Zero Waste: Fin to Gill with Jay Barnard of Fresh Water Cuisine

More and more, Canadians are respecting the #zerowaste lifestyle and minding eco-friendly practices. We wanted to highlight Ontario businesses that are using innovative & sustainable methods to reduce their waste and benefit their bottom line.  We spoke with Chef Jay Barnard from Freshwater Cuisine a young fish processing business in Kenora, Ontario that focuses on adding value to under-utilized freshwater fish, as well as using a greater percentage of the fish than regular processors.
As an Executive Chef, Jay Barnard saw no place on his menu for ocean-caught fish. He decided to focus on highlighting local freshwater fish. Jay’s dishes were an instant success and he began to think that there may be an untapped business opportunity in the freshwater fish industry. Over the next 18 months, Barnard set out on his own trying to make a business out of value-added fish products. Like any startup, there were ups and downs to bringing Freshwater Cuisine to where it is today. In Fall 2016, Freshwater Cuisine was able to take over a local fish processing plant in Kenora and expand overall operations.  From there, they began to develop relationships with the local First Nations fishermen which is when everything began to fall into place. Today, Freshwater Cuisine works in partnership with over 45 independent fishermen who supply them with 100% wild caught fish. They are now the largest operating fish processing facility in Northwestern Ontario.

Walleye Wings are the meaty morsel from the pectoral region of the walleye with the fin bone still attached. These delicious wings are easy to prepare and super versatile – try them baked, fried, grilled, smoked or sauteed!

Chef Jay purchases all varieties of fish found in northwestern Ontario lakes, including walleye/pickerel, yellow perch, black crappie, whitefish, sauger, tullibee, and mullet. The daily volume and species mix depends on what the fishermen bring in. Fish is purchased and processed daily as it arrives on site and is shipped across the province.  In the world of fish, the industry standard is to fillet the fish and discard the remains, resulting in a total yield of 40-50% meat from a single fish. Freshwater Cuisine focuses on looking past the traditional fish fillet to create value-added products, most famously their Walleye Wings. Chef Jay’s favorite freshwater fish is northern pike. It has a mild, sweet flavor and is a beautiful flakey fish. In his opinion, it is superior to walleye. It is under-valued, under-utilized and under-appreciated due to the fact they are a bony, slimy, and just a generally ugly looking fish.  Check out his freshwater fish spin on a classic dish, the Coffee-Crusted Northern Pike & Waffles. This recipe was featured on their weekly web series Lake to Plate, where they highlight freshwater fish recipes.
The future of Freshwater Cuisine is simple; Innovation. They are committed to finding new ways to turn traditional fish waste into value added products.

Catch Chef Jay at the 12th Annual Terroir Symposium on April 23rd at the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO). 

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