Under the Sea

Even the Sea Lions Eat Sustainable Seafood at the Houston Zoo

The zoo educates guests in responsible fishery practices with a special dinner.

By Alice Levitt February 17, 2016

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Fish in the newly remodeled Kipp Aquarium.

When most of us hear "Enchantment Under the Sea," our minds go straight to a young Crispin Glover and Lea Thompson cementing their bond and ensuring the future birth of Michael J. Fox. Last Friday, the Houston Zoo used the same name for a party with perhaps more realistic goals at stake. The ocean-friendly seafood dinner was the first in what Houston Zoo marketing manager Lauren St. Pierre hopes will be a series of dinners to promote the zoo's sustainable fish initiative

St. Pierre says that the event was a year in the making. Ocean-friendly seafood is one of six "Take Action" initiatives that are part of the zoo's education programming (others include plastic, paper and cell phone recycling and raising awareness of pollinators such as bees and butterflies), and the one that lent itself most obviously to a dinner event. Timing for a fancy fish dinner was ideal for Friday, St. Pierre says, as it fell on both the start of Lent and Valentine's Day weekend. 

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Guests meet a two-year-old alligator.

Humans arrived in "after five" attire and were treated to cocktails and passed apps including roasted corn cakes spiked with poblano peppers and topped with blue crab salad. But bipeds weren't the only ones enjoying sustainably caught fish. Guests watched as a rainbow of sea life ate frozen shrimp in a central tank in the newly remodeled Kipp Aquarium. Outside, sea lions were rewarded for tricks with fish approved by Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch guidelines. 

Indeed, all animals that are fed fish at Houston Zoo are eating environmentally sound choices. That includes man. All seafood served at the zoo, whether at one of the cafés or a wedding banquet, adheres to Monterey Bay guidelines. It's all prepared by cooks employed by international food service conglomerate Sodexo. 

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Seared yellow snapper in Old Bay buerre blanc.

Image: Alice Levitt

That may not sound like the most promising source for a 90-person seafood banquet, but the yellow snapper main course, served with tomato terrine and brussels sprouts in Old Bay buerre blanc, was cooked to moist, flaky perfection.

Dessert also exceeded my expectations. The clamshell formed by twin tuiles was filled with an exceptionally light espresso mousse covered in a thin layer of chocolate ganache. It sat in a patch of pistachio sand. Whether guests came away with a greater appreciation for making sure that their sushi was caught in the most ethical way is up for debate. But it's certain that everyone left full.

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Dessert in front of the piranha tank.

Image: Alice Levitt


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