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Omaha’s Next Level Sustainable Seafood

Chef Nick Strawhecker Featured in The Beaspora

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When you live in the nation’s breadbasket, finding sustainable farm-to-fork cuisine is pretty easy. Sustainable fish-to-fork? Not so much.

For Chef Nick Strawhecker, whose two Omaha restaurants — Dante and Dante Pizzeria Napoletana — partner with local producers to lend a Midwest terroir to authentic Italian cuisine, not serving the best, freshest, most sustainable seafood was never an option. As a young chef, Nick worked at Shawn McClain’s James Beard-award-winning Chicago Mecca di pesca, Spring, and acclaimed Philadelphia seafood spot XIX. If pizza is the lingua franca at Dante, then seafood is the chef’s home dialect.

For several years now, Nick has ordered all of his seafood from Sea to Table, a family-owned business that connects chefs to fishermen. “I get an alert at 10 a.m. every day that tells me what’s on the dock,” Nick says. “They’re committed to working only with sustainable fisheries, so I know that what I’m serving is the most environmentally responsible and freshest fish available.”

This is hugely important, given that about 90 percent of the world’s fisheries are overfished. “Some species are no longer available at all, while others are considerably smaller,” Nick says. “15 years ago, the kitchens I worked in used to regularly get 80 pound halibut. Now, they’re closer to 40-60 pounds.”

Through his partnership with Sea to Table, Nick was introduced to the James Beard Foundation’s Smart Catch program, which was created to increase the sustainability of the seafood supply chain. In order to be certified a Smart Catch Leader, a restaurant must meet strict criteria that includes:

  • Scoring 80 percent or higher on back-to-back assessments
  • Having two or fewer items that are “Red,” i.e. they have been red-listed by the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch
  • Having 8 percent or less “Red” volume
  • Completing at least three assessments in the calendar year
  • Carrying no items listed as “Endangered” according to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

“There’s no pay to play,” Nick says of the rigorous assessments that he underwent — and continues to go through — to become Nebraska’s first Smart Catch Leader. “You’re either doing it right, or you’re doing it wrong, and we spend a lot of time working with the Smart Catch program and Sea to Table to ensure that we’re doing it right.”

Nick says that, so far, his customers have loved learning more about the Smart Catch program and where their fish comes from. “When you order a seafood dish from Dante, we want your server to be able to not only tell you where it was caught, but the name of the vessel, and even the captain’s name,” he says.

“People who come in to Dante already tend to be interested in sustainability. We want them to think of us as THE place to hit in Omaha for amazing, sustainable seafood, as well.”