Chef Cimarusti is a lover of all things from the ocean and it shows. On a recent evening, I was treated to a memorable seafood dinner at Il Pesce Cucina in the new Eataly Los Angeles. Inspired by a global fish market, the restaurant is a collaboration between Cimarusti, who earned his stripes at the Michelin-starred Providence, and his long-time business partner Donato Poto. The pair also founded the casual West Hollywood seafood spot, Connie and Ted’s (named after Cimarusti’s grandparents), and more recently Cape Seafood & Provisions, a retail shop featuring wild-caught finfish and shellfish from environmentally responsible, sustainable sources.
Cimarusti has also been a leader in the West Coast’s collaboration with Dock to Dish, an international network of small-scale fishermen, marine biologists, and sustainable seafood advocates committed to local, traceable, low-impact wild seafood. Cimarusti is responsible for bringing to California the Restaurant Supported Fishery program, which guarantees a minimum annual purchase of fresh-caught fish from local fishermen, ensuring both their market and his supply. Through his personal efforts, the program now includes many of the best restaurants in the Los Angeles area including Providence, acclaimed for its seafood-centric tasting menus and extraordinary service.
“We are operating Dock to Dish out of Cape Seafood now," he told me. "Fish that was landed yesterday is being delivered tomorrow. We load up our truck at the dock, run it down to Los Angeles, sort it and send it out in vans. Friends in the restaurant business appreciate the quality, and we provide interesting varieties that others don’t have, such as California box crab and spiny lobster,” Cimarusti said.
He is also enthusiastic about helping to broaden consumer tastes in seafood. “It’s been fun to see people begin to embrace lesser-known species, sometimes referred to as ‘trash fish,’ but I dislike that term. I think everything we harvest—all the beautiful wild fish—have integrity, flavor, and value. It’s just that we as consumers place a higher value on a small number of familiar species.” He continued, “The more we expand our tastes, the more inexpensive and tasty seafood will be available.”
Chef Cimarusti’s cooking classes at Cape Seafood help to introduce new varieties along with handling and cooking methods. “Most of the recipes I demonstrate are done in real time—maybe with the exception of a sauce or two—in order to make the point that it doesn’t have to be difficult or complicated. It just has to be delicious and healthy. That’s the goal of our classes.”
Paralleling the methods and principles of Community Supported Agriculture and the farm-to-table movement, the seafood programs’ goals are transparency and sustainability. Cimarusti, dedicated to this effort, recently testified before Congress regarding fishing practices, the traceability of seafood, and the obligation of the restaurant industry to source their products responsibly. In 2017, the United Nations named Dock to Dish as one of the 14 top breakthrough innovations for healthy oceans.
The exquisite Il Pesce Cucina dinner, every course featuring local, seasonal, sustainable seafood, highlighted not only the talents of Chef Cimarusti and his staff in the kitchen but also the value of ensuring the availability of these products for future generations. Inspired by Cimarusti and Donato Poto, along with prominent chefs throughout the country, the Dock to Dish and Restaurant Supported Fishery movements show promise for the future of healthful and delicious seafood from the earth’s oceans.