Q&A: Francois Pasteau, L’Epi Dupin
Francois Pasteau is the Parisian chef and restaurateur of L'Epi Dupin. Established in October 1995, his restaurant is today a beacon for sustainable fish, strongly featured in its daily changing menus.
What motivated you to turn to sustainable seafood?
Quite simply by reading about it in the press and hearing that fish stocks were, and are, threatened. I said to myself, there are more and more of us on the Earth, and more of us eating fish. I also noticed that in the 15 years that my restaurant has existed my clients were increasingly eating more and more fish.
How do you explain this change in protein consumption?
Principally for two reasons: firstly the aftermath of the mad cow disease (late 1980s) that saw consumers, suspicious of meat, switching to fish. And secondly because [people] generally seem to be turning to fish because they feel it is healthier and lighter. Fish is the l'air du temps.
How did you make the steps towards sustainable sourcing?
I was lucky in that I met the Alliance produits de la mer (SeaWeb) and with them, and we hooked up with a fishmonger on the corner of my street who is now director of a fishmonger at Rungis and a true professional. He was also sensitive to sustainability and together with Alliance produits de la mer we met up to discuss the sourcing of sustainable fish. I explained to them how in practice, it isn't always easy to be a “good pupil.” I would say from the theoretical side it's good to be aware of sustainability issues with seafood, but from a practical side it can be difficult. Take, for example, cod: There are regions where it is not exploited and other regions where it is. It isn't always obvious which region is OK to buy from.
However, it is really easy to not buy fish that are too small, big is better, or to buy pregnant fish. Bass, for example, is cheaper when it is full of eggs, and chefs might be tempted to buy it, but it should be avoided, plus there is also less flesh!
Are Parisian chefs turning to sustainable fish?
I think the trend is positive and definitely moving forward. More chefs are looking harder at sustainability, for example Olivier Roellinger at Cancale is a member of the Relais et Chateaux quality label. Last year he asked all chef members of Relais et Chateaux to ban bluefin tuna from their menus. It may just be a drop in the ocean, but it's significant when a well-known chef such as Olivier communicates about sustainability to a larger audience and boosts chefs' knowledge of the issue.
What will encourage Parisian chefs to source only sustainable fish?
Their ethical conscience: in terms of business, today it is not really a big selling point that one's fish is sustainable because consumer demand is minimal.
How involved are chefs and restaurateurs in the movement towards sustainable fish?
I firmly believe that because some of the “simple” fish are less well known, it is up to us, the chefs, to make our diners salivate! We play a key role in fish sustainability and helping consumers overcome the unknown, because the diner sees the final product chez nous. Restaurateurs and chefs have an educational role to play in order to boost awareness.
In our restaurant we educate our waiters about sustainability and the fish prepared in the kitchen. The waiters dialogue with the diners; they are the key conduit for information.
Are your fish costs higher due to sustainable sourcing?
No. Fish is more expensive than before but we don't spend any more, about the same. We may pay less for the raw material, but we have to pay more for the handling and preparation in the kitchen.
How do you buy your fish?
For 10 years I went to the fish hall at Rungis (the wholesale market based outside of Paris) but now I go less often. I have a buyer who knows my policy and what I wish to cook with, and she sources the fish.
Is sustainable sourcing a challenge?
Sometimes it is difficult to know the origins of fish and to have all the information at your disposal. I remain humble and I try to do what I can, but it's a difficult subject and a challenge to put in place every day. I'm not sheltered from potential problems.
Does sustainability have a place on menus?
In France, we are not obliged to write on the menu if the fish served is fresh or frozen, wild or farmed. I find this paradoxical because fishmongers must flag up all these criteria. In general diners rarely ask the provenance of the fish, sometimes whether wild or farmed. However, I think the general growing awareness of traceability and the origins of our food will contribute to the debate on sustainable fish.