Trace and Trust in the Ocean State with Chef Derek Wagner

Hot on the tails of Chef Garcia’s post about the wonderful folks at Trace and Trust, I got in touch with Chef Derek Wagner of acclaimed Nick’s on Broadway down in Providence, Rhode Island.

Derek was the first chef in the Ocean State to use Trace and Trust. I asked him a few questions, figuring that I would pull together some quotes and write a post. But the things that Derek said needed no editing.

So here, in full, is what Derek had to say about his relationship with Trace and Trust:

I became involved with Trace and Trust through Chefs Collaborative.  For a long time I have been looking for ways to work with local fisherman and get access to fresh local fish, directly, with minimal interference and maximum contact to freshness and integrity in sourcing, methods and information.

As chefs, we’ve had to rely on middlemen for sourcing and an industry-driven information stream that hasn’t always had our best interests, or truth, at heart. We are often fed misinformation about sourcing, species, sustainability, region, and availability.

I’m a chef who tries incredibly hard to make conscientious, thoughtful, direct connections to his food sources, not being able to talk directly with the people who were doing the hunting and gathering on a daily basis just felt wrong.  Why can’t I talk to my fisherman?  Why do I have to rely on purchasing from, talking to, and getting information from brokers, purveyors and distributors?  And why, when I do meet or talk to local fisherman, is it so impossibly hard to buy and serve the fish that they are catching on a daily basis?

We, as an industry have been making so many strides in other areas, such as all things produce, dairy, pork, beef, chicken, lamb, duck, cheese producers and more. I knew there had to be something I could do to find that same connection to what should be one of the most abundant resources in our little state, FISH!

As the chef and owner of a busy restaurant I needed to find a constant source of fresh local seafood, not just a once off, seasonal foray into sourcing it.  I first started asking questions to the folks at Farm Fresh RI, who have done so much in creating awareness and making special connections between chefs and farmers, growers and producers.  When we hit some roadblocks I turned to my friends at Chefs Collaborative for direction, information and advice. After attending a great meeting in Boston, where I spoke to and listened to many other chefs and speakers from various organizations on the topic, I felt energized about tackling the issue, but still wasn’t sure how to or where to start.  Over the course of the next few months I had some great conversations with Leigh and Alida about how and where I could start to make this a reality. 

There were many organizations that were out there making connections with chefs and sustainable, responsible seafood sources, but none that I knew of that were available from, or based out of Rhode Island.  It just seemed mad to me that we lived in the Ocean State, but had to import fresh fish from all around the world to try to achieve what should be so simple.  I knew there were fisherman out there doing great things, but how was I to make that connection?

Leigh soon introduced me to Glenn from Trace and Trust, making the connection that would ultimately develop this dream into a reality.  Glenn and I had several great conversations, and after months of phone and emails, we finally met at Nick’s on Broadway to discuss kick starting the Trace and Trust initiative in Rhode Island.  Glenn brought with him Steve Arnold, a local fisherman based out of Point Judith.  Together we shared ideas and thoughts on the topic and it was soon apparent that we not only shared similar goals and philosophies, but we had all the necessary pieces to put the puzzle together.

Steve and I had further conversations on seasonality, availability, sustainability, method, species, integrity and process and soon after began a partnership that would lead to what very well may revolutionize the way we as chefs source our fish on a daily basis.  Nick’s was the first Trace and Trust delivery in Rhode Island, and the network is building as the knowledge and information spreads.  More chefs are tuning in and catching on, which is making the initiative stronger and healthier.

We have established a direct connection from source to end user that had not been available to us here.  We are able to fish responsibly, shorten distance, time and handling, support local community and put forth dishes to our guests that are not only fresher than anything they’ve ever had, but thoughtfully procured and prepared for them.  We are able to give them information about product, source and method in a way that they’ve never had access to before. It is truly exciting and special work.

I can call my fisherman now and ask him when and where he is going fishing.  My fisherman can call me from his boat, at sea, telling me what the weather is, how far out to sea he is, what waters the fish are biting in, and exactly what and when he’ll be able to get to my kitchen that day.  It’s incredible.  It’s important to remember however that flexibility, empathy and innovation have all been absolutely imperative at all turns and on both sides.

Posted by: Chefs Collaborative

One Response to “Trace and Trust in the Ocean State with Chef Derek Wagner”

  1. Melissa Kogut Says:

    Thanks for sharing this great story, Derek! It’s amazing what can happen through collaborations like this one.

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