“In 15 years of cooking at Michelin-starred restaurants, I must have used six or seven species of fish,” said chef Gaël Orieux of Breton, France. “As a restaurant owner I have the possibility and the responsibility to point diners towards alternative species. The sea is not a free market.”
Chefs around the world are having the same reaction. If the increasing threats and problems concerning some of the most commonly eaten fish species are taken seriously – bluefin tuna, farmed salmon, Atlantic cod to name just three – menus need to be rethought and customers convinced to change their dinning habits. On the flipside, the alternatives offer a chance for reinvention and new ideas as well as a return to old recipes using local fish.
In many countries, seafood is primarily eaten in restaurants and so chefs and restaurateurs are at the frontline of changing fish consumption habits and trends. Convinced that his profession can help educate consumers and a passionate supporter of biodiversity, Gaël has transformed his Parisian restaurant Auguste into a model for the Mr Goodfish campaign launched in France last year, which he will discuss at the Slow Fish event this May.
Also attending the international fair of sustainable seafood is chef Mehmet Gürs of Istanbul’s Mikla restaurant. Heavily involved with Slow Food Istanbul’s Don't Let the Lüfer Go Extinct! campaign to protect a beloved local fish, Gürs is also one of the biggest supporters of the “How Big is Yours” campaign lobbying the Turkish government to establish minimum sizes for caught fish. He is working to promote responsible fish buying among his fellow chefs and the public, and more than 300,000 people have pledged their support for this local Greenpeace campaign.
“It may sound harsh but considering that we have almost fished the oceans empty, we better start changing our habits, and quickly!” said Gürs. “Without small fish there is no big fish. Without big fish there is no ocean. I don't say that we should stop eating fish or other seafood but there is a balance that we have to be aware of and also respect - don't eat certain species for a start.”
Various groups and projects specifically aimed at chefs are being developed to encourage professional cooks to take the first steps for change. In the USA, Chefs Collaborative - a network of chefs promoting sustainable, local food - has published Seafood Solutions: A Chef's Guide to Sourcing Sustainable Seafood as well as an online training course and resource centre for hotel and culinary schools with the Blue Ocean Institute called Green Chef, Blue Ocean. In the United Kingdom, Pisces Responsible Fish Restaurants helps chefs find local fish, putting them in direct contact with selected fishermen.
The Slow Food network and Terra Madre cooks are also bringing the message to their communities. In Spain, Garraf convivium and Terra Madre cooks from Catalonia region held a series of Slow Cook Jam Sessions at Barcelona's Boqueria market, with a focus on utilizing pescado sin precio (undervalued fish). Taking the vast range of fish on offer at as a starting point, the chefs presented their own recipes for little-known, sustainable fish options.
Gaël Orieux and Memhet Gürs and many other chefs will be leading Theater of Taste sessions at Slow Fish 2011 in Genoa, Italy. Click here for more information.
If you are a chef and would like to find out more about the Slow Fish campaign, visit the website and check the Slow Fish Challenge and Slow Fish in Action.
Photo: Gaël Orieux