Virtual Cooking Program to Give Houston Students a Taste of Sustainable Gulf Seafood

Renowned chefs went back to school October 22nd— with the help of a Texas fisher and farmer — to showcase the importance of sustainable Gulf seafood to students and their families as part of Environmental Defense Fund’s “Everyone’s Gulf” program.

The chefs were part of a virtual cooking class highlighting sustainably caught seafood, attended by Houston area students and families from the Raul Yzaguirre School for Success, Pasadena High School and Pasadena Memorial High School. The event gave students a chance to not only learn about the environmental and economic benefits of sustainable fishing, but also about how the Gulf of Mexico is a place for everyone to enjoy and protect. Everyone’s Gulf is a project of Environmental Defense Fund that educates people in the Gulf of Mexico region about nutrition, seafood sustainability and equitable natural resource access.

Award-winning chefs Evelyn Garcia of Houston’s Kin in Politan Row and Chef Nick Wallace of Jackson, Mississippi, both champions of the popular cooking show “Chopped,” led the students in preparing a meal of red snapper — a Gulf classic — that was shipped from Katie’s Seafood Market in Galveston. Local produce to complement the dish was provided by Galveston’s Own Farmers Market. Rep. Sylvia Garcia (TX-29) of Houston was in attendance and spoke to students. Also participating were Casey McAuliffe, executive director of Galveston’s Own Farmers Market, and Captain Scott Hickman, fisherman and owner of Circle H Outfitters. The schools that took part in the event are participants in Environmental Defense Fund’s Environmental Youth Council, a program designed to teach high school students about environmental health, climate and civic engagement.

Rep. Garcia discussed her support of the overall effort. “I’m thrilled to be joining the Environmental Defense Fund for its Everyone’s Gulf virtual cooking class,” said Rep. Garcia. “This great event will help teach young people in our district more about sustainable seafood in the Gulf of Mexico, and how we can better connect communities in the Houston region to healthier, more sustainable cooking.”

Chef Evelyn Garcia was born and raised in Houston, graduating high school from the Cy-Fair Culinary Academy and continuing her studies at the Culinary Institute of America in New York. She has worked at several top restaurants in New York City, and in 2014, she competed on the Food Network’s “Chopped” competition. Chef Garcia’s Southeast Asian-influenced cuisine can currently be enjoyed at Kin in the Politan Row food hall in Houston.

“I’m very excited to be a part of Everyone’s Gulf. Especially since we’re in Houston — which is so close to the Gulf of Mexico but still unreachable to some. It is important to me as a chef to be able to reach out to these families, to show them and to teach them about sustainable seafood,” said Chef Garcia. “Both in the restaurant and at home, I want people to appreciate and be able to use local and sustainable products.”

Chef Wallace hails from Edwards, Mississippi, a community around 30 miles west of Jackson. He received his degree in food and beverage management from Hinds Community College in Raymond, Mississippi. He has served as executive chef at a number of Jackson hotels and at the Mississippi Museum of Art. Chef Wallace founded his own company, Nick Wallace Culinary, in 2014. He has also competed on “Chopped,” and is the founder of Creativity Kitchen, a nonprofit organization dedicated to connecting children with healthy, farm-fresh foods, which partnered with Environmental Defense Fund for the 2019 Everyone’s Gulf event in Jackson.

“I believe that there is always something new to learn,” said Chef Wallace. “In fact, that is one of the three reasons that I chose to become a chef, that my education is never over.”

The Gulf of Mexico is a valuable resource to local communities, supporting jobs on land and at sea. Last year, commercial fishermen landed nearly 1.4 billion pounds of seafood, valued at more than $800 million. With many restaurants closed due to the pandemic, a major market for U.S.-caught seafood disappeared almost overnight. More than 60% of seafood is purchased in restaurants.

“The students who participated in today’s event got a little taste of the Gulf, and a first-hand education about the importance of harvesting seafood in a sustainable and responsible way,” said Eric Schwaab, senior vice president of Environmental Defense Fund, Oceans program. “They can take pride in the delicious meals they crafted, and in the amazing recovery of fisheries in the Gulf of Mexico and elsewhere, which is one of the greatest conservation success stories of our time.”

For 20 years, EDF has worked with local fishermen to align the long-term sustainability of Gulf fisheries with the economic goals of the businesses that depend on them. For example, Gulf red snapper — once driven to the brink of collapse by decades of overfishing — has made a remarkable comeback. Since 2007, the population has tripled in size. Fresh Gulf red snapper is now available year-round to the seafood supply chain and American seafood lovers, and it is recognized by Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch as a sustainable choice.

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