Lionfish Tasting Dinner Held in Fort Lauderdale, Florida

A delicious lionfish dish. Photo credit: Piccolo Ristorante.
The event raised $1,500 to support REEF programs! Photo credit: DiveBar.
The second edition of The Lionfish Cookbook is available on REEF's website.

On June 22, SCUBA divers, marine conservation enthusiasts, and foodies gathered at Piccolo Ristorante in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, to attend the second annual Lionfish Tasting Dinner. During the event, patrons learned about effects of the lionfish invasion while sampling the tasty invader’s light, white meat. At the end of the evening, DiveBar, one of the night’s sponsors, presented REEF with a check for $1,500 to support our Invasive Lionfish Program.

The night’s menu featured invasive lionfish, known for their voracious appetites and rapid reproduction. Each lionfish dish incorporated unique ingredients and creative preparations, beginning with a smoked fish dip appetizer, followed by four tapas-style courses, including a lionfish corn dog, surf and turf lionfish yucca croquette with marinated skirt steak, blackened lionfish taco with tropical salsa, and finally, an IPA beer-battered lionfish over rice. Each course was paired with a wine to complement the individual dish’s distinctive flavors.

Between courses, REEF Trips Program Manager Amy Lee gave a presentation to educate attendees about the lionfish invasion and the importance of lionfish removals. At the end of the night, Andres Avayú, chef at Piccolo Ristorante, demonstrated how to safely handle and fillet a lionfish. REEF’s second edition of “The Lionfish Cookbook”, published in February, features Chef Andres’ own unique recipe, lionfish with zucchini potato pancake and roasted red pepper coulis, as well as more than 60 lionfish recipes from many other chefs throughout the invaded region.

Red Lionfish, native to the Indo-Pacific and Red Sea, have invaded the Western Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico. Lionfish diets are very broad and include both fish and crustaceans. They have been documented to consume more than 120 species of prey, including commercially, recreationally, and ecologically important species. “It’s exciting to see such strong public and commercial interest in consuming lionfish,” says Lad Akins, REEF Director of Special Projects. “Developing a market for lionfish is a great way to provide incentive for increased removals. Even non-divers can make a real impact, by ordering the fish at their local restaurants, helping to decrease lionfish populations and minimize their impacts.”

Sponsors of the Lionfish Tasting Dinner include DiveBar, Miami Wine Buzz Club, Jack Scalisi Wholesale Fruit and Produce, and 8 Shades of Blue. All lionfish fillets used at the event were donated by Sean Meadows of World of Scuba, who recently hosted a REEF Sanctioned Lionfish Derby in Boynton Beach, Florida. Thanks to the joint efforts of these supporters and Piccolo Ristorante, the Lionfish Tasting Dinner raised $1,500 to support REEF’s marine conservation programs!

REEF hopes to organize more Lionfish Dinners to continue spreading awareness of the lionfish invasion and encouraging the public to consume this malicious yet delicious invader. For more information on REEF's Invasive Lionfish Program, visit www.REEF.org/lionfish. For more information on collecting, handling, and cooking lionfish, check out the second edition of “The Lionfish Cookbook”, available on the REEF Store at www.REEF.org/store/lionfishcookbook.

Design by Joanne Kidd, development by Ben Weintraub