Sometimes it seems like not a month goes by without a new cookbook by fish sustainability expert, chef and South Freeport resident Barton Seaver showing up in the mail. Most recently, it was the 304-page “Two if by Sea,” chock-full of recipes; indexes of fish species; short essays on sustainability, equipment and ingredients; more essays and step-by-step photographs on technique; and pictures of food, fish and Seaver himself fishing and cooking.

Just a few months earlier, it was “Superfood Seagreens,” a book devoted to persuading Americans to eat and cook seaweed.

Seaver, director of the Sustainable Seafood and Health Initiative at the Harvard School of Public Health, has written six cookbooks in as many years, and in the same period he married, bought a home and moved to Maine.

When we called him up to ask how the heck he fits it all in, he mentioned that book number seven is due to the publisher in two months, with book number eight, “another massive manuscript,” to follow next March.

Seaver, 37, had just returned from speaking at a conference in Dallas put on by the giant food service company Sysco. We began our conversation by asking him about, well, sleeping with the enemy, at least from a locavore/sustainability perspective.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.


Q: So how did Sysco executives, vendors, hotel executives, etc. take your message of sustainability?

A: I dedicate quite a bit of my time to engaging with the very largest players in the food service – those who are most often maligned as the problem – because of the fact that their ability to create change is so great. And they have, in very authentic ways, come to realize the civic virtues of local and sustainable and the romance that is being revived in our relationship with food. They’ve come to understand that as fundamental to operating a healthy business.

It’s easy to write off the enemy, but it’s a lot more helpful to engage them, and I don’t believe they’ve ever really been the enemy. They are American businesses doing what American businesses do – they are competing, and they succeeded. That’s capitalism, and you can’t blame them for it.

Q: I really called to talk with you about productivity. Six books in six years? What drives you? What’s your secret?

A: When I was first approached to write a book, it happened in a very unconventional way, in that the publisher, Sterling, sought me out, called me from New York, came down (to Washington, D.C., where Seaver had a restaurant at the time) to meet me and presented me a two-book offer. I thought about it and said I would love to write one book on the condition that my wife (a graphic designer) gets to design the entire thing. The only book she had ever designed at that point was her art school thesis. And I wanted to work with our wedding photographer to do all the photos. She had never shot food before. What I wanted the book to be – and what I think we, to a large extent, achieved – it communicates a sense of process, thought and strategy rather than just a static approach. I decided I wanted to write the book because I had something to say about food.

Q: As someone who’d never written a book, you were pretty nervy.


A: I knew what I wanted, and I knew I didn’t want to send my ideas off to some firm in New York who didn’t know me, with whom I had no connection, to whom this was just another project. I wanted it to be intimate, and I wanted it to reflect how I feel about food. This was “For Cod and Country.” Why I wanted our wedding photographer is that wedding photographers are particularly well trained to notice the special moments happening on the periphery and to whip around and capture them.

Q: To return to my question, though, why so many?

A: Because I am so passionate about seafood. Writing a book is a learning process for me. I am forever a student. Especially in the seafood conversation, the dialogue keeps shifting. There is more to say every day. And even my own viewpoints have shifted greatly from book to book as I have become more knowledgeable.

There is also a very practical aspect to this, which is my career is in the food world, and books are my avenue to remain relevant.

Q: You never wish you had more time to write each book?

A: I work very quickly. It’s the nature of being a chef. Chefs don’t have the luxury of taking our time. “I wish I had another half hour on your meal tonight. I could have really made that a ‘Wow’ if I had another half hour.” That thinking is not built in. Also, because I am so deeply involved with seafood in every aspect of my life, I don’t have to (start) thinking about seafood to get my head in the book. Of course, deadlines – I don’t know a single author who says, “I love deadlines. Can you move it up a week?”


Q: How do you describe yourself these days? Are you a chef? A writer? An activist?

A: I am definitely not an activist. I am not an advocate. I make that distinction, because I don’t have your answers to what food, sustainability, community means to you. Advocacy and activism is all too often speaking at people.

And for a long time, I have shied away from labeling myself as a chef out of respect for the folks who bravely don their whites and charge into the breach every single night. As my wife pointed out the other day – we were having this very same discussion – “What are you? What do you do?” I said, “I don’t consider myself an author.” She said, “You published six books, you idiot. I think you should say you are an author.”

The terminology I use is I am a recovering chef and author, and I work to support our civic values and the public health created by them.

Q: I’m not sure I know what you mean by civic values.

A: All too often we look at sustainability as simply empirical scientific measures of the state of a certain biological system, and therefore we end up in conversations that are inherently limited. If it’s only about the fish, where do the fishermen fit in? Where does public health fit in? Where does heritage fit in? That’s what I mean about the civic values. It’s not just about how we impact nature.


Q: May I return to the question of productivity? I know your mother died young. I know you were once very ill yourself. Did these circumstances have an impact?

