“Two very spicy personalities came together 10 years ago, and this was the culmination of that.”
That’s how Brent Robinson, a heavy equipment mechanic business owner, described his recent “one-of-a-kind, coolest-day-ever” wedding. On Nov. 6, he married Yvette Moreno on a private island on Little Conch Key in the Middle Keys. The theme: lionfish.
The Ocala pair met in an adult soccer league nearly a decade ago, and have been working hard, playing harder together ever since. When discussing their wedding, the “quirky couple” wanted something different.
“We saw a video by REEF years ago about lionfish being an invasive species you can actually eat,” Moreno said. “My children are half-Peruvian and half-Panamanian. I’m originally from Panama. Our cultures eat a lot of ceviche, and we love it. Then, one of us joked that the entrance ticket for all our guests would be to spear their own lionfish and bring it to the wedding so we could make ceviche.”
Ultimately, the family relaxed their requirements but themed the entire event around lionfish, to bring awareness to the problems caused by this invasive species and to promote conservation through eating it.
The biggest challenge was finding enough commercial-grade lionfish to serve to guests. Salatino Seafood, a specialty lionfish provider, ultimately provided 20 pounds to the couple.
Co-founders Aarav Chavda and Roland Salatino explained, “Every lionfish we eat … protects 500 square meters of reef floor.” This is because lionfish have no natural predators in the Florida Keys and are voracious eaters. They also reproduce prolifically, and can live for decades.
Therefore, eating lionfish is “one of the most environmentally-friendly dining options on the planet,” the co-founders said. “It’s better than just ‘sustainable,’ it’s actively environmentally-regenerative. With each plate served, you save 50,000 native reef fish and piece our oceans back together. What else can say something like that?”
Thus, the great lionfish wedding of 2021 was born, and it became a Keys-wide affair for Robinson, Moreno and their guests. Working with local wedding planner Lyndsey Mae of LMae Events, the pair planned the perfect wedding getaway in paradise. First, they booked a private island on Little Conch Key with cottages, hot tubs and an island view for their ceremony.
“The whole Key West, fresh fish, scuba diving vibe just took over,” Moreno said. “Plus, we needed a place where our people could keep the party going. The private island was perfect and reasonable.”
The couple had their island for a week and came down early to enjoy Moreno’s bachelorette party in Key West. They hosted their welcome party on the island “in-and-out of the hot tub” and catered by Marathon’s Irie Island Eats. Friday, they went up to Islamorada Fish Company for their rehearsal dinner. The main event was sweetened by 215 cupcakes in 10 different flavors from Marathon’s Sweet Savannah’s Bakery.
“The Keys have a party side down in Key West, which I like, and a laid-back vibe in the Upper and Middle Keys, which is more Brent’s style,” Moreno said. “Everyone can get their needs met somewhere in the Keys. It was perfect for us.”
As for lionfish, Key Largo Fisheries prepared the coveted ceviche using Salatino’s lionfish fillets, and the couple also served lionfish crab cakes.
“I can tell you, lionfish fillets are phenomenal. Probably better than any fish I’ve had in my life,” Robinson said.
Moreno added, “The ceviche was phenomenal. Zesty, limey, and with onions. It passed the Panamanian test.”
Additionally, the groom wore purple lionfish cufflinks, the bride made cups emblazoned with the fish of the hour as gifts and the decor even included live lionfish on display in a tank. As a finishing touch, they even used venomous lionfish spines as part of their food decor.
“Lionfish contain all their venom in their spines. But, we learned that if you bake lionfish spines at 400 degrees, it kills the venom. Then, you can use the spines like toothpicks,” Moreno said. “I just had this vision of lionfish crab cakes with spines as toothpicks. (Islamorada local) “Zombie” overnighted 60 spines to us, and everything was complete.”
The affair went on without a hitch, filled with family, love and happy tears. The couple loved “geeking out” on lionfish facts with their friends and family, and Mae often overheard groups chatting around the lionfish tank about why it’s so important to eat the species.
After it was all done, “Zombie” filleted the fish from the tank, and the newlyweds took their catch up to Lazy Days in Islamorada for a “honeymoon” dinner before heading back.
“You can’t throw them back, so we got to eat our lionfish too, which was the point of the whole thing,” Moreno said. “It was all just perfect.”
“I’d like to challenge the next mindful conservationists that decide to have a lionfish wedding to do it bigger, better, and more outlandish than we did,” Robinson said. “And, make sure to invite me.”