The Pressure’s On

By Beacon Staff

I am pleased to be acquainted with the celebrity chef Rick Moonen, who owns and operates the highly acclaimed and successful RM Seafood restaurant in Las Vegas. Chef Rick is also one of the contenders for the title, “Top Chef Master,” on the culinary competition series by the same name currently running on the Bravo cable channel.

My pleasure in having his acquaintance has far less to do with his celebrity than what he has been teaching me about creativity in the kitchen, and more so his passion for sustaining our food supply in the oceans of the world.

He’s made his name as a master of fish and seafood cookery, first at Oceana in New York and now in Las Vegas. He has become a major force in the sustainability movement, especially where fish and seafood are concerned. More chefs need to follow his lead in this regard.

Chef Rick contends that through big business, we’ve been propagandized to over-consume five basic varieties of fish, therefore bringing them to the brink of becoming endangered. He calls them “The Big Five,” to wit, salmon, tuna, cod, snapper and bass. The latter two cover hundreds of varieties of fish and are used to make the real names sound more palatable (and therefore more saleable).

For instance, Patagonian Tooth Fish is the real name for Chilean Sea Bass. Slimefish was renamed Orange Roughy. They might not sell as well if they were listed that way on your favorite restaurant’s menu.

He says the word “sustainable,” through over-use and improper use may be destined to become as meaningless as “organic,” given the way mass producers have corrupted the term. He’s worried that because we target and consume so much of “The Big Five,” that we’re placing massive pressure on these species. And he’s worried that if we don’t pay closer attention to what sustainability really is, then we’re in for big trouble in our food supply.

Salmon, according to Chef Rick, is the number one selling finfish in the world. As I pointed out in a recent column, the demand is so high that farmed salmon is largely what you’re seeing in your supermarkets. Modern industry and high demand for water supplies endangers many varieties of salmon. Producers have to fool you into thinking you’re getting wild varieties of salmon by adding dye to make them look orange.

Tuna, both canned and fresh, he classifies as the “real meat” of the aquatic world. All sushi bars throughout the world must have a constant supply of fresh tuna and hundreds and thousands of dollars are spent on a daily basis by Japanese restaurants on prime varieties. There is enormous pressure on tuna populations throughout the world because of the high demand.

Cod, he says, citing a book called, “Cod,” is the reason North America was established. (I might quibble with him on this point, but cod certainly played a role in the settlement and prosperity of the New England colonies.)

Then he says the final two, snapper and bass, are used to identify fish that have those ugly names that might make them unpalatable should they show up on a menu without their new identities.

Chef Rick says it’s time to start fishing for what’s called “non-targeted edible wild biomass,” in order to create a better balance in the seas. He says there are so many varieties of fish that we can eat without putting pressure on their populations that we’re missing great opportunities to discover new tastes and to be better citizens of the world by taking the pressure off “The Big Five.”

It’s time to start asking questions in the restaurants you patronize where fish and seafood are being served. That’s the only way true sustainability will work – by putting the pressure on the restaurateurs (and chefs) instead of putting pressure on the species we’re overfishing.

Follow me on Twitter @KitchenGuyMT

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