Beginning in October of last year, the team and I have been quietly working on a fish tank for the restaurant. There is a tremendous difference in the quality of seafood, particularly in shellfish, related to the amount of time that an animal spends out of water. The animal kicks into survival mode after being removed from its natural environment, and the stress, adrenaline and extra burning of energy quickly takes it's toll on the animals muscle structure. I wanted just out of the water quality, despite the fact that our restaurant is about 800 miles from the nearest ocean. Once we had the initial idea, we set about looking at what was on the marketplace for such a piece of equipment. From standard stock, we were underwhelmed with the readily available options. I wanted to house what animals I could ( and with as much variety as possible) in the best possible environment for the animals. Meaning that I wanted control not only over the temperature of the water, but the salinity, the oxygenation and the cohabitation of space of the water.
We began a conversation with Jim Walters of Old Town Aquarium, who services our aquarium in the dining room, conveying what we wanted to accomplish with a tank in the kitchen. Jim was intrigued by the idea, and was enthusiastic about the project from the start. We knew we had a good partner in the endeavor. Working on his knowledge of aquatic life and aquariums, it was determined that we were really talking about not one tank but two, as per the needs of the animals. For instance, I was interested in keeping abalone in the tank as well as some beautiful blue lobsters that we had come into contact with out of Scotland, yet these species cannot share the same space. Unfortunately, the lobsters' breathing as well as their waste would create a toxic environment for the abalone, nevermind that the temperature and salinity of the Pacific waters in a bay off California are rather different from the chilly waters off the coastline of the Irish Sea or English Channel. Both animals would not be at their best around one another. So a plan was devised to build a tank, which would be separated in the middle by a partition of acrylic and airspace, and controlled by two different sets of pumps and coolers, so we would be able to have the diversity we desired yet be housed as one central unit.
Next came aesthetics. I wanted to have a piece that was dramatic, yet would seem natural to our kitchen environment. Stainless steel, clean lines. I didn't want a domestic looking aquarium in a professional kitchen. Taking a look at standard housing and stands for tanks did not turn up anything that we thought would be aesthetically pleasing and/or be able to tolerate the constant day to day motions and cleaning of our kitchen. From here, Jim referred us to a designer, one Todd Haley, who had done work for Jim before, albeit not for a project such as this. When Todd saw what we were trying to accomplish, he seemed to have an innate understanding of what our vision for the space was and came back with a fantastic design. Todd laid out a plan for the housing of the tank, and before long we were off to the metal shop to begin fabrication. We hope to have the cabinet done in the next few weeks and in the restaurant, followed by the tank being built by Jim and company at Old Town atop the cabinet soon after.
I must admit that this is quite unknown territory for me, as I am not sure what this will do to our cooking at L2o. I am excited at the ability to be able to pull several different types of crustaceans, to order, alive from the best possible environment we can provide the animal and cook them (or serve them raw) immediately. I am both anxious and excited at the possibilities. I have no doubt, however, that this will be a big change for the better in our ability to present the best possible ingredients the ocean has to offer at the pinnacle of their freshness and quality.
We're talking 150 gallons of salt water, 1200lbs of water.