Review: ‘The Delicacy,’ starring Jim Marshall, Andrew Zimmern, Harry Liquornik, Stephanie Mutz, Ward Motyer, Haiwen Lu and Ray Isle

May 7, 2020

by Carla Hay

Harry Liquornik and Stephanie Mutz in “The Delicacy” (Photo courtesy of SOMM TV)

“The Delicacy”

Directed by Jason Wise

Culture Representation: This documentary examines the business behind the delicacy of sea urchin, with the film featuring interviews with a predominantly white cast (and some Asian representation) of sea urchin divers, chefs and journalists.

Culture Clash: “The Delicacy” addresses the controversies over fishing for sea urchins, including the environmental impact and what sea urchin divers have in response to people who are offended by their line of work.

Culture Audience: “The Delicacy” will appeal mostly to non-vegan/non-vegetarian people who are passionate about fine dining and are curious about the specifics of how sea urchin goes from the ocean to human consumption.

Sea urchin and caviar prepared at Aubergine restaurant in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California in “The Delicacy” (Photo courtesy of SOMM TV)

“The Delicacy” takes a fascinating look at the business of making sea urchin a fine-dining item. Unlike other food TV shows that focus primarily on the end results of food preparation, “The Delicacy” takes a deep dive (literally) into the entire procedure of making sea urchin available to the public, including showing how sea urchin divers work, how sea urchin goes through processing plants, and how sea urchin is prepared for meals. The heart of this 70-minute movie is with the sea urchin divers, since the documentary shows a very human side to their line of risk-taking work.

Sea urchin is eaten for its center, which is called “uni” in Japanese, and is usually eaten raw. And sea urchin is considered among the top-tier of luxury seafood. Uni Diaries blogger Haiwen Lu, who’s interviewed in the documentary, comments on sea urchin: “A lot of other delicacies out there, like foie gras or caviar or oysters, I feel like they don’t have that buzz factor like uni has.”

Celebrity chef/restaurateur Andrew Zimmern says, “My relationship with sea urchin? Profound.” And he comments on preparing sea urchin: “It’s a simple process but a rare thing.” Yoon Ha, wine director of San Francisco restaurant Benu, adds: “There’s nothing like sea urchin. It’s eaten raw. It’s sweet. it’s briny. It’s incredibly luxurious in texture. It’s a perfect luxurious food item.”

Other restaurant chefs interviewed in the film are Justin Cogley, executive chef at Aubergine in Carmel-by-the-Sea, California; Kyle Connaughton, executive chef at Single Thread in Healdsburg, California; and Aaron Koseba, chef de cuisine at Single Thread.

It would have been very easy for “The Delicacy” filmmakers to keep the movie focused on glowing commentary about sea urchin and filling the documentary with glam shots of sea urchin being prepared. The film certainly shows those fine-dining aspects of sea urchin, but director Jason Wise also includes a history of why sea urchin became a delicacy and what kinds of people fish for sea urchin today.

The history of sea urchin being a delicacy is known to date as far back as the days of the Roman Empire. Archeologists have found evidence that after the upscale vacation city of Pompeii was destroyed by Mount Vesuvius erupting in the year 79 A.D., the upper-class people who lived in Pompeii used to frequently dine on sea urchin. Because sea urchins live in deep underwater environments, they were much harder to get in the days before deep-sea diving equipment was invented.

The documentary then veers off into a brief history of abalone and how it created a “gold rush” for abalone in California, beginning in the 1950s and peaking in the 1970s and 1980s. Unfortunately, abalone (which has a very slow reproductive rate) was being “picked almost to extinction,” says Food & Wine executive wine editor Ray Isle. And that scarcity led to a crackdown on fisheries that sold abalone and the rise of aquaculture businesses that work to grow aquatic life that’s harvested for food. Andrew Kim of Monterey Abalone in California is shown in the film giving a brief tour of his business.

Abalone is brought up as an example of what could happen to the sea urchin trade if there is too much fishing of sea urchin and not enough protection of the species. The documentary points out that illegal poaching of all endangered species will be a reality, but the goal is to not let valuable animals in the food chain reach the point of near-extinction.

