Q&A: Getting chefs to think green

By

Lindsey Partos, SeafoodSource contributing editor, reporting from Paris

Published on
February 15, 2010

Sixteen years ago, Caroline Bennett broke new ground, ushering in the first “conveyor-belt” sushi bar in the United Kingdom with the opening of her Moshi Moshi dining experience on London’s Liverpool Street. Combining convenience with eye-catching sushi, Bennett now heads a group of three Moshi Moshi restaurants and sister restaurant Soseki. More than 10 years ago, Bennett embarked on a strategy to make fish procurement for the restaurants as sustainable as possible.

Together with British biologist Dr. Malcolm MacGarvin, Bennett is also co-founder of Pisces Responsible Fish Restaurants (Pisces-RFR), a restaurant-led pilot project that aims to help chefs source product from sustainable fisheries.

At the Seafood Choices Alliance Seafood Summit in Paris earlier this month, SeafoodSource discussed sourcing and sustainability with Bennett, a participant on two panels at the three-day event.

Partos: What are the biggest challenges to sourcing sustainable seafood?
Bennett:
Price and logistics. You cannot have the sustainability conversation if you do not accept the fact that you will have to pay more. Sustainable fish is more expensive: the [Marine Stewardship Council-certified] mackerel, for example, that we use costs about 30 percent more than the non-sustainable equivalent.

From where do you source your big sellers?
Salmon and tuna combined are 47 percent of all that we sell, and we market about 2 tons of salmon a month. We source our salmon from the Scottish supplier Loch Duart. We have been with them since the beginning, and they are clearly interested in sustainability. [In 2002, Loch Duart became the world’s first salmon farm accredited with Freedom Food’s new salmon scheme, which establishes standards for fish welfare and husbandry. Freedom Food is an independent farm-assurance and food-labeling program set up by the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.]

People still really like prawns, and we source two kinds of prawns. One source hails from a New Caledonian sustainable farm, and the second from an Asian supplier who gave us little information about the prawns, but they are quite cheap. This is often what happens, as soon as you shift from the small-scale supply set up to larger, there are information challenges.

The sustainable dialogue is also about raising the standards of husbandry and reducing waste.

Do you believe consumers will accept the extra expense for sustainable foods?
Yes. In 2008 when oil prices soared, customers were prepared to pay more for their food, and fishermen were able to pass the costs on to the market. This shows that consumers will meet extra costs.

Is the sustainability message reaching the consumer?
Today industry is struggling to give a clear message, perhaps because we are in the process of finding credible solutions and alternatives. But I think transparency along the supply chain is everything. The message we give is clear to the consumer, and I hope that we never mislead the consumer. The Fish2Fork initiative [led by “End of the Line” author Charles Clover], for example, is about empowering and educating the consumer.

How do you feel about the future of sustainable seafood, particularly seafood eco-labels?
By nature I am an optimistic person. Most of the criticisms levied at certification bodies are solvable; it’s just practicalities. No one, for instance, has ever said that the heart of the MSC is wrong. At the end of the day, it has to be about intention.

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