Chow Town

Kansas City chef lobbies Congress to maintain seafood sustainability rules

Chef Sheila Lucero of Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar (middle) lobbied Congress on the importance of seafood sustainability. With her are chefs Susan Feniger of Border Grill Restaurants of California and Nevada and Steve Phelps of Indigenous Restaurant in Florida. All three are on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Blue Ribbon Task Force.
Chef Sheila Lucero of Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar (middle) lobbied Congress on the importance of seafood sustainability. With her are chefs Susan Feniger of Border Grill Restaurants of California and Nevada and Steve Phelps of Indigenous Restaurant in Florida. All three are on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Blue Ribbon Task Force.

Let me say this first. This is not a political post and I will make no comments about the work, or lack thereof, being done on Capitol Hill. Oops, does that count as a political comment?

My goal here is to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of one chef who splits her time between Missouri and Colorado. Sheila Lucero is the Executive Chef of Jax Seafood House and Oyster Bar, but recently, she tried her hand at lobbying in Washington, D.C.

“I’ve been on the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Blue Ribbon Task Force for a about a year now. There are about 50 chefs who are members. We work together to be more effective in spreading the word of sustainability,” Lucero told me. “There were three of us selected to go to Washington to bring that message to representatives and senators.”

This was the first time the Monterey Bay Aquarium sent chefs to Capitol Hill on behalf of its sustainability efforts. Being one of just three was an honor for Lucero.

“The MBA wanted to hear how sustainability was important for us personally. And, they said I was a real ace in the hole since I was representing two landlocked states, yet sustainability is just as important in Missouri and Colorado as it is in Florida and California,” Lucero said.

“We just went in and started meeting with people. We’d go to the House and then we’d go to the Senate. They had it all laid out for us” Lucero said.

Lucero says she took more than 20 meetings, and she said most of the representatives and senators were receptive to the chefs’ message.

Realistically, Lucero doesn’t expect this Congress to become more environmentally active with our seas and sustainability.

She just doesn’t want to see what she views as negative action taken, like a weakening of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery and Conservation Act, the primary law governing marine fisheries management in the United States.

“That’s the biggest thing is to get in and talk to them about that. I mean, this was enacted in 1976 and it’s made our fisheries the gold standard for the world. We wanted them to really think about that before they did anything drastic,” Lucero said.

Lucero says she’d relish the opportunity to get back to D.C.

“I was nervous, really nervous going into the meetings. But after we got the conversations going, it was awesome, and I’d do it again. I hope to do it again,” Lucero said.

Lucero says she’s generally optimistic moving forward, but her work on the sustainability front will continue every day with every dish she prepares.

Dave Eckert is a partner with Flavor Trade, a Kansas City-based gourmet food incubator and co-packer. Before that, Eckert was the producer and host of “Culinary Travels With Dave Eckert,” which aired on PBS and AWE for 12 seasons.

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