CAMBRIDGE — Green crabs are 4-inch prolific demons invading global waters by devouring clams and competing with lobsters for food. Recently, however, they decorated the bar and tables of Pagu restaurant, resting atop glass jars filled with seaweed or nestled in bowls. They were also on the menu.
The meat and roe from green crabs — in this case, easily caught near Ipswich Bay — were fried into crunchy, creamy croqueta balls. The croquetas were among a handful of appetizers before a five-course dinner that included a Japanese marinated hake adorning a frisee salad, fried fluke coated in cornmeal and kelp powder atop a Brazilian-style congee, and a red fish “carnitas” tamale wrapped in kelp and served with a smoked green crab consomme. Dessert was a kabocha squash mochi layered with kelp and soy caramel.
The menu was designed to demystify ecofriendly food for guests at a newly launched “Roundtable” dining series that connects community members with food purveyors. The series is about social justice and bringing people together where “we as a collective can do even more together,” Pagu owner and chef Tracy Chang told everyone at last month’s kickoff.
The first Roundtable, which focused on seafood sustainability, was held shortly before Earth Day, and featured a $120 per person menu prepared by five lauded chefs, including Chang. Two more Roundtable events at Pagu with multiple chefs are ahead: May 18, to discuss the Asian American Pacific Islanders experience during May’s AAPI Heritage Month, and June 8, coinciding with World Oceans Day.
Roundtable was born out of a desire to create an event “that was forward-looking” about food, says Alisha Lumea, marketing director for Boston-based seafood distributor Wulf’s Fish, who developed the concept with Chang. Wulf’s was a sponsor of the first Roundtable.
In the case of seafood, Lumea says: “Sustainability is always cast in negative language of buying a ‘good choice’ or an ‘OK choice’ (e.g over-fished species). We can’t fix fisheries with one solution. It’s not just overfishing, it’s not just climate change. We need to broaden the menu to include lesser-known species.”
Part of Roundtable’s aim as well is to have consumers learn directly from chefs and suppliers about the food they eat.
“Events like Roundtable are crucial for storytelling when it comes to lesser-known foods,” says Mary Parks, cofounder of GreenCrab.Org, a nonprofit, and one of the April sponsors. “Roundtable not only gives participants the opportunity to taste these foods, but learn how and why the chef utilized these ingredients.”
“The world of fine dining often creates a barrier between the chef and the consumer but Roundtable encourages people to ask questions, learn from chefs, meet the people helping source the ingredients, and even play with their food,” Park says.
Guests that April night sat communally at various long tables, strangers drawn to good food, wine pairings (for an extra fee), learning, and conversation. The chefs volunteering their services were Kenshi Imura of Café Sushi Shoten in Cambridge; Christine Lau, formerly of Kimika, New York City; Jordan Rubin of Mr. Tuna, Bar Futo, and Crispy Gai, all in Portland, Maine; and David Vargas of Vida Cantina in Portsmouth, N.H., and Ore Nell’s BBQ in Kittery, Maine.
Among those also attending were teenage students from Cambridge Rindge and Latin School and the Moses Youth Center which, like Pagu, call Central Square home. The students attended at no cost, courtesy of sponsors.
“The ethos of Roundtable is to have our community represented in as many ways as possible,” says Nina Berg, a longtime friend of Chang’s, co-owner of a design firm who works with Cambridge nonprofits and helped to invite the students. “That includes the young people who live right here in Central Square. . . . Their perspective on the theme of the night is valuable.”
Chang hopes other area restaurants will host Roundtable events. For now, she is refining the concept in an attempt to reduce the ticket price. Seafood and most alcohol were donated at the inaugural event, but the dining fee covered the costs of labor and the chefs’ additional ingredients. Sponsors included Bully Boy Distillers, Atlantic Sea Farms, Le Meridian, Boston Harbor Distillery, Ruby Wines Inc., and Short Path Distillery.
Meanwhile, about those pesky yet delicious green crabs: Wulf’s, which sells direct to consumers, features them for $13 per 3-pound bag. Recipes featuring green crabs are available on Wulf’s website — for free.
Tickets for the May 18 Roundtable dinner can be purchased via the Pagu website, www.gopagu.com. Proceeds will benefit Project Restore Us, a nonprofit providing culturally appropriate food to Greater Boston communities in need.