Sea otters are mankind’s biggest competition in eating sea urchins. Lillian Carswell, U.S. Fish and Wildlife’s southern sea otter recovery coordinator, notes that sea otters were at the brink of extinction for decades, because they were hunted for their fur. But due to a fluke in nature, a part of the reef near Big Sur in California made it difficult for boats to dock there, so a small group of sea otter that lived there began to multiply and thrive. Generations of sea otter still live there today.

It’s in California, off the coast of Santa Barbara, that the documentary takes another turn, with an up-close look at some modern-day sea urchin divers. The movie focuses primarily on four of these rough-and-tumble group of adventurers: Jim Marshall, who is considered the respected elder; Harry Liquornik, an extrovert who considers Jim to be a like a mentor/father figure; Harry Liquornik, who is quiet and reserved; and Stephanie Mutz, who says she’s the only woman who’s a professional sea-urchin diver in California.

This quartet of sea urchin divers all know each other and have worked together at one time or another. Jim and Harry have a long history together, and they jokingly tease each other, with Jim saying that Harry is “cocky,” while Harry says that Jim is “grumpy.” Mutz considers Liquornik to be her mentor, and they work closely together.

Diving for sea urchin is considered one of the most dangerous jobs in the world. There’s a constant threat of being injured in various ways, and being killed by a shark is also a very real possibility. (And true to his sense of humor, Liquornik jokes that as he gets older, it’s harder for him to fit into a wetsuit.) Sea urchin diver Billy Eggers is also interviewed, but the other four divers get most of the screen time in the segments that feature the divers.

Although the job can pay well (top divers have the potential to earn six-figure incomes), there are also huge risks involved in the work, such as the aforementioned on-the-job injuries and shark attacks, as well as bad weather and the unpredictability of when business might be slow. The divers also have to develop a keen knowledge of where to dive for sea urchin, because the quality of sea urchin depends on how much kelp that the sea urchins eat. The more kelp that a sea urchin can eat, the higher the quality of the sea urchin.

And for people who think that fishing for sea urchin will destroy the food chain, Marshall’s response is that letting sea urchin overpopulate the ocean would actually damage the food chain, since “too many sea urchins … would wipe out the kept forest.” Kelp is essential for ocean life, so the divers say that there needs to be a balance in not destroying a species but also not letting a species overpopulate the ocean.

One of the best aspects of “The Delicacy” is the cinematography from Jackson Myers and the underwater photography by director Wise. Regardless of how someone might feel about the ethics of eating animals, most people would agree with how life in the deep ocean can be stunning and awe-inspiring. Some of the underwater scenes in “The Delicacy” are absolutely gorgeous.

Full disclosure: “The Delicacy” director Wise (who is a producer, co-editor and co-writer of the film) is also the founder of SOMM TV, a subscription video-on-demand service for enthusiasts of food, wine and travel. “The Delicacy” can be viewed exclusively on SOMM TV, which was launched in 2019 by several of the filmmakers of the “Somm” documentary series. If “The Delicacy” is any indication of SOMM TV’s original documentaries, then SOMM TV is a good alternative to other food-centric networks that have programming appealing mostly to casual-dining audiences. “The Delicacy” is the kind of documentary that fine-dining foodies deserve.

The movie ends with sobering reminder of the human cost of diving for sea urchins. Throughout the movie’s segments on the sea urchin divers, there is archival footage of California diver Jim “Wiener” Robinson. He died of a shark attack in 1994, at the age of 42. Marshall, Liquornik and Motyer all give emotional testimonials about Robinson and how his death affected them.

Not everyone agrees with the idea that humans can kill animals for food. Mutz has this response to people who are opposed to her line of work: “I might go to urchin hell, but I’m okay with that. I don’t have any remorse.” Regardless of how people feel about animal rights or eating animal-based food, Marshall sums it up this way: “Fishing will always be around as long as people have to eat.”

SOMM TV premiered “The Delicacy” on May 7, 2020.

