This profile of chef Barton Seaver incorrectly states his involvement in Blue Ridge, a new restaurant in Glover Park. He is the chef, not a partner. Blue Ridge's partners are Eli Hengst and Jared Rager. Seaver will be a partner, along with Hengst and Douglas Singer, in another new restaurant and retail market on 14th Street.
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For Chef Barton Seaver, Sustainability Isn't About Fish. It's About Dinner.
The public television series, a co-production of WGBH in Boston, will address a national audience. The project is still in the fundraising stage, but plans call for filming 13 episodes that will take Seaver from halibut boats in Alaska to the shrimp and oyster farms on the Gulf Coast and the Chesapeake Bay. In each episode, chefs, activists and fishermen will talk about the challenges of sustainable fishing and offer solutions so "we'll have our fish -- and eat it, too."
A series on public television is a coup for a rising chef. But Seaver is deliberately humble about it. "This is not about me," he repeated over and over again in an interview. "The macro-evangelism of television cannot be beat."
Seaver's reticence may stem from his bumpy fast track to local stardom. In 2004, after culinary school, he was hired as sous-chef at Jaleo. From there, he moved to Cafe Saint-Ex on 14th Street, transforming it from a glorified bar into a model of farm-to-fork dining. Before long, he had a deal to open Hook, a Georgetown restaurant that focused on sustainable seafood.
Hook was an instant hit and Seaver a sudden media darling. There were full-page photos of him in the local glossies, and New York journalists came calling for insights into sustainability.
The higher Seaver's star rose, however, the more grumbling there was in the local food community. He hadn't paid his dues, some whispered. Who did Barton Seaver think he was? Deservedly or not, Seaver developed a reputation for arrogance. Critics snickered gleefully when Seaver admitted to the Express newspaper that he always wore pricey women's designer jeans with his chef's coat.
"He's actually really hardworking and humble," said José Andrés, Seaver's boss at Jaleo. "It's journalists who decide who to put on a magazine cover."
As he launches his plan to save dinner, Seaver seems to be bracing himself for criticism. It's not a bad idea. In recent years, Berkeley chef Waters, who introduced Americans to the concept of buying local, has been ridiculed as out of touch and elitist.
But Seaver's passion for sustainability and good food appears to outweigh the personal risks. "I'm not developing a personality to sell. I'm using who I am to sell an idea," he said. "Our planet is not in peril. What's in jeopardy is our reality: Can we live where we live? Can we eat what we eat? Can there be as many of us as there are? This is not about the fish. This is about us."