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Chef Joseph Margate: Sustaining the Bounty of New England

By Kate Frazer

Chef Joseph Margate of Boston’s Liberty Hotel has a great respect for the earth and ocean. Since coming to the East Coast, he’s relished the chance to play with new ingredients and create a menu centered around the bounty of New England — from Heritage varieties of pigs in the Berkshires, to a staggering array of fall apples, to a special turnip native to Westport, Massachusetts.

But nothing says New England more than seafood. So when Chef Margate learned about a small group of fishermen in Port Clyde, Maine who formed a cooperative that requires members to use lighter gear and more sustainable methods, he was intrigued. And when he tasted their tiny and sweet shrimp, he was sold.

"Over time I came to understand that sustainability isn’t only about organic. "

How did you first connect with the Port Clyde fishermen?

Chef Joseph Margate:

I read about Port Clyde Fresh Catch’s Community Supported Fisheries (CSF) program on the web. It’s an amazing model in which customers sign on for weekly shares of fresh, local fish, providing fishermen with more independence and financial stability.

What’s been most rewarding about working with them?

Chef Joseph Margate:

I had the chance to meet Glen Libby, one of Port Clyde’s fishermen, at a panel discussion on sustainable fishing at Boston’s down2earth expo last year. Glen spoke eloquently about his experience as a fourth generation fisherman and his concern that there would not be enough fish to support a fifth or a sixth generation.

I thought that spoke very clearly about his goals. It’s rewarding to work with people who think not only about the present, but the future as well.

Why is it important to know where your food comes from?

Chef Joseph Margate:

It’s important to me to have a product that’s fresh and delicious — and Port Clyde provides that. But it’s also about starting a conversation with guests. Putting someone you procure from on your menu helps to start that conversation.

I recently learned that The Nature Conservancy is working with the Port Clyde fishermen, too, helping them test different nets that leave more fish in the ocean. That adds another layer to the story.

When customers sit down to eat at my restaurant, I want them to think about the special places the food comes from and what fishermen, farmers, conservationists and chefs are doing to make sure it remains available.

When did you first encounter the concept of “sustainable food”?

Chef Joseph Margate:

I first learned about the concept of sustainability while working in Seattle. For a long time, people there have appreciated being close to where their food comes from, and the interest in organic and raw food was huge.

Over time I came to understand that sustainability isn’t only about organic. I learned to get in touch with farmers and fishermen and to ask how they tend the land and work in the ocean.

Since moving to Massachusetts, have you discovered a favorite local ingredient?

Chef Joseph Margate:

I couldn’t possibly pick just one! There’s the Macomber turnip, which is native to Westport. It’s a beautiful vegetable: earthy, spicy and perfect to roast and use in soup. At least a dozen cheeses from New England would top my list, too.

Then of course there’s the fish — shrimp and crab from Port Clyde and clams and oysters from Massachusetts. I’m from the West coast, but I’ve fallen in love with the minerality of oysters here. They go much better with beer and champagne.

How does The Nature Conservancy’s work complement yours?

Chef Joseph Margate:

Chefs are only as good as their ingredients; technique only gets you so far. And good ingredients would be impossible without healthy lands and waters.

Kate Frazer is a senior writer for The Nature Conservancy.

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