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Branson chef wins lionfish cook off

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Land Rover BAR chef Chris Kenny’s winning lionfish trio.

Sir Richard Branson’s Necker Island head chef Chris Kenny snagged the top prize at the celebrity chef 11th Hour Racing Lionfish Throwdown with a trio of sustainable dishes.

He beat competition from five top chefs from the 35th America’s Cup team nations: Annabel Langbein (New Zealand), Gael Orieux (France), Taichi Kitamura (Japan), Christopher Ekman (Sweden) and Rob Ruiz (United States).

The event at the National Museum of Bermuda in the Royal Naval Dockyard was designed to raise awareness of the problem of invasive lionfish in Bermuda’s waters. With no natural predators in Bermuda, they eat local species and compete with them for food.

Speaking to The Royal Gazette about his lionfish trio — ceviche, lionfish coconut curry and fish and chips — Mr Kenny said that he hoped to see a greater supply of lionfish to cook with in the future as methods improved in capturing them in deep water.

The Guardian LF1 submersible robot, developed by Robots in Service of the Environment using technology by iRobot, was “christened” with Gosling’s rum at the event. The robot can catch lionfish remotely at depths up to 400 feet using a controller. It is hoped it will enable more of the invasive fish, which are able to produce some 40,000 eggs in five days, to be caught in Bermuda’s waters.

All the chefs were chosen to participate not only for their skills but also their dedication to using and promoting sustainable food sources. Even the emcee — Rick Moonen of RM Seafood and RX Boiler Room in Las Vegas — is known as the “Godfather of Sustainability”.

Mr Kenny said that Virgin chief Sir Richard was a “big supporter” of the battle against lionfish and was happy to lend the services of his chef to the cook-off, organised by Land Rover BAR’s exclusive sustainability partner 11th Hour Racing.

Mr Kenny, whose prize was $10,000 for his team Land Rover BAR and $10,000 for the charity of his choice Unite BVI, said: “Lionfish is amazing. I have used it before in the BVI [British Virgin Islands] — all we need is more supply. We need someone to build more robots that can catch them and we can produce it. More availability is going to be key.”

Speaking on the quality of the lionfish, Mr Kenny added: “It has the texture similar to flounder but the taste is really good for raw dishes — ceviche is my favourite way to eat it because it is a light flavour but it works well with lots of different dishes.”

The menu from the six chefs was adventurous, including ingredients such as black squid ink, phytoplankton and an array of edible flowers.

Land Rover BAR skipper Sir Ben Ainslie had all the America’s Cup teams sign on to a sustainability charter with commitments ranging from avoiding single-use plastics to protecting marine habitats.

He said: “This evening was a way to get all of the America’s Cup teams together, with their representing chefs coming up with different dishes and ways to cook lionfish, which as we know is an invasive species here in Bermuda and the Caribbean.

“It was a fun night. As one of the judges, it was great to try many different approaches to cooking lionfish. All the chefs prepared some fantastic dishes and of course we were delighted that Chris Kenny, representing Necker Island and Land Rover BAR, managed to come out on top with some very traditional British fish and chips.”

Ms Langbein of Emirates Team New Zealand produced a dish well loved in Bermuda — fishcakes — which was served with a lime ceviche with avocado and radish. Artemis’s Christopher Ekman who uses the “zero waste model” served up lionfish on baked cabbage, cilantro with brown butter hollandaise and phytoplankton.

Rob Ruiz of Oracle Team USA, cured, smoked and grilled the fish and served it in a rich tomato sauce, while Gael Orieux of Groupama Team France made it with a carrot purée, pickled vegetables and black squid ink.

Finally, Softbank Team Japan’s Taichi Kitamura gave the lionfish the typical Japanese treatment with soy, ginger, green onion and sizzling peanut oil.

About 100 lionfish were caught by William Gillett and a team of divers to serve the 200 guests at the event.

Mr Gillett said that they hunted the fish in the early morning and late evening because they tend to hide in the reefs during the day.

At the end of the evening, the Bermuda College culinary teacher Shawn Ming introduced a team of Bermudian students who he selected to support the professional chefs in their preparation of the evening’s food, which he said they did “with enthusiasm and love”.

Wendy Schmidt, who helped fund the Guardian LF1 robot through the Schmidt Marine Technology Partners, thanked everyone involved saying the efforts would help to open up a new market for lionfish in Bermuda.

Celebrity chefs from right: Chris Kenny (UK), Annabel Langbein (New Zealand), Christopher Ekman (Sweden), Rob Ruiz (United States), Gael Orieux (France), and Taichi Kitamura (Japan)
Chef Chris Kenny, holding mic, with emcee Rick Moonen of RM Seafood and RX Boiler Room in Las Vegas, right
Artemis chef Christopher Ekman’s entry including brown butter hollandaise sauce
Bermuda College culinary students share a laugh at the Lionfish Throwdown
Lion fishcakes by Annabel Langbein (New Zealand)
Gael Orieux of Groupama Team France made it with a carrot purée pickled vegetables and black squid ink