Sky Full of Bacon

Sky Full of Bacon In a Theater Full of Fish

The biggest “premiere” I ever had for one of my videos was when I showed Raccoon Stories to a dozen guests at one of my Southern parties.  Monday night, the venue was a little bigger than that:

But let me back up.  So as you could either tell or guess from my last two, fish-oriented videos, A Better Fish and In the Land of Whitefish, my involvement with fish came about, first, because Carl Galvan of Supreme Lobster invited me to poke around their place, and second, because during the making of the first one, he said “Hey, you wanna go on a whitefish boat?” and set it up for me to go out with one of their suppliers, Susie Q Fish Co.

Supreme is certainly the biggest company I’ve dealt with in any of these, many times larger than La Quercia, for instance, and initially I wondered if there might be some hesitation or sensitivity about a guy running around with a camera in their company.  I wondered, in fact, if they’d demand some sort of editorial control.  (Which on a formal level I wouldn’t agree to, though I’d certainly listen to any comments, just as I gave La Quercia an opportunity to watch the final cut and tell me if there was anything proprietary they didn’t want shown, which as it turned out there wasn’t.)

But his bosses trusted Carl and he trusted me not to do some kind of hatchet job, and I think I honestly portrayed what they are— a big, efficient and busy company where sustainability is on their radar, and they’re moving things in that direction where they can, but change doesn’t happen overnight either, and so much of it depends on the consciousness of their customers and their customers’ customers as well.  That’s a realistic picture of how progress happens, each piece in the supply chain— fishermen, brokers like Cleanfish, distributors like Supreme, restaurants like Vie and Chaise Lounge, diners like me— helping nudge the others along, making it economically possible to do what’s better.  That’s especially why I was so happy to be able to include Cleanfish, who are really committed to market rather than governmental solutions, protecting non-sustainable fish by driving the market toward other more sustainable fish; and I think it’s obvious that their commitment has had a pretty rapid and direct ripple effect through to distributors and then to chefs and diners (as shown in my Reader piece on their Nunavut arctic char).

Anyway, after they saw the first one and felt it was a good picture of their operation (even if it did reveal that their sales reps sometimes use bad words!), they had the idea of planning an event to raise awareness of the quality and versatility of Great Lakes fish and sustainability more generally, built around a screening of the first video and the (at that point, unfinished) one about whitefish.  And, well it was quite an event— they got the Shedd on board as a venue (and it doesn’t get much snazzier than that):

and Paul Virant of Vie and Troy Graves of Eve, plus the Shedd’s own in house team, cooking with fresh and smoked whitefish and smelts, alongside Goose Island beer.  The invite list included over 200 chefs and media folks, and I talked to many of them, Paul and Troy of course, Jean Joho, Todd Stein, Cary Taylor, Radhika Desai, etc., though they were just as many I missed (I never did catch Geno Bahena, who was there with the madonna of moles, Clementina Flores; or Michael McDonald of One Sixty Blue, Bruno Abate of Follia/Tocco, etc.).

I think that one’s going to be an ad for Goose Island, or maybe Colt .45 Malt Liquor.  (Photos, by the way, are by Supreme’s Reed Shallenberger if they’re any good, and were taken with my camera if they’re not.)  Here’s Carl working on the playlist for the party at the Shedd’s loading dock:

The food really showed the versatility that Great Lakes fish can have, with the biggest eyeopener being Troy’s surprisingly flavorful whitefish cake, which didn’t miss crab a bit.  Here’s Paul bringing in some escabeche:

After about an hour of mingling (and me running around checking on the AV) we gathered in one of the  exhibit rooms as a repurposed screening room.  The president of Supreme and a couple of folks from the Shedd talked about the fish biz and how Shedd works to promote sustainability (including as a big buyer of seafood for its own animals to eat), and then, this guy got up there:

Since I try not to yak-yak in my movies, I tried not to do so before them for too long, either.

Paul Virant, Mike Sheerin (Blackbird) and Jean Joho watching the videos.  I have to say, it was a real gift to finally get to see some of my work with an audience, like a real movie, not just because of the ego boost (though that was certainly gratifying) but also because, I think I know where the laughs are, where the “Hmm, never thought about that”s are, and so on, but you don’t really know until you can hear and feel a whole audience reacting.  It was really great to hear that everybody else found Robert Schuffler as delightful a character as I did, or roared at why lawyer fish are called that.

Afterwards Carl, who had really made everything possible, was thanked by his boss for his dedication and passion to the business of selling fish, and got a big round of applause, well-deserved, for making the event happen.  I really hope that some of our city’s best chefs came away thinking of new ways to make use of Great Lakes fish, and sustainable fish generally, in a way that’s better for the oceans and lakes and for all of us.

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