Fin Dining: The Aquarium Goes Gourmet

With nearly 60,000 mouths, beaks, and proboscises to feed, Steinhart biologists are also top chefs. Step into the commissary for a taste of their culinary creations.
September 15, 2023
Biologist Walker Calhoun prepares a frozen krill steak.
Chef Walker Calhoun displays a block of Philippine Coral Reef-bound frozen krill. 

Dis-clam-er: The Steinhart Aquarium commissary is not an actual restaurant, and our biologists are not actual chefs. Please take this post with a grain of sea salt.

Behind the scenes at Steinhart Aquarium is a commercial kitchen with a very particular clientele: Live animals. From seasonal produce to restaurant-grade seafood to artisanal fish pellets, the commissary takes pride in an honest, ingredient-forward approach to cooking.

Our team draws inspiration from Northern California's cool coastal climate, rich loamy soil, and strict caloric and nutritional guidelines from our in-house veterinary team. Whether you’re sampling a carefully curated selection of krill or guzzling a gallon of protein gel, the commissary promises a culinary experience unmatched in the Bay Area.

A mélange of peas, peaches, papayas, mangoes, raspberries, blueberries, and pears.
Peas in a bucket: For the freshwater fish of the Amazon Flooded Forest, chefs prepare a mélange of peas, peaches, papayas, mangoes, raspberries, blueberries, and pears.

More than 1,000 unique species are represented throughout Steinhart Aquarium, and many of them require highly specified diet plans. Keep scrolling for a look inside a typical morning at the commissary, where chefs Alexis, Isaac, Sandy, and Walker have prepared meals for residents of our three main habitats: Osher Rainforest, the California Coast, and the Philippine Coral Reef.

Our farm-to-tank philosophy

At the commissary, a healthy customer is a happy customer. That’s why we’re committed to using the highest quality fresh and frozen ingredients across all of our dishes.

Rainforest inhabitants are served a seasonal selection of raw, hand-cut fruits and vegetables that reflect the terroir of the region, while our aquatic clients enjoy authentic cuisine that reflects their surroundings: Cold-water krill for cold-water animals, warm-water shrimp for warm-water animals. We strive to create an elevated dining experience that also feels like home, ensuring the nutritional and emotional well-being of our cherished residents.

A biologist empties a container of frozen krill.

Chefs defrost several bricks of frozen krill each morning in preparation for the lunch rush.

Capelin fish lay side by side on a cutting board.

Capelin sashimi pleases the palates of a variety of Steinhart diners, from swell sharks to lungfish.

A stainless steel bowl of figs.
Now in season: Mission figs

Mission figs are at their prime as summer turns to fall. Chef Sandy includes them in several dishes, especially those crafted for freshwater fish.

Try them Methuselah’s way: sliced in half with a complimentary belly rub.

Meet the chefs
Biologist Walker Calhoun prepares a clam terrine.
Making clam terrine for the cold-water inhabitants of the California Coast habitat.
The menu

The following items are enjoyed by residents of the Osher Rainforest, the California Coast, the Philippine Coral Reef, and beyond. 

Biologist Walker Calhoun prepares a container of krill soup.

Krill ceviche. Perhaps our most popular dish, the comissary serves a tank-sized portion to the Philippine Coral Reef every day. Prepared by Chef Walker

Fruit medley of banana, peach, kiwi, and mango.

Fruit crudo. This medley of banana, kiwi, mango, and peach is a rainforest finch favorite. Prepared by Chef Sandy

Frozen fish pellets.

Protein and algae pellet sorbet. Also a fairly time-consuming enrichment activity. Cancel your plans, you'll be here a while. Prepared by Chef Isaac

Platter of frozen shrimp, protein gel, and clams.

Seafood charcuterie. A hand-selected assortment of commissary staples, including shrimp, clams, and cubed protein gel. Somewhere between a meal and a snack. Prepared by Chef Walker

One whole trout in a bowl.

Whole trout tartare. Pairing suggestion for alligators: Whole rat tartare. Prepared by Chef Isaac

Sliced block of frozen clams.

Clam terrine. Freezer-aged, pre-sliced, no substitutions. Prepared by Chef Walker

One soft-boiled egg.

Perfectly jammy soft-boiled egg. Other preparations not recommended. Why ruin a good thing? Prepared by Chef Sandy for finches, beaded lizards, and gila monsters

Sliced veggie burger gel.

Veggie burger gelée. In jello form for your convenience. Prepared by Chef Alexis

Live worms in soil.
Live worms. Served al dente. Prepared by Chef Alexis
Biologist Walker Calhoun pours krill into Philippine Coral Reef tank.
Chef Walker serves his krill ceviche to diners in the Philippine Coral Reef.
"You can't call yourself a true San Francisco foodie until you've tried Chef Walker's krill ceviche."
, Philippine Coral Reef resident
A frozen rat in a stainless steel bowl.
Make it at home

Before you go, here's the perfect one-pot recipe for the 28-year-old alligator with albinism in your life. You'll need the following ingredients: One frozen rat.

Thaw to room temperature; serve directly into alligator’s mouth.

Special thanks to Steinhart Aquarium Animal Health Biologists Alexis Wallace, Isaac Koyama, and Walker Calhoun; Senior Veterinarian Freeland Dunker; Veterinarian Lana Krol; and volunteer Sandy Falconer.

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