 

 

2018 New York City Wine and Food Festival: recap and highlights

October 18, 2018

New York City Wine and Food Festival logo

Bobby Flay, Giada De Laurentiis, Alton Brown, Ina Garten, and New York City Wine and Food Festival founder Lee Brian Schrager pose onstage during the Food Network’s rooftop birthday party at Pier 92 in New York City on October 13, 2018. (Photo by Dia Dipasupil/Getty Images for NYCWFF)

The following is a press release from Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival:

The entire Festival was full of highlights at every event, but a sampling of memories made over the weekend included:

  • Chefs and Food Network personalities Giada De Laurentiis, Alex Guarnaschelli, Katie Lee, and Rachael Ray joined social justice advocate and Me Too movement creator Tarana Burke on stage at the Supper is Served kick-off event on Thursday, October 11.  Artists Natasha Bedingfield, known for her songs “Pocketful of Sunshine” and “Unwritten”, and Billboard country chart-topper and multi-time Grammy Award nominee Martina McBride performed a selection of their most empowering hits for 2,500 attendees who enjoyed fare from more than 25 of the nation’s top female chefs carving a path for future generations.
  • The fan-favorite Blue Moon Burger Bash presented by Pat LaFrieda Meats hosted by Rachael Ray crowned two new champions on Friday, October 12.  Judges David Burtka, Neil Patrick Harris, Geoffrey Zakarian and Andrew Zimmern selected Citi Field – Home of the New York Mets as this year’s Pat LaFrieda’s 2018 NYCWFF Burger Bash® Champion for their Sliders & Sinkers entry.  Attendees voted Clinton Hall as this year’s Blue Moon People’s Choice Award-winner for their entry, The Double Smashed burger, which was served with classic French fries.
  • Chefs and Food Network personalities Alton Brown, Giada De Laurentiis, Bobby Flay and Ina Garten hosted Food Network’s Rooftop Birthday Party on Saturday, October 13.  They were joined by Valerie Bertinelli, Anne Burrell, Scott Conant, Alex Guarnaschelli, Katie Lee, Jeff Mauro, Marc Murphy, Marcus Samuelsson, Geoffrey Zakarian, Andrew Zimmern and more for a special toast and star-studded rendition of “Happy Birthday” to pay tribute to the prominent role Food Network has played in redefining the nation’s relationship with food.
  • Foodie fans of all ages gathered on Sunday, October 14 at Coca-Cola Backyard BBQ presented by National Beef and Pat LaFrieda Meats hosted by Billy Durney and Pat LaFrieda. In addition to face-painting, pumpkin-carving and carnivorous creations from more than 30 grill maestros, Nick’s Lobster House took home The Coca-Cola Backyard BBQ Award for their grilled octopus and red cabbage slaw.

Several other stand-out moments capped off the star-studded weekend, including:

  • New York broadcast personalities Elvis Duran of Z100 Radio and Rosanna Scotto of Good Day New York hosting Chelsea Night Market presented by Alfa Romeo
  • An in-depth conversation about immigration and hospitality during a panel curated by Andrew Zimmern and moderated by political commentator Ana Navarro, which took place at Beverage Media presents Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits Trade Tasting hosted by Wine Spectator
  • A Breakfast Pajama Party for the whole family hosted by TODAY’s Dylan Dreyer and Sheinelle Jones
  • Twitter presents #CRAVINGSFEST by CHRISSY TEIGEN to celebrate the release of Teigen’s new cookbook Cravings: Hungry for More (Clarkson Potter, September 2018)
  • The first-ever Festival Drag Brunch presented by ABSOLUT GRAPEFRUIT® hosted by Countess Luann de Lesseps
  • And much more!

Save the Date: The 12th annual NYCWFF will take place October 10 – 13, 2019!  Stay up to date by following the conversation along all year on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter using @NYCWFF/#NYCWFF.

About the Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival presented by Capital One

The Food Network & Cooking Channel New York City Wine & Food Festival presented by Capital One is hosted by and benefits the No Kid Hungry® campaign and Food Bank For New York City, with 100% of the Festival’s net proceeds helping fight hunger.  The Festival has raised more than $11 million to date for these hunger-relief organizations.  Southern Glazer’s Wine & Spirits is the exclusive provider of wine and spirits at the Festival.  In September 2018, BizBash named the Festival the #3 Food & Restaurant Industry event in the United States for the sixth year in a row.  More information on the Festival can be found at nycwff.org.

