East End fishing advocates said they puzzled for years over how to get fresh, locally caught seafood onto school cafeteria menus.
They needed a fish-based dish that cafeteria workers could serve without much preparation, a meal that might appeal to even the most finicky student.
Their solution: the fishburger.
Starting Jan. 22, students in the Bridgehampton district will find patties of Montauk-landed finfish served on buns in the lunchroom once a month on Fridays for the rest of the school year.
It’s not just about nutrition, advocates of the program said, but about teaching children where their food comes from — and about the fishing and farming history of eastern Long Island.
Plus, the burgers are free. No lunch money required.
Dock to Dish, a Montauk company that connects fishermen with restaurants in New York City and the Hamptons, organized the program with help from chefs, school officials and an East End nutritionist.
“We’re really a fishing and farming culture out here, so this is really getting back to our roots,” said Dock to Dish co-founder Sean Barrett. “The whole idea is really to reconnect the students to the farmers and fishermen, and use the fishburger as a centerpiece or a launching pad for that conversation. It’s hard to get students excited, but when they heard about it, they were like ‘burgers?’ ”
Barrett said the fishburger was inspired by a recipe from chef Eric Ripert of the Manhattan restaurant Le Bernardin. Three East End chefs — Joseph Realmuto, Jason Weiner and Sam McCleland — plan to bring cooking demonstrations to Bridgehampton’s K-12 school on each “Fishburger Friday” to highlight the local origins of the fish and side dishes. The buns are to be made with organic flour from wheat grown at Amber Waves Farm in Amagansett.
Bonnie Brady, executive director of the Long Island Commercial Fishing Association, said the program could promote the fishermen working out of the state’s three busiest fishing ports: Montauk, Hampton Bays and Greenport.
“Anything that allows for more New York-landed fish to get to consumers, and hopefully introduce new consumers to what sustainable seafood is” is positive, she said, adding that the share of U.S. seafood that is imported from foreign countries has grown from 55 percent in 1995 to 90 percent in 2015.
Barrett, 40, of Hampton Bays, co-founded Dock to Dish in 2012 with the goal of applying the “community supported agriculture” or “CSA” model used by farms to the fishing industry. His company now has 32 Montauk-based fishermen supplying seafood to about 80 families, 17 restaurants and Google Inc.’s Manhattan campus. Like CSA, customers subscribe in advance to get whatever the fishermen catch, and design their menus or meals accordingly.
The Bridgehampton schools fishburgers will vary with the catch of the month. January’s batch is expected to be golden tilefish, Barrett said. What’s important is that it comes from Montauk.
“This is the largest commercial fishing port in New York State,” he said. “We land the freshest, cleanest, safest food that we could be eating, and yet we import 90 percent of our seafood, so none of it is getting close to our kids.”