The Ocean Wise Ceviche Smackdown in Toronto is back this Monday, June 16, this year featuring winners from our past four years of Smackdowns. This annual, highly popular event features chefs creating their best sustainable ceviche in a friendly competition as part of a popular weekly food event series led by Ivy Knight (called 86’d Mondays) at the Drake Hotel.
But what is ceviche and what is its story? Before you cast your ballot on June 16 for the “best” ceviche created by one of these top Toronto chefs, let’s go back to a fishing village in Peru. As any Peruvian will tell you, ceviche is exclusively Peruvian, and certainly not from Chile or Ecuador, or any other South American country. There is an immense amount of patriotic pride for the Peruvian ceviche, as well as long tradition.
Peruvians will also tell you, “Never eat Ceviche at night!” because in Peru, the fish is caught in the morning by fishermen heading out with the first crack of light into the Pacific Ocean. Women working at the “processing plants” at seaside villages take in the fish while most are still asleep, cutting it up into slices at lightning speed, and popping them into a big mixture of strong lime (limón), Peruvian chiles of various colours (ají) and strong, spicy red onions (cebolla). It’s a beautiful combination of spicy and citrus complimenting the freshness of the firm whitefish, and always served with a sweet potato and piece of corn on the cob on the side. Always. The potato and corn act as a lovely contradiction to the spice. Ceviche in the villages is not refrigerated, so it is perfect by lunch, but could be spoiled by dinner.
The Beach Boys sang about the seaside town Cerro Azul in their album Surfin’ Safari because it’s an amazing surf spot. But its origins as a fishing village are still apparent, and as a contradiction to the many surfers from the city catching a magnificent left break in the bay, there are small, modest wooden fishing boats lining the opposite side of the pier. The fishermen head into the bay in these small boats, casting their nets by hand into the ocean in the early dawn to catch lenguado (sole) and corvina (white sea bass). However, the sole and corvina we see in the Canadian market are not from small-scale fishermen in seaside villages like Cerro Azul, but likely from factory bottom trawlers from around the world, and likely from overfished stocks.
On June 16, five top Toronto chefs, all past award-winning ceviche creators, will prepare their version of this dish for the hundreds that flock into the lounge at the Drake Hotel for 86’d with Ivy Knight. All seafood was not straight from the fisherman’s two-man wooden boat in Cerro Azul, as Toronto is not a seaside village in the South Pacific and we do not have access to this particular small-scale fishery. The seafood will not be sole or corvina, as the versions of these fish found in the North American market are generally not sustainable captured.
These chefs will use fish that are caught with fishing or farming methods that ensure healthy marine ecosystems for years to come, with Ocean Wise recommendations as their guide. And in Toronto, the Ocean Wise seafood options are diverse, and the chefs will need to insert their creativity and resourcefulness to play tribute to the dish’s origins. One thing that we can be sure of is that taste will not be compromised, because a sustainable fish always correlates to a high quality fish, and these chefs are the best in the city. Who will hit that sweet spot of sustainability, cultural tribute, and creativity that can bring you back to a Peruvian village but remind us we are in Toronto at a time when overfishing is one of the greatest threats to our ocean? You be the judge! Join us June 16 at the Drake Hotel for this free and sustainable tasting event.
Overfishing is the biggest issue facing our oceans today. The Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise program makes it easy for consumers to make sustainable seafood choices that ensure the health of our oceans for generations to come. Look for the Ocean Wise symbol next to a menu or seafood item for the Vancouver Aquarium’s assurance of an ocean-friendly seafood choice. Learn more at oceanwise.ca.