The United States’ first ever Urchin Festival is happening on the Mendocino Coast from Friday, November 5 to Sunday, November 7, 2021. Fort Bragg, the largest city on the Mendocino Coast, is one of the biggest producers of sea urchin in California, and with the overabundance of purple sea urchin in the waters these past few years, there is no better time to celebrate this sea delicacy.**
During the three-day festival, urchin-focused menus will be the highlight at some of the most beloved and iconic local hotels and restaurants along the coast, including The Harbor House Inn, Little River Inn, Noyo Harbor Inn and Princess Seafood Market & Deli. The weekend will also have a strong educational component, with the Mendocino Area Parks Association, Watermen’s Alliance, and Freedive Shop providing demos and instructional demos and hands-on experiences. Urchinomics will also play a part in the festival by supplying select restaurant partners with purple urchin (‘uni’). Urchinomics is a company dedicated to restoring kelp forests by removing overgrazing barren sea urchins, feeding them on land and selling them to distributors and restaurants. The more one eats, the more one restores — it is essentially a restorative seafood company.
Why a focus on urchin now? And why purple urchin? The chefs, educators, and residents of this area are deeply passionate about the interwoven ecological web of the beautiful and mysterious ocean that makes up the landscape of their daily lives on the Mendocino Coast. Abalone has long been a unique part of Mendocino – with local campfire cooking, seasonal tourism boosts, and signature festivals celebrating it as a delicacy. With the collapse of the sea star population, the exponential growth of purple urchin, and the subsequent decimation of the abalone population, residents are constantly looking for eco-friendly ways to resolve these intertwined issues.
“The current circumstances have given us an opportunity to experience uni from these less-popular but equally-tasty purples,” states Cally Dym, 5th generation owner of Little River Inn. “Fort Bragg has long been a major producer of sea urchin in the United States – but virtually all of the product has been shipped out of the area, and until recently not a single restaurant offered uni on their menu. With a growing understanding of local food sheds and local food webs, we think now is the perfect time to ‘Taste the Place’ and expand our understanding of the purple sea urchin.”
Programming for the 2021 Mendocino Coast Purple Sea Urchin Festival will include:
Friday, November 5
Lunch: Outdoor demo and 5-course purple urchin tasting menu presented by Urchinomics and Chef Matthew Kammerer at Michelin-starred The Harbor House Inn.
Saturday, November 6
Morning: Urchin demo and educational talk on urchin barrens, urchin eradication, and possible solutions, led by Josh Russo from Watermen’s Alliance and Greg Fonts of the Freedive Shop, at Van Damme State Beach.
Afternoon: Sake tasting at Little River Inn led by Kerry Tamura from World Sake.
Sunday, November 7
Morning: Tidepool foraging with MendoParks at local Van Damme State Beach, sponsored by MendoParks.
In addition, local restaurants will be serving up urchin-inspired delicacies on their menus, such as fresh housemade noodles at Little River Inn, which will be paired with sake from World Sake.
Additional programming will be posted in the coming months at urchinfest.com.
“As a chef in today’s world, it is my job to choose more sustainable ingredients and showcase them to the public,” states Matthew Kammerer, Executive Chef at Harbor House Inn. “Chefs have more of a role in today’s food scene, where education about products, including why and how to use them can help shape the public’s dining perspective and have a positive outcome on future generations. Purple sea urchin has been on our menu since day one. We are proud to serve all local products but this one has extra meaning for us. Not just its flavor, but to help remove some urchin numbers from the ecosystem that is on the verge of collapsing. “
Continues Dym, “Urchin is delicious and that in itself is a reason to create an urchin festival. What fascinates me is the role purple urchin plays in the ecosystem of the Northwest Pacific Ocean and telling that story to festival goers.”
** In the event that circumstances around Covid-19 prevent an in-person festival, key events from the weekend will be broadcast virtually.