Is There a Sturgeon in the House?

Spent some time late last week speaking to N9NE Group founder Michael Morton (son of Arnie Morton, founder of Morton's The Steakhouse). We spoke of stainless steel, million-dollar kitchens and the Dallas efficacy of a N9NE Steakhouse in Victory Park, where cheap steak loots you 43 bucks and a cold-water lobster tail ravages $135 worth of billfold booty. We also talked about energy -- energy as in the circular champagne caviar bar in the center of the room intended to pump up dining buzz.

But ambiance buzz at $95 an ounce is not important now. What is important is caviar fraud. N9NE chef and partner Michael Kornick says that 60 percent of the Beluga and Osetra caviar that slips onto our polished mother of pearl caviar spoons for a sensuous lick is smuggled, i.e. not certified or inspected. A lot of incentive for that market black, since a fair-sized fish can be a $60,000 roe cash cow.

Not a good thing since the Caspian sturgeon, the mother of all expensive roe, is being fished out. That's why one of the tools deployed in sustainable caviar practices is the Cesarean section.

"The general practice is to land the fish, give it a Caesarian section, remove the roe, surgically prepare the fish and return it to the ocean so that it can produce more eggs next year," says Kornick. But N9NE doesn't go through such elaborations. It sources farm-raised caviar whereby Siberian Sturgeon spawn in captivity, the eggs are harvested and shipped to hatcheries in California until they reach a certain size, and then the fish are shipped again to Italy and planted in an ocean farm until they reach maturity. Then the roe, 70 percent smaller and a bit less rich, is harvested.

That's a lot of expensive travel for a fish. Yet they're not sewn up and thrown back to rut 'n roe again. Why?

Says Kornick: "It's expensive to give a Caesarian section to a fish." --Mark Stuertz

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