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Some chefs are finding that whatever the preparation, staff buy-in is key to getting diners to order small fish.  

At Sazerac in Seattle, chef Jason McClure offers a small plate of marinated white anchovies served on sliced cucumbers topped with chow-chow, a Southern condiment of pickled vegetables. It wasn’t a big seller when he first added it to the menu, but now he routinely sells 10 to 20 a day.

“I’m always looking to upgrade things. It’s kind of a chef’s dish,” said McClure. “We created internal excitement [that] translated to guest excitement.”

With the help of his enthusiastic staff, McClure also serves local smelt from Lake Washington in the summertime and small mackerel when they are available.

Similarly, chef Kevin Nashan of Sidney Street Cafe in St. Louis attributes the success of his Grilled Sardine entrée, at least in part, to his staff. When it was on the menu a month or so ago the restaurant sold about 40 orders on a weekend night of the sardine hash, which featured three filleted sardines stuffed with chorizo, caramelized onions and peppers, house-cured bacon, potatoes and plums topped with caper-honey vinaigrette.

“They’re delicious … [but] just because you have sardine on the menu doesn’t mean it’s going to sell itself,” said Nashan. “You’ve got to get the staff behind you. The staff was so excited about this.”

Though he is passionate about the distinct flavor of small fish and enjoys their quick cooking process, Nashan says they’ve not always been big sellers on the menu.

“Sometimes you win or lose,” said Nashan. “It’s all about an education process, especially in the Midwest for people who don’t get a chance to have sardines [often].”