SEAFOOD 101: CENTRAL MARKET BECOMES COLLEGE CLASSROOM

SEATTLE -- Central Market here took consumer education to a new level recently when it brought a group of college-level nutrition/dietetics students into its seafood department for a morning-long class.Central Market, one of six units owned and operated by Town & Country Market, an independent retail group, collaborated with National Seafood Educators, Richmond Beach, Wash., to bring the future dietitians

SEATTLE -- Central Market here took consumer education to a new level recently when it brought a group of college-level nutrition/dietetics students into its seafood department for a morning-long class.

Central Market, one of six units owned and operated by Town & Country Market, an independent retail group, collaborated with National Seafood Educators, Richmond Beach, Wash., to bring the future dietitians up to speed on seafood's health benefits and on the handling and preparation of fish and other seafood.

"We showed them how to look for freshness in different types of seafood and what kinds of questions they should ask their fishmonger. And then we did some cooking demonstrations, using really good recipes. We stressed that seafood is healthy but doesn't have to be boring," said Denise Melton, seafood manager at the store.

Melton said she was glad to have the opportunity to talk to people who are headed for careers in nutrition, and Evie Hansen, marketing director, at National Seafood Educators, pointed out that spending a morning sharing seafood information with such a group was a good investment for the organization as well as Central Market.

"These are folks studying nutrition," she said. "They'll be going out into the community as registered dietitians. We certainly want them to be knowledgeable about seafood."

The group of 20 hosted by Central Market are second-year students at Seattle Pacific University, a nearby four-year college.

"People don't know a lot about seafood, or how to cook it. We talked about dry heat and wet heat in cooking and what that means for fish. You have to cook it right. We gave them printed information, too, that we had updated with the American Heart Association's new guidelines -- the eat-seafood-twice-a-week recommendation. A clinical dietitian relates to that," Hansen said.

She said she thought of Central Market right away when the school approached her because the retailer does such a good job with seafood "and I knew they'd want to do it."

Melton said she wouldn't hesitate to do such a thing again.

"It was well worth the time. When I asked how many shopped the store, only one raised her hand. So that means we introduced 19 new people to our seafood and to our store. And then they'll tell other people. They loved it. I've already got notes from some of them," Melton added.

Having the instruction right on site was a plus, she said.

"We could show them what to look for, how to determine if the product is fresh. For example, we could hold up a whole fish and show them the blood around the gills should be red, and the eyes should be bright, not clouded. And then the bottom feeders like rock fish and Dover sole, we showed how they have a sheen to them and should be translucent," Melton said.

She also stressed to the students to consider the frozen seafood in Central Market's seafood department fresh seafood, too.

"I tell everybody we have the freshest seafood there is. Those frozen items are as fresh from the water as you can get," she said, adding that they're flash frozen, some within 90 minutes after they're taken from the water.

After demonstrating what to look for in items in the seafood case, and what kinds of questions to ask at the seafood counter, the morning ended with a slide show. And copies of the slides as well as easy recipes were distributed to the students.

"We sent them away with a whole packet of information," Melton said. "My part of the program was to show them what 'fresh' looks like and what's OK to freeze and what isn't. Then, Evie Hansen told them about the nutritional benefits, and our culinary manager actually got them involved in cooking some fish.

"We made three different seafood dishes. One was a great spinach salad with flaked salmon."

The Central Market unit, open a year and a half, has built its business around its seafood department, which is positioned at the front of the store. A major feature is a 32-foot walk-around case with bulk IQF seafood. A staggering 70 varieties are offered from that case. Six tanks house live sole, shrimp and even shellfish like oysters and clams. That's in addition to a 24-foot, in-line service counter with fresh product on ice tables.