the Northwest Atlantic Marine Alliance and the New York Sea Grant.
Jeremy Samuelson, the executive director of CCOM, said his group teamed up with Dock to Dish in the fall to design the business model and kick-start the pilot program.
“We help identify resources and then help look into what types of fish the CSF is serving, how the fish are caught and what the supply chain looks like and ultimately get them to the members,” he said.
Mr. Barrett said the goal is a simple one.
“What we have seen is that there is this revival of a long-lost bond of trust and respect, which quickly forms on both sides of the member-fisherman equation,” he said. “Keep it simple—know your fisherman.”
On Saturday, Dock to Dish will host its first event with a reading and book signing with Paul Greenberg, author of “Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food,” at Canio’s Books in Sag Harbor at 5 p.m. For more information about Dock to Dish, visit docktodish.com, or call (917) 853-8559.