Growing up in agriculturally focused Missoula, Montana, Amy Stacy didn’t have much experience eating seafood. But armed with degrees in Culinary Arts and Food Management from the University of Montana, four years ago she walked through the door of Jax Fish House & Oyster Bar in Fort Collins to begin what would be a very close working relationship with fish.
As Chef de Cuisine for two years now, Stacy has developed a two-pronged food philosophy about fish, based in part on product knowledge, in part on a desire to create sustainability of a food resource that is a huge player in multiple global ecosystems.
Jax was the first restaurant in Colorado to be certified by the Monterey Bay Seafood Watch, Stacy said. According to that program’s literature, “Many of the fish we enjoy are in trouble due to destructive fishing and farming practices.” The Watch encourages consumers to buy seafood that is responsibly caught or farmed to maintain a healthy ocean.
In the summer of 2018, Jax Executive Chef Sheila Lucero traveled to Washington, DC to meet with congressmen to discuss bills threatening the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act which, since 1976, has set sustainability standards and responsible fishing practices for this fragile ecosystem. Chef Lucero and her team put this idea into action quarterly when designing and updating all Jax menus, which continue to require certification by Monterey Seafood Watch.
“We’ve had to pull some menu items based on sustainable practices. And part of what we can feature is weather dependent — an East Coast hurricane can affect what we serve on any given day,” said Stacy.
While much of her inspiration comes from Colorado’s seasonality and what’s available from local farm purveyors, that global outlook promotes a large part of Stacy’s cooking strategy.
As a fish house, global inspiration helps partner what are often historic flavors. Regional wine dinners have also opened her eyes to different world cuisines, offering opportunities to discover new ingredients. Stacy adapts those to fit the flavor profile of a certain fish.
For example, Stacy loves using Asian style or Hawaiian themes with raw sashimi. Another strong presence are Creole flavors. Stacy went to New Orleans last spring and staged at several James Beard award-winning restaurants. Her favorite flavor profile pairings are based on the Creole trinity — onions, peppers, and celery — from which she derives the initial flavors. Then she brings heat forward by adding serranos or jalapeños, creating a sweet contrast with brown sugar or cinnamon.
Look for the marriage of NOLA and Colorado flavors in the chicken & shrimp gumbo and Creole shrimp & grits with andouille sausage and Anson Mills roasted poblano and cheddar grits. Or Laissez le bon temps rouler and chow down on a classic Southern fried ‘po boy with your choice of oysters or shrimp.
This summer, Jax is initiating a new program, Sea to Table, working with fisheries along the West, East, and Gulf coasts. Daily emails share the day’s products, including the boat the fish is coming in on.
For example, Stacy is excited to work with Wild Canadian halibut that’s flown in whole. “It gives us a chance to utilize the entire fish, and that makes me feel better about incorporating every part of it. There’s the meat to serve as fillets, the bones can be used for stock, and I can make a raw style ceviche from what’s left on the bones,” she explained. She’s also looking forward to working with Taku River salmon from Alaska, one of the only rivers carrying all five species of salmon — Coho, Sockeye, Chum, King, and Pink — again branching out her knowledge of seafood while utilizing the entire fish product.
And of course, there are fresh oysters flown into Denver daily. Make the briny rockstars of the ocean a starter or an entire meal. Hot oyster appetizers portray Stacy’s culinary breadth, from the Thai Chili with chili puffed rice, to a Creole-centered cornmeal fried oyster with bourbon BBQ sauce and apple compote. Or order them raw and slurp ‘em.
Overall the menu is tasty and healthy. And it’s a good advocate for the health of the world’s ocean ecosystem.
In that, you might say it’s the perfect match.