Two of Rosa DeLauro’s grandchildren and one of their friends had the day off from school, but they got schooled nonetheless — in sustainable food sourcing and how to make sushi — while meeting a woman who is making business history.
DeLauro, New Haven’s U.S. Congresswoman, and her grandchildren stopped by Miya’s on Howe Street Friday afternoon to suprise Miya’s matriarch Yoshiko Lai with a certificate and cookbook to honor her and her family’s work in promoting the use of sustainable seafood for more than 30 years.
“We only inspect 1 percent of food that comes into the United States,” said DeLauro, who has worked for years in Congress to change that. “I think that leaves people at risk. But the work that you do here in sustainable seafood and your farm-to-table [approach] and you’re looking at plants and other kinds of invasive species to make your product really in the vanguard.
“You are so deserving of this award and I am very, very proud to represent you in the Congress,” DeLauro told Yoshiko Lai, who is as demure as one of her two sons is gregarious.
Her son happens to be chef Bun Lai, who now runs the restaurant that she started 34 years ago and has developed its national eco-friendly reputation. (The restaurant is named Miya’s after Yoshiko Lai’s youngest child and Bun’s younger sister, Mie Lai, who also works at the restaurant.)
Earlier this month, Bun was named one of 12 White House Champions of Change for Sustainable Seafood.
Brother Ted, an investment banker in Atlanta, who came up for his mother’s celebration, said Friday that people who know about his family business, often ask how he ended up in such a different field.
“I tell them that investment banking is easier than the restaurant business,” he said.
Miya’s is the world’s first sustainable sushi restaurant. It specializes in sustainable seafood and plant-based sushi. It also features forged ingredients and edible invasive species. The Champions of Change program was created by the White House to recognize people who are going out of their way to empower and inspire members of their communities.
The DeLauro grandkids Rigby, 11, Teo, 9, and family friend Pierre, 12, along with their grandmother, got to learn about the invasive lion fish and also learn how to make sushi.
Bun Lai asked if the kids like to eat shrimp. He got mixed reactions.
“Your grandmother is a pioneer in getting safe seafood from other countries to the United States,” he told them. “Most people like shrimp. But most shrimp comes from Asia and is farmed with chemicals that shouldn’t be in your body. Your grandma fought and continues to fight to make sure that dirty shrimp doesn’t come here.
“That’s what’s so special about this restaurant, and it’s why it got and award from the White House,” DeLauro added.
Bun pointed out that one of the best ways to make critical choices about where one’s food comes from is to ask. And when eating seafood like shrimp, to ask not only where it comes from but how it is caught. He said that fish like tuna is caught with hundreds of miles of long lines that catch not only tuna but other fish and even sea birds.
“If most people knew that eating shrimp was hurting all these other animals, they probably wouldn’t eat it,” he said.
“That’s why I don’t eat shrimp,” Rigby said.
“You guys are smart,” Bun said.