2018 Music City Food + Wine Festival: Kings of Leon, Andrew Zimmern, Marcus Samuelsson among celebrity lineup

May 10, 2018

The following is a press release from Music City Food + Wine Festival:

GRAMMY-Award winning artists Kings of Leon, James Beard Foundation Award-winning chef Jonathan WaxmanVector Management’s Ken Levitan and Andy Mendelsohn, and C3 Presents are pleased to announce the fifth annual Music City Food + Wine FestivalSeptember 15-17, 2017offering expanded festival programming, including the addition of a Friday Night Grand Taste Pavilion, more chefs than ever before at Saturday Night’s Harvest Night, the return of Pappy Hour and the brand-new Sunday Gospel Brunch.  Tickets go on sale May 10, 201710:00 a.m. CST, at http://www.musiccityfoodandwinefestival.com/tickets

Nashville’s reputation as a destination for music lovers is fast being challenged by our status as a premier foodie destination in the Southeast,” says Mayor Megan Barry. “The Music City Food + Wine Festival will highlight some of our amazing chefs and restaurateurs who are defining Southern cuisine and showing that Nashville is the place to be for talented and creative individuals looking to show off their skills.”

“The Music City Food + Wine Festival has grown in stature and quality in lock-step with Nashville’sculinary scene,” says Butch Spyridon, President/CEO of Nashville Convention & Visitors Corp.  “The two are inextricably tied to each other and our success as a destination. Great food, music, and fun sums up the event and the city.”

“It’s that time of year again when we celebrate all things food, wine and dance in the best city in America,” says Kings of Leon’s Nathan Followill, festival partner. “There are some big changes in store this year so don’t miss out. See you in September!”

Music City Food + Wine Festival brings together stars of Nashville’s culinary scene with acclaimed regional and national chefs, wine and spirits experts.  Located in the heart of downtown Nashville, Festival programming will include the Grand Taste Pavilion, held at Bicentennial Capitol State Mall Park on Friday, September 15, from 6:00 – 10:00 p.m., and Saturday, September 16, from 11:00 a.m.– 4:00 p.m.  The Grand Taste Pavilion will offer interactive cooking demonstrations, engaging panel discussions, intimate Tasting Sessions, a dynamic line-up of more than 20 local chefs a day preparing signature dishes in the Chef Showcase, Book Signings and more: www.musiccityfoodandwinefestival.com

The Grand Taste Pavilion will also offer food, wine and cocktail samples from more than 80 local and regional artisans and feature celebrated pitmaster Pat Martin, who will once again host Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint and Friends, featuring an all-star line-up of chefs, beverage pros and fellow pitmasters from around the country that will smoke and grill meats and veggies in an interactive, live-fire barbeque feast on festival grounds.

Back by popular demand, Music City Food + Wine Festival is proud to host Pappy Hour at the Grand Taste Pavilion on Saturday, September 16.  This bourbon tasting will be led by Preston Van Winkle of Old Rip Van Winkle Distillery, great grandson of iconic bourbon maker Julian P. “Pappy” Van Winkle.  More information on how to attend Pappy Hour will be announced this summer.

Nashville is home to some of the world’s best musicians, chefs and restaurants, and we’re proud to bring them together over the course of the Music City Food + Wine weekend,” says festival co-founder Ken Levitan, Vector Management.  “We’re thrilled to expand the Festival to include Friday night’s Grand Taste and Sunday’s Gospel Brunch, and look forward to a fun and delicious fifth year!”

