Vegfest (see earlier post as well) drew a predictable crowd of Birkenstocks to the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall couple of weekends ago, but Dale Sherrow wasn't among them. The owner of Seattle Caviar Company, he had the foresight to lock in the domain name Caviar.com long before Russian mafia types started looting Caspian Sea sturgeon, causing the price of beluga, osetra and sevruga to triple. His solution: caviar from the stable, government-controlled markets of Iran, which keeps the price under $200 an ounce. And alternate sources, like caviar from Montana's Yellowstone River paddlefish, a sustainable fishery priced at an almost-affordable $25 an ounce.
So what's one to make of that clutch of foodies at Helge Klausen's table, where he's promoting veget>arian Cavi-Art, an imitation caviar extruded from seaweed? Invented in Denmark, Cavi-Art comes in tiny spheres of black, red and yellow, and has a mouthfeel not unlike the finest caviar. It sells for less than two bucks an ounce!
The catch is that it while it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it doesn't taste anything like a duck. At best, it's mildly salty; at worst, it's edible plastic.
But that's precisely Klausen’s point: use it where taste is secondary to looks. As VP of NorSea, Cavi-Art's American distributor, he's not really selling to individual vegetarians. (What the hell was he doing at Vegfest in the first place? One can only wonder.) His real market is the food service industry, where even the appearance of "fancy" can be converted into higher-priced menu items. A dollop of Cavi-Art in an omelet, alongside a piece of smoked salmon or atop a seafood salad, costing next to nothing, is easily worth a couple of bucks extra on the customer's ticket.
The downside is that even caviar, the ultimate luxury food, is no longer immune to being ripped off. Unlike a diamond, caviar, it turns out, is not forever.