At the Table

Miel Takes Sourcing Seafood Seriously

By: Erin Byers Murray
chef Jason LaIacona pouring sauce at Miel

While it’s been around since 2008, Miel in Sylvan Park remains an underrated gem in the city’s food scene. A true neighborhood spot, its cozy dining room and outdoor garden patio feel miles away from the glittery, high-ceilinged spaces of downtown. For 15 years, proprietor Seema Prasad has worked hard to keep the menu tightly focused on local and sustainable ingredients
whenever possible, and now, with chef Jason LaIacona at the helm, that  includes looking closely at seafood.

Lalacona has come up through the ranks in Nashville’s restaurants, including at Tom Morales’ Fin & Pearl, which had a short but important life in Nashville’s seafood scene—it crafted an ambitious program for carefully sourcing seafood and would fly through 600 pounds of fish on any given Friday. Miel’s program is much more manageable, but LaIacona applies the same thoughtful approach. We caught up with him to learn more about what he looks for and how to shop for seafood as a home cook.

TLP: Tell us about your philosophy for sourcing at Miel.

Lalacona: I spent the last six years developing some really close relationships with as many fish purveyors as I could to make sure that our ethoses are aligned in terms of traceability, catch methods, and species identification. You know, as consumers, we’re at the top of the food chain, so we have an enormous responsibility when choosing what we eat. A lot of people are very stuck on maybe grouper or red snapper. But have you tried tilefish? Have you had barrel fish? Wreckfish? There’s nothing I love more than introducing people to fish that they’ve never heard of before.

Outdoor patio at Miel

TLP: What’s a good example of a reliable seafood source?

Lalacona: We like a brand of shrimp named Oishii, which is Japanese for delicious. The shrimp are farm-raised in Thailand and they handle the whole process, from growing to processing. Their process is very humane in that they run the shrimp under freezing water before harvesting them, which means they’re not in a high-stress situation, which can ultimately affect the product.

TLP: We’ve heard mixed reports on farmed shrimp—what makes these a sustainable option?

Lalacona: One thing is that the feed is closely monitored and controlled. So, they’re feeding the shrimp, which is the end product, but it also means they control the food chain above and below as well—they keep an eye on what other species are on watch lists so that they’re not overusing those products for feed. They’re also mindful of their transportation, mindful of the water they’re using, and even down to how they treat their personnel. We want to work with companies that take all of that into consideration, not just the product itself.

Miel's Bouillabaisse

TLP: What tips do you have for consumers who want to shop for more sustainable seafood options?

Lalacona: Talk with the fishmonger behind the counter; they should have knowledge of where things are coming from, how they’re raised, whether they’re wild caught or farm raised. Whether it’s the Turnip Truck, Whole Foods, or even Kroger, there’s always someone who can answer those questions. If they’re carrying three types of salmon, ask why, ask about how they’re caught. I buy from a lot of the same purveyors that sell to those stores, and those purveyors are sharing all of the same information.

To take full advantage of Miel’s sustainable seafood options, LaIacona likes making a summery bouillabaisse, especially since he can use the shrimp shells and excess fish parts to make the broth. “It goes back to that same sustainability philosophy: minimize waste, figure out how to repurpose everything you can,” he says.

Get the Recipe: Bouillabaisse by Miel

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