Harvest Night:

On Saturday, September 16, Walk of Fame Park (4th Avenue South) will be home to Harvest Night, which will feature more chefs than ever before, with a musical tribute from award-winning steel pedal guitarist Robert Randolph who will bring the Funk to downtown Nashville.  Festivalgoers can enjoy signature dishes from nearly 20 of Nashville and the country’s most acclaimed chefs.  Food will be served from 7:00 – 9:00 p.m., with Robert Randolph’s live performance from 8:00 – 9:30 p.m.  Harvest Night chefs are scheduled to include: Hugh Acheson (Five & Ten, The National, Empire State South, The Florence, Spiller Park); Jimmy Bannos (Heaven on Seven, Juicy – O); Jimmy Bannos Jr. (The Purple Pig); John Besh (Marsh House, L.A. Jackson, Killebrew); Matt Bolus (The 404 Kitchen); Sean Brock (McCrady’s, McCrady’s Tavern, Husk, Minero); Maneet Chauhan (Chauhan AleMasala House); Drew Curren (Elm Restaurant Group); Cassidee Dabney (The Barn at Blackberry Farm); Susan Feniger (Border Grill); Joseph Lenn (J.C. Holdway); Tim Love (Lonesome Dove Western Bistro, Woodshed Smokehouse, Queenie’s Steakhouse, Love Shack, White Elephant Saloon); Marcus Samuelsson (Marcus Samuelsson Group); Alon Shaya (Domenica, Pizza Domenica, Shaya); Jonathan Waxman (Adele’s, Bajo Sexto, Barbuto, Brezza Cucina, Jams, Waxman’s SF); Tandy Wilson (City House) and Andrew Zimmern (Andrew Zimmern’s Canteen).

Gospel Brunch:

On Sunday, September 17, join an acclaimed line-up of chefs as they prepare Southern brunch favorites set to a spirited live gospel performance from Gayle Mayes for Music City Food + Wine’s first-ever Gospel Brunch held at Walk of Fame Park. Some of Tennessee’s most beloved chefs will serve signature dishes paired with eye-opening cocktails, wine and coffee, including Tim Love (Back Dough); Joshua Simpson (Proper Bagel); Levon Wallace (Gray & Dudley); Karl Worley (Biscuit Love Brunch) and many more special guests to be announced.

Chef Showcase:

Featuring different chefs and restaurants on Friday, September 15, and Saturday, September 16, the Chef Showcase in the Grand Taste Pavilion at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park (600 James Robertson Pkwy) will give attendees the opportunity to meet some of the city’s top chefs, while sampling dishes from a diverse line-up of restaurants.  Chef Showcase will feature some of Nashville’s most beloved chefs and restaurants, including Adeles; Bajo Sexto Taco Lounge; Jessica Benefield & Trey Burnette (Two Ten Jack); Kristin Beringson (Silo); Carey Bringle (Peg Leg Porker); Chris Carter & James Peisker (Porter Road Butcher); Brandon Chavannes (Moto Cucina + Enoteca); Trey Cioccia (The Farm House); RJ Cooper (Henley); Crystal De Luna-Bogan (The Grilled Cheesrie); Nathan Duensing (Marsh House); Matt Farley (Fin & Pearl); Jay Flatley (Tavern); Brandon Frohne(Hollar and Dash Biscuit House); Tony Galzin (Nicky’s Coal Fired);  Sarah Gavigan (Otaku South); Daniel Herget (Little Octopus); Nick Hertel (Merchants); Hal M. Holden Bache (Lockland Table); Jess Lambert (etc Restaurant); Brian Lea (Le Sel); Daniel Lindley (5th & Taylor); Andrew Little(Josephine, Prima Nashville); Margot McCormack (Margot Café & Marche); Deb Paquette (Etch Restaurant); Kyle Patterson (Sinema Nashville); Nick Pellegrino (Mangia Nashville); Giovanni Pianto (Giovanni Ristorante); Andrew Rodriguez (Pinewood Social); Jesse Rossbach (Lonesome Dove Knoxville); Tyler Saracino (Americano); Nina Sayasack (Thai Esane); David Tieman (Five Points Pizza); Jason Zygmont (The Treehouse) and more.  The Chef Showcase schedule will be announced this summer.

