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Tom Colicchio Gets On Board A Plant-Based Seafood Project

The mega-watt celebrity chef behind Crafted Hospitality gets pitched a lot of products as a possible investor. Here’s why he’s all in at a fledgling company which aims to blow minds and impress discerning palates.

Couldn’t believe it

As a longtime judge on Bravo’s Top Chef, Colicchio is known for shooting straight. No words are minced. So, not surprisingly, he gets right to the point when asked what convinced him to get on board the Plant Based Seafood project: “It’s delicious,” he exclaimed in a recent phone interview.

Spike Mendelsohn mentioned it to me, saying I should take a look at what they were doing. They sent me a sample and I couldn’t believe how good it was. I’ve tasted a lot of plant-based meats and some are better than others, but this is great. Those crab cakes made a believer out of me.” In other words, mind blown.

His commitment to the line of products is about much more than finding a way to appeal to the growing number of vegetarians and vegans, though. “I care about the oceans, which are rapidly being depleted. This is about conservation, about offering alternatives to eating fish out of the ocean and meat every day.”

The man behind a thriving restaurant empire pointed to fish farming as one of the reasons that more conservation is needed: “When it takes 10 pounds of foraged fish to create one pound of farmed fish, that doesn’t make sense.”

He mentions an effort he was involved in years ago to shore up the dwindling swordfish population by protecting nursery waters off Florida: “It worked, the numbers bounced back.”

So, you can feel good about eating a plant-based product that tastes amazing and there’s one more reason, Colicchio is enthusiastic about Plant Based Seafood Co.: “I like that it’s a woman-owned business and the owners have a connection to the seafood industry.”

Meet the Plant Based Seafood crew

Monica Talbert and her mother, Shelly, have been fixtures in the seafood-centric community on Gwynn’s Island, Va. for 20 years. From that pretty place on Chesapeake Bay, Shelly ran a popular crab shack and produced hand-formed cakes through Van Cleve Seafood Co.

But when supplies of the signature ingredient began running low a few years ago, Shelly began experimenting with some plant-based preparations. “She had me try a crab cake without telling me there was no crab in it,” Monica said in a recent phone interview. “I said she could probably add a little more Old Bay, but that it was really good.”

That experiment was just the tip of the iceberg. Soon, the two came up with a business plan and a lineup of prepared products that includes coconut shrimp, seasoned scallops, even “oysters.” Awards began pouring in. The team’s efforts were recognized as “Best Plant Based Seafood Product of the Year” at the 2022 Mindful Awards. PETA’s a fan. Last month, Sprouts Farmers Market picked up the line that proudly boasts of being free of gluten, dairy, corn, soy and GMO ingredients.

So, what’s next?

Monica said the company is moving forward with expanding its line — look for smoked salmon soon. “My Mom just can’t stop, won’t stop.”

Plant Based Seafood Co., is also doubling down on efforts to get the products showcased on restaurant menus. “It’s all about having plant-based options,” she said. “Why shouldn’t every seafood restaurant or steak house have a plant-based seafood dish on their menu?”

Taste test

I tried a few samples from the company’s lineup, including the award-winning cakes and I’ve got to agree with Colicchio: Those crab cakes are incredible. The products are fully seasoned, ready to finish on the stovetop or an air fryer. The pair of thick cakes fried up golden in hot oil, developing a perfect crust with about two minutes cooking time on each side.

As much as I enjoyed the faux crab cakes, the Dusted Shrimp was my favorite. Well-seasoned — garlic, parsley, lemon oil, celery salt — and barely kissed by the gluten-free breading combo of rice flour, potato starch and pea fiber, those pseudo shrimp passed for the real deal.

Unlike the tummy trouble I’ve encountered with other plant-based meat products, it was smooth sailing with these products.

My lone issue was in the packaging: Just wish that a company preaching conservation would use compostable plastic instead. But that’s a challenge for most every product on supermarket shelves these days, isn’t it?

Here’s a short video featuring Plant Based Seafood Co., co-founder Monica Talbert offering details on the project’s mission:

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