A: You know, I’ve often asked myself this question. Yeah, I’m keenly aware of mortality, and by virtue of that I do not find a source of pessimism, but I am driven by the sense of optimism. I watched my mother die, and her only (regret) was that she wasn’t going to be able to enjoy another day, to live another day fully.

So I don’t think of it as a pressure, I don’t feel as though I am working against an unfair time line. I’m simply doing things that bring me joy. My mother taught me, and my illness especially, that it is absolutely worth facing the incredible terror of being courageous in your life and in your decisions, and that’s what we did. I wrote a book!

“For Cod and Country” was probably the most challenging, not just because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing, (my wife) Carrie had no idea, the photographer didn’t know what she was doing, and the publisher had no idea what they were going to receive. It was difficult because I was recently divorced from restaurants, and it was a bit of a struggle to write a cookbook and not a chef’s book.

In the process of writing those recipes, I had to learn to occupy the spiritual space of my own home kitchen. I had graduated high school and started cooking professionally a few months later. I never had a home kitchen – well, with anything in it but beer and booze. Dinner was a profession. I had to learn how to be a home cook. That has driven some of my motivation to write cookbooks. I am discovering cooking. This is still kind of new and fun to me. I get great joy out of writing them. Why not write as many as the publishing world will allow?

Q: Tell me about your next project.


A: It’s a very different book. It is 550-page thesis that tells the story and history, both through a culinary and anthropological lens, of the American seafood industry. I am elucidating all of these broad ideas and historical patterns by writing personality sketches and narratives of every single species that is legally landed in the U.S., and that is daunting.

Q: And the book after that?

A: All of these fish are entering my house. I’m tasting. I’m analyzing. Many I’ve had before. Many are new to me. If I have all the fish in the house, I might as well cook them. So it’s a comprehensive book using all these fish. The title is “The Joy of Seafood.” It has about 1,200 recipes.

It reverses one of the unsustainable behaviors consumers force onto the seafood industry. They come to the counter and say, “I need snapper.” We’ve too long told the oceans and the fishermen what we are willing to eat rather than ask them what they are willing to supply. The idea is, shift the order. Purchase first, then come home and decide what to cook.


Seaver describes this Catalan dish as his favorite recipe in “Two if by Sea.”


1 pound spaghetti

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, divided use


2 (1 1/2 pound) lobsters, preferably new shell

1 bay leaf

2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced


1 tablespoon smoked sweet paprika

1 recipe Classic Aioli

1 bunch fresh herbs, such as chervil or parsley, leaves only

Lemon wedges

Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F.

Working in small batches, break the spaghetti into roughly 1-inch pieces and place on a baking sheet. Drizzle with 11/2 teaspoons olive oil and toss to coat. Bake the noodles, tossing every few minutes, until deep brown all over, 10 to 12 minutes. (Keep a close eye on them as they can go from pale to overdone in no time.)


Remove them from the oven and let them cool. If the pasta has cooked a little too much, scrape it onto a cool baking sheet to stop the cooking.

Bring 6 cups lightly salted water to a boil. Add the lobsters and the bay leaf and cook for 6 minutes. Remove from the heat, transfer the lobsters to a bowl to catch all the juices, remove the meat from the lobsters and place it in a separate bowl. Add the shells (discarding the innards) to the cooking water. Pour the lobster juices through a fine-mesh strainer into the cooking water. Bring to a gentle simmer to further infuse this quick broth.

Preheat the broiler to high.

Heat the remaining olive oil in a large paella or wide enameled pot over medium heat. Add the garlic and cook until the edges begin to brown. Add the paprika and cook, stirring for 30 seconds. Add the noodles and toss to coat with the oil. Add 2 cups of the hot lobster broth and bring to an energetic simmer. Do not stir the noodles as they cook. When the broth has been absorbed, add another 2 cups, cooking until absorbed. Add the remaining broth and bring to a full boil. Immediately place the entire pan directly under the broiler.

Cook until the noodles have absorbed almost all of the broth, 8 to 10 minutes. The noodles will curl up and the ends will become crisp.

Remove the pan from the heat and set it aside while you cut the lobster tails into small medallions and the claws in half. Place the meat in neat arrangements around the pan. Place a very large dollop of aioli in the center of the dish and scatter the herbs over the top. Serve with the extra aioli and lemon wedges on the side.



Seaver often flavors his aioli with herbs. This recipe is from “Two if by Sea.”

1 egg yolk

1 large clove garlic, grated

11/2 teaspoons sherry vinegar

2 teaspoons salt

2 cups vegetable oil

1 tablespoon water

Combine the egg yolk, garlic, vinegar and salt in a large bowl and whisk to combine. Place the bowl on a damp towel or have someone hold it for you to keep it steady. While whisking, slowly drizzle in the oil until the sauce emulsifies and thickens. As it thickens, add 1 tablespoon water a few drops at a time (this will thin the aioli so it can take more oil). Continue drizzling and whisking until all the oil has been incorporated. Yes, your arm may be a little tired, but this is definitely worth the effort. Aioli keeps in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

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