We Talked To a Michelin-Rated Seafood Chef About the Future of Fish
We are living through a time when we are constantly bombarded with news on how oil spills, radiation, mercury, worms, and overfishing are ravaging our oceans. Should we even eat fish? We ask a Michelin-rated chef to find out.
Photo by the author
Let's face it: Eating fish in the year 2015 can be tricky.
Despite the fact that the food industry is seeing an uptick in the demand for seafood in the food industry nationwide—from lobster rolls shacks to Hawaiian poke shops—we are living through a time when we are constantly bombarded with news on how oil spills, radiation, mercury, worms, and overfishing are ravaging our oceans, and consequently, the tasty creatures that come out of it.
In dark times like these, it is time to call in the experts to help guide us. So we reached out to David LeFevre, a Michelin-rated chef specializing in seafood and the proud owner of the lauded beachside restaurant (with the best name ever) Fishing With Dynamite in Manhattan Beach, California. We picked his brain about whether it's OK to eat farmed fish, what seafood you should always avoid, and what the future of the seafood looks—and tastes—like.
MUNCHIES: You opened up your restaurant in March of 2011, and the Fukushima disaster happened almost immediately afterwards. Did that affect the sourcing of your seafood? David Lefevre: I spent some time in Japan over the last 15 years, but it didn't really affect us that much. And the reason I say that is: We source our seafood from around the world. So when that happened, we just moved and focused our sourcing to another area. In that case, we started purchasing from New Zealand and Australia.
Were you concerned about the effects of radiation on your seafood? What it comes down to is the relationship that you have with your purveyors, since it is their reputation on the line and they are the ones that do the majority of the hard work. They are the ones that have to change where they are buying it from. For all of the research that I did, finding the best seafood available in the world is a 24/7 agenda for seafood purveyors.
Are there any fish, shellfish, or seafood items that you simply will not put on your menu? Yeah definitely, but it's not really because of the earthquake or radiation. It's because of overfishing.
Bluefin tuna, obviously, is an endangered species at this point. There are still plenty of restaurants serving it and I don't understand how they can consciously still do that. Technology is overcoming how animals fight against being caught, with radars and airplanes; there is just too much technology being used right now for wildlife populations to keep up with. I mean, it's like using a tank to go hunting for deer. It's the same thing with seafood with all of the new techy ways of catching fish.
Atlantic halibut is another fish that I won't serve. Again, it is just overfished and it doesn't reach sexual maturity until later on life. Orange roughy, squid from Europe, Beluga sturgeon, and imported swordfish are more species that I won't serve. Why am I going to serve something that soon might not be part of the planet?
Did Santa Barbara's recent oil spill affect your business? We've been fortunate in that aspect, because we don't normally serve Santa Barbara spot prawns and Santa Barbara sea urchin until winter.
Can you talk a little about your locally-caught versus imported seafood philosophy? We try to find the best product found throughout the world; it also has to be affordable. I'm not going to sell some king crab for $100 an ounce. What I'm looking for is the best quality fish that has been handled in the best possible way and kept in a temperature of 32 to 36 degrees. The amount of time that the fish has been kept out of the water—36 to 48 hours from being caught is ideal for me. What we try to find is any product that is kept really cold, fresh, sustainable, and tastes great. This is my criteria.
I serve Alaskan halibut because it is fattier and therefore, more moist and delicious, instead of California halibut, since it's a lot leaner because the waters are warmer here. Some people would disagree with that and call me crazy, but if you serve them side by side and cook them exactly the same way, you'll taste the difference; Alaskan halibut is a richer fish.
Can you talk a little about your wild versus farm-raised sourcing philosophy? This is one of those extremely sensitive talking points, because you have this group of people who have been living off the ocean for generations, making their money through fishing; I can understand their attachment to that. If we want to keep wild fish, we've got to level out the playing field or limit the amount that people can catch. But neither have worked so far. To be honest with you, within our lifetime, we're going to see a lot of wild fishes be killed off.
It starts with the larger species and then works its way down, which is scary when you think about how popular shrimp is right now. What are we going to eat after shrimp? Krill? Plankton?
The other supersensitive part about talking about this is that there is this uneducated viewpoint that all farmed fishing is bad, because they think that they all do things like use beta carotene to artificially color salmon. But there is a lot of great farmed seafood out there, like Skuna Bay Salmon up in the Pacific Northwest. It tastes great, too. Also, look at oysters? The majority of them that we eat is aquacultured.
I think what we are going to see soon is not so much farmed fishing but people recreating natural environments where seafood can thrive and prosper. And then fishing sustainably from those areas—it's not that different from land proteins at the end of the day. Free-range wild seafood for smaller fish, if you will. I think if we see more stuff like that, it would be really great. It's wild, yet overseen.
I just think that if people keep fishing wild fish the way that they are, there is only going to be one option left. And that is to be fucked. That's going to be a sad day.
Where do you see the future of seafood? Do you think the oceans can be saved at all? The public needs to understand that we have to be responsible for the choices that we make when eating seafood, just like the way that we use our water and the cars that we drive. Because fish migrate around the world, this is a global problem. Here's the deal; If Iceland starts regulating but England doesn't (and that fish migrates to the Bahamas), someone in the Bahamas will catch that same fish that avoided getting caught in Iceland.
Thanks for speaking to us.