MOVING THE TIDE CLOSER TO THE TABLE
BY VINNY MILBURN
This morning starts the same as any other. The alarm. The second alarm. The squeak of my waterproof boots as I wrestle them onto my feet. The smell of the crisp midnight air wafting through the open windows on my truck. It’s 2:00 a.m. Prime time for a fishmonger.
I’ve been around fish for as long as I can remember. My great-great-grandfather, John Nagle, immigrated to Gloucester, MA in the 1800s and started a new life fishing off the piers of Ipswich Bay. Growing up, my folks would tell me stories of his pioneering days. I’d imagine myself on the pier beside him, casting off bait, hoping to reel in a winner. Five generations later, his passion still flows through my veins.
But that wasn’t always the case for me. Entering my college years, I was determined to avoid the family business altogether. For a time, I preferred the scales of justice to those on a black sea bass and pursued entertainment law. It was fun for a few years...until I took a walk around my then-new home in Brooklyn, NY. There were no shops that sold decent seafood, and the only ones that did offered little transparency to their source. I was horrified. But more importantly, motivated.
My vision for Greenpoint Fish and Lobster Company was simple. A fish market up front, with a seafood-focused restaurant out back. White subway tile. Warm woods. Décor inspired by my New England roots. We’d source as locally as we could, use as many parts of the fish as possible and focus on sustainability. Above all else, I promised myself that my customers would always know exactly where their food was coming from.
That was five years ago. And today, we’ve grown beyond my wildest-caught dreams.
It’s 3:30 a.m. now, and I arrive at the Brooklyn Navy Yard with my business partner, Brian. We open our first box of gilled gold—beautiful Atlantic salmon from a sustainable fishery in Maine. That’s first onto the truck, followed by 7,000+ pounds of other delicacies—roughly 5,700 plates of food. Today’s a slow day.
I usually drive all across the state, and sometimes hundreds of miles beyond, sourcing the best fish I can find. I even deliver my fish to restaurants and hotels all across the city. So you could say my business is built behind the wheel of my truck as much as it’s built behind the counter at the restaurant. Which, coincidently, I’m bee-lining to now. I need to get this salmon filleted and on ice FAST. My chef, Orion, is already on the scene—all his mise en their respective place—and is waiting to start scaling and preparing for lunch service.
It hasn’t been easy bringing Greenpoint Fish and Lobster Company to life. My work’s never done. Each day brings new fish, new clients and new challenges. But with each tide comes new inspiration—always sourced locally—whether it’s my roots, my customers or my role in the community. I’m driven by the satisfaction of catching something bigger than myself and I’m lucky to be the guy who gets to reel it in.
Vinny Milburn is a fifth-generation fishmonger and co-founder of Greenpoint Fish & Lobster Co. in Brooklyn, NY. For more info on his restaurant and recipes, visit www.greenpointfish.com
HOW TO COOK LIKE A FIFTH-GENERATION FISHMONGER
This dish is fresh-caught, protein-rich and a favorite at the restaurant. Best of all, it can be the star of your next dinner party in just seven simple steps.
- Rice Bowl Ingredients
- 2 Tbsp. coconut oil
- 2 Tbsp. tamari (AKA soy sauce)
- 2 cups jasmine rice
- 1 bunch scallions
- 2 Tbsp. nori sushi wrapper (powdered)
- 1 Tbsp. lemon juice
- 2 eggs
- 2 fillets of fish
- Seasonal veggies (of your choosing)
- Pickle Brine Ingredients
- 1 quart rice vinegar
- 1 cup water
- 1 cup turmeric powder
- 1 tsp. cinnamon powder
- 2 pieces of star anise
- Day 1
- 1. Bring all ingredients for the golden pickle brine to a simmer. Then allow to cool completely in refrigerator.
- 2. For a soft-boiled egg, boil the egg for 6.5 minutes. For a hard-boiled egg, boil the egg for 10 minutes. Cool in an ice bath immediately.
- 3. Once cool, peel both eggs, add them to the golden pickle brine and allow to sit overnight. Store any leftover brine for future pickling.
- Day 2
- 1. Cook 2 cups of jasmine rice following the instructions on the package.
- 2. Sauté your desired vegetables in coconut oil for 3 minutes, then add tamari. Allow the tamari to reduce, then deglaze with lemon juice.
- 3. Bake, broil or pan sear your fish fillets.
- 4. Layer rice, vegetables, fish, and pickled eggs in a bowl. Garnish with nori powder and scallions.