Tennessee Aquarium's sustainable seafood fundraiser lets you digitally cook along with the chefs

Contributed photo from John Bamber Photography / This is the 10th year that chef Tamie Cook has produced the Serve & Protect live cooking show for the Tennessee Aquarium. She previously was culinary director for Alton Brown, who helped conceive the fundraiser.

Chef Tamie Cook has promoted sustainable seafood for a decade now as the producer of the Serve & Protect cooking demonstration and dinner hosted by the Tennessee Aquarium.

Historically, attendance to Serve & Protect, the aquarium's largest fundraiser, has been constrained by seating capacity in the Imax 3D Theater. In light of the ongoing health crisis, this year's on-site audience will be limited to around 40 people, but coronavirus constraints also mean that the event can be opened up to a much broader audience online. Supporters can watch via a live video feed by purchasing a tax-deductible digital ticket for just $40. The event is scheduled Thursday, Oct. 1, as a kickoff to National Seafood Month.

While the online component is a first for Serve & Protect, "tele-cuisine" is nothing new for Cook, who has led a slew of live-streamed culinary demonstrations since the onset of the pandemic. After crafting a menu, she spends an evening remotely cooking with online viewers.

Serve & Protect will follow the same concept, with virtual attendees receiving a shopping list for two of the dishes that will be prepared so they can chop, dice and sauté along with the chef from the comfort of their own kitchen. And if the culinary action onstage moves too fast, the stream will be saved so they can revisit it later and proceed at a more relaxed pace.

"The idea that we can bring people together to do something fun, to forget about COVID-19 for a while and make people laugh and feel connected - I know that's going to feel amazing," Cook says.

Joining Cook will be Sheri Castle, an award-winning professional food writer, recipe developer and cooking teacher. Castle is a contributing editor to Southern Living, following a stint as the magazine's senior food editor. She has written 16 cookbooks and is known for melding stories, humor and culinary expertise in her public appearances.

"Part of the appeal of producing this show each year for the aquarium is working with some of the best in the business," Cook says. "I know the audience will love [Castle's] sense of humor and her dedication to sustainability."

If you go

* What: Tennessee Aquarium’s Serve & Protect sustainable seafood dinner* When: 6:30-7:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 1* Admission: $40.* Info: To purchase tickets to the first virtual Serve & Protect at https://tnaqua.org/serve-and-protect/, and for more information about sustainable seafood, visit tnaqua.org/serve-and-protect/why-it-matters/.

Cook is passionate about bringing sustainability to a broad audience.

Globally, over-exploitation and mismanagement have caused fisheries to decline to the point that it's not so much a case of "fish out of water" as "water out of fish," according to a statement from the aquarium. As a member of what Cook calls the Good Food Community, she has long championed educating the public about sustainable dining to ease the pressure on foundering fisheries and imperiled species.

"When I became aware that, because of my choices of what I eat, I could do harm to the Earth, to oceans, to our waterways, I realized the power in making better decisions," she says. "I feel it's my responsibility to utilize its resources wisely to preserve it for the next generation.

"The message of sustainability is not just for the elite or the well-educated; it's for everybody."

Conceived in collaboration with celebrity chef Alton Brown, for whom Cook once worked, Serve & Protect seeks to expand participants' "seafood portfolio" by using sustainable ingredients such as lionfish, rainbow trout and yellowtail snapper. Emphasis is placed on seafood sourced from U.S. fisheries, which are among the most responsibly managed globally. A host of culinary stars, including numerous James Beard Award winners, have been featured at Serve & Protect as guest chefs.

The event isn't just a fun evening or a chance to support the aquarium, however. It's an opportunity to show how culinary choices can positively impact the ocean, even when you're setting a table hundreds of miles from the nearest beach.

"The more times we can share the message of eating sustainably, the better," Cook says. "I feel like we've made a difference in the last 10 years. People come back year after year and say they feel empowered to go to grocery stores and ask questions about where their food is coming from. That's had a ripple effect that could educate even more people."

In addition to the virtual event, the aquarium will host the first-ever Serve & Protect silent auction beginning on Thursday, Sept. 24. It includes a variety of behind-the-scenes experiences and original art created by aquarium animals, volunteers and staff. Other items include hotel packages, Lodge cookware bundles and other highly valued items like large, fossilized megalodon shark teeth.

photo Contributed photo from Sharon Brody / Culinary producer, award-winning food writer and cooking teacher Sheri Castle will be part of this year's Serve & Protect sustainable seafood cooking demonstrations.