Cooking Demonstrations & Book Signings:

Throughout the weekend at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, attendees will have the opportunity to get up close and personal as chefs lead interactive and informative cooking demonstrations, including: Hugh AchesonJimmy Bannos & Jimmy Bannos Jr.John BeshSusan FenigerTim LoveMarcus SamuelssonJonathan Waxman and Andrew Zimmern. Check www.musiccityfoodandwinefestival.com this summer for the book signing schedule and more information on the cooking demonstrations.

Panel Discussions & Tasting Sessions:

Listen in as the festival’s chefs, wine & spirits experts engage in dynamic conversations during a series of intimate Tasting Sessions and Panel Discussions about hilarious disasters in the kitchen, your favorite chef’s go-to desert island ingredients, party playlists and more.  Stay tuned for panelist and moderator announcements.

Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint and Friends:

Back by popular demand, Music City Food + Wine Festival is pleased to announce that Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint and Friends will once again return with an all-star line-up of chefs and pitmasters from across the country, to be announced this summer. Celebrated pitmaster Pat Martin will be joined by a host of decorated chef friends to cook and serve an interactive, live-fire barbeque and grilling fest on festival grounds at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park on Friday night and Saturday.

Tickets & More Information:

Music City Food + Wine Festival ticket options include an All-In Ticket, as well as Friday Evening Ticket, Saturday Ticket, Harvest Night Ticket, and Sunday Gospel Brunch Ticket. All attendees must be 21 years of age or older.

The All-In Ticket ($525 per person) enables guests to experience the full weekend of Music City Food + Wine Festival programming, including Friday evening and Saturday festival access; the Grand Taste Pavilion’s cooking demos and panel discussions with local and national chefs, wine & spirits experts, and sommeliers; more than 80 beer, wine, cocktail, and culinary tastings; access to Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint and Friends; and access to Saturday’s Harvest Night.

The Friday Evening Ticket ($165 per person) includes single-day access to Friday, September 15festival programming at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, including the Grand Taste Pavilion’s cooking demos and panel discussions with local and national chefs, wine & spirits experts, and sommeliers; more than 80 beer, wine, cocktail, and culinary tastings; and access to Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint and Friends.

The Saturday Ticket ($165 per person) includes single-day access to Saturday, September 16 festival programming at Bicentennial Capitol Mall State Park, including the Grand Taste Pavilion’s cooking demos and panel discussions with local and national chefs, wine & spirits experts, and sommeliers; more than 80 beer, wine, cocktail, and culinary tastings; and access to Martin’s Bar-B-Que Joint and Friends.

Harvest Night Ticket ($275 per person) is available as a stand-alone ticket option for Saturday evening, September 16.  Located at the Walk of Fame Park in downtown Nashville, Harvest Night brings together signature dishes from nearly 20 world-renowned chefs from Nashville and across the country with a live musical performance from award-winning steel pedal guitarist Robert Randolph.  Mix and mingle with the nation’s brightest culinary stars and enjoy their best dishes.

We’ve given Gospel Brunch ($85 per person) its own day on Sunday, September 17, and tapped a stellar lineup of chefs to prepare their Sunday best for you at Walk of Fame Park: Southern classics, creative brunch fare, and everything in between. Get a jump-start on your day with eye-opening cocktails, wine, coffee, and a spirited live gospel brunch performance.

 

 

Music City Food + Wine is generously sponsored by: FOOD + WINE, Nashville Convention + Visitors Bureau, KitchenAid and Barilla.

About Music City Food + Wine Festival:

Music City Food + Wine Festival is produced by GRAMMY-award winning artists (and Nashvilleresidents) Kings of Leon, world-renowned chef Jonathan Waxman, Vector Management’s Ken Levitan and Andy Mendelsohn, and Austin-based C3 Presents — producer of Austin City Limits Music Festival, Lollapalooza, Austin Food + Wine Festival and Chicago Food + Wine Festival.

About FOOD & WINE:

FOOD & WINE is the ultimate authority on the best of what’s new in food, drink, travel, design & entertaining. Our insider intelligence can be found in every issue of the magazine, on foodandwine.com, across our social media platforms and at events like the world-famous FOOD & WINE Classic in Aspen. No matter what the medium, FOOD & WINE is the go-to-guide for adventurous epicureans, and a leader in our category.