Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Sustainable Seafood

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Last week I was listening to the World Ocean Day Celebration Webcast from the Monterey Bay Aquarium with Julie Packard and Alton Brown. I’ve been a fan of Alton Brown and of the Monterey Bay Aquarium for years and truly enjoyed this webcast. Now that they’ve taken on the sustainable seafood issue, I’m glad that they’re one of many who are making consumers aware of the current situation.

As a sushi evangelist, I’m always being asked about my thoughts about the seafood supply. It’s been almost 2 years since I’ve had Blue Fin Tuna (BFT) and it was Kindai tuna, the first tuna ever raised in captivity. It’s an expensive alternative and not available in many places. Why is BFT popular? Over the years, Japanese chefs have promoted premium items to their customers, such as the BFT red meat or the Toro – the fatty belly. They’ve educated their customers about toro and charged a premium price too, rather than other fish served with an exotic sauce. Taking a fish that needs to be marinated before serving raw takes time, whereas toro you don’t need to do a lot of prep work. I guess business is business and now there is a shortage of BFT and these chefs don’t know what to do.

I have a small sushi following right now and don’t carry the clout as well-known chefs such as Nobu Matsuhisa. With someone who has restaurants all over the world and is one of the best known sushi chef, I’m a little surprised that he hasn’t taken a stand on BFT or at least what I've read. With all of his celebrity clientele, I wonder if any of them have boycotted his restaurants? I’m picking on Nobu because he’s the best known sushi chef in the world, but he’s not alone. The sushi industry and other chefs must get together before all of the BFT is gone and trust me…chefs will continue to use it until there’s no more. As a chef, I don’t serve BFT.

Fish suppliers and chefs/restaurants need to work together to come up with sustainable seafood alternatives and chefs to create dishes that actually taste good for the American market. The Japanese chefs are stuck on traditional dishes and will have to think outside of the box. This is the great thing about food and creating new dishes, no boundaries. Consumers need to be educated and open minded to try things such as sardines, mackerel, crawfish, etc. It’s funny how monkfish will sell in a restaurant, but not at the fish market.

So the next time you’re having sushi and the chef tells you they have Blue Fin Tuna, think about the supply…

Nobu Matushisa: Everyone is looking to you to be the leader, regardless if you want it or not. I'm surprised that you don't have a Blue Fin Tuna plan or at least this is what I've been reading. Have your people contact me…

Here’s a link to the entire Monterey Bay Aquarium Webcast: http://tinyurl.com/paca7c

2 comments:

Casson said...

Chef Jay,

It's tremendously encouraging to see a sushi chef express these opinions so freely. I don't need to tell you how rare it is to encounter anyone in the sushi industry that is willing to take this stance.

I applaud you for not only refraining from serving bluefin tuna, but for being so forthcoming about your decision with the consumer public.

If you would be willing to provide me with more information about your restaurant and operation, I'd like to write about you and your restaurant on my website, www.sustainablesushi.net.

Again, thanks for all that you are doing.

Casson

Vivian said...

Chef Jay,
Thank you for speaking up about this. I have been trying to maintain a conscientious awareness of food for sometime now. What we eat, where it comes from, how it was produced and raised and most importantly how it is being sustained to insure that it will always be there. This is just so important and can't be ignored by anyone.

Sushi chefs in my area are not educated on the sustainability of fish and when I ask about their sources for Toro and Unagi they are surprised by my objection to their offering. I thought at one point about refraining from those restaurants altogether, but then who would keep asking the questions that might push them towards making a change? So I do continue to visit them ask questions and inform them of what I know and order something that I know will be delicious but not depleted any time soon.

Thank you for stepping up and taking a stand.