Hong Kong Chefs Choose Sustainable Seafood

Hong Kong Chefs Choose Sustainable Seafood

Here’s a peek at their favourite fish dishes and advice to us all

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Choose Right Today  Choose Right Today  | 5 months ago

The global production of seafood, whether from capture or aquaculture fisheries, has expanded nearly eight times, from 20 million tonnes in 1950 to 158 million tonnes in 2012, according to the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation. At a recent event hosted by Choose Right Today and Foodie, we invited chefs from restaurants around Hong Kong who are already championing the use of sustainable seafood to help us as consumers to choose better too.

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Executive Chef Gerhard Passruger, Grand Hyatt Hong Kong

”If you look at the human population in the past 40 years, we have doubled. We are breeding like rabbits. So, if we look at eight billion people now, versus four billion people about 40 years ago, it is impossible to keep doing the things that we did back then. We need to rethink how we can get the resources from our planet, and it’s not just seafood, it’s all our food.”

How can we do better?

I would say, start thinking. Look around, inform yourself a little bit, know the food that you are eating. There is no straight answer because seafood itself is very complex, depending on where it comes from, how it’s cooked. Just simply start caring about what you eat and start showing a bit of interest.

Favourite seafood dish?

I think people don’t want to hear this, but I love bluefin toro. Unfortunately, I haven’t had it in two years simply because it is the wrong thing to eat at the moment, so no more of that. Sea urchin is also good, which is also becoming questionable.

I think at the moment it’s really scary to see what social media can do to discover a food trend. If we look at octopus, for example, it’s heading to be an endangered species. Ten years ago, if you tried to put it on a menu as a chef, no one would take it. And now, suddenly, you go on Instagram and every second post is for octopus from Spain, and within half a year the species has become almost extinct.

Going back to my childhood – I’m from Austria – every freezer chest was filled with European codfish. About 25 years ago, it started disappearing. Before it was so easily available, and suddenly we realised, it’s gone. Europe caught that just in time. They put bans on catching it for about, I believe, 10 years, then put it back on strict quotas, and actually a fish that was almost extinct had time to recover. I think it really showed us how a fish that seemed so abundant can suddenly disappear because of the volume of people [demanding this seafood].


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Chef James Oakley, Alibi at Cordis, Hong Hong

”The average consumption of seafood per Hong Konger is [according to reports, 70kg per person per year]. There are 7.8 million people in Hong Kong. If we continue to eat seafood at this rate, irresponsibly by our unsustainable means, there will be no seafood left in the future. So, for me, to choose a sustainable seafood product and feature it on our menu, I feel it’s my moral obligation to do so.”

How can we do better?

I think, quite simply, there are a lot of organisations out there that monitor fisheries and how sustainable they are. You can easily access the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) seafood guides online, but you can also see [these certifications] in all supermarkets across Hong Kong, be it at Taste, Wellcome, Market Place. Look for seafood that bears the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) logo as a good indication as to what’s sustainable and what’s not.

Favourite seafood dish?

I have two. Prior to my understanding of the state of the world’s oceans and seafood, my favourite was otoro bluefin tuna belly, which I no longer eat, as it’s endangered and well overfished. I recommend that we all look for alternatives now so that we can secure the future of this species. My favourite now is black cod marinated with miso, from Alaska. The beauty with Alaskan black cod is the fishermen have to follow strict quotas of catch and size, meaning that they don’t take juveniles; they allow the fish to grow to a size where they can reproduce and give the species a chance to reproduce. I want my children in the future to at least see what I have seen, and perhaps if we start acting more responsibly, we will be able to see more life in the ocean and see it begin to flourish again.


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Executive Chef Pedro Samper, The Langham, Hong Kong

”If the oceans die, we die – there’s no doubt about it. How are we going to preserve our oceans? That’s the important question. The next 10 years is crucial for the survival of our seas. When we choose sustainable products, it is not just about quality. Fisheries are not [harvesting] the seas in a sustainable way. They are contaminating and polluting the oceans. [Editor’s note: Unsustainable fisheries are destroying and polluting oceans through unsound methods and gear, as well as unregulated chemicals for aquaculture.] To prevent this is very important. It will take a lot of commitment. It will take a lot of people who can really explain to [everyone] what is going on with the oceans. If we are going to prevent [unsustainable practices], we need help from the big companies.”

How can we do better?

Since I was very young, I‘ve loved going fishing, and you learn how important it is that you are fishing in a responsible way, not just fishing for fun and ending up altering the ecosystem of the ocean. Be sustainable and responsible, catch what you’ll eat and, if you’re not eating it, release it back to the sea. [Editor’s note: This, however, is not the practice of many fisheries that catch non-targeted species with their all-or-nothing fishing method, which is also what makes them unsustainable.]

We don’t need to go to a seafood restaurant every day. If we try to eat in a more responsible way, more of a plant-based diet, we can preserve a little bit of our oceans as well.

[Additionally,] cosmetic products that contain plastic “microbeads”, used in toothpaste and exfoliating creams, cannot be absorbed by the ocean or sea plants and accumulate in the sea. The fish mistake this for food and end up eating it. One thing you can do is research your creams to make sure they are organic and make exfoliating creams with salt, sugar or cashews.

Favourite seafood dish?

One of my favourite fish is cod; it’s a local catch. [Editor’s note: Chef Samper is from Spain.] The fishermen from my hometown used to go to Terranova and catch them and put them in salt so that we could preserve them. We put them in water for 24 hours to get the proper taste, and my mum used to cook them with pil-pil sauce, made with olive oil and the gelatin of the cod skin, and add a little bit of garlic and chilli to make the most magical sauce in the world. We would call it bacalao al pil-pil.


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Shakib Pasha, co-founder of Foxglove

“We choose to use sustainable seafood because we believe, firstly, it does taste better. If you’re farming or fishing sustainably, that usually means the company is also very ethical and you’re probably really getting what they’re advertising. It also means that it’s very consistent, and even though it’s slightly more expensive, we do feel that there’s a right reason behind it.”

How can we do better?

Firstly, there’s a lot of different certifications for sustainability, but the main one that you should look for is MSC. That certification means that [the seafood product] was fished or farmed ethically and [the fisheries] have sustainable practices. So look for [the MSC certification] when you’re buying [seafood] at your local grocery.

Favourite seafood dish?

My favourite is probably razor clams. They’re only in season for a very short time, but when they are, they’re extremely large and very juicy. [Editor’s note: Choose Right Today recommends clams from Canada and Ireland.]


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Steph Kudus, founder of Pololi

“In the beginning, we were only focused on making really good poké for everyone. After around six months, I realised that we were going through so much fish that I felt like something needed to be done. I’m an avid scuba diver, and I’ve been to sites two years apart and they look completely different, so this is the reason why I felt like it was my responsibility to find a sustainable tuna supplier, given that the majority of our poké is made with ahi [a Hawaiian word meaning yellowfin tuna].”

How can we do better?

I believe that as consumers – and I am a consumer as well – everyone has the right to ask questions, and we need to be responsible eaters by choosing right. At Pololi, we’ve kind of done the hard part for you. So as a consumer, you just come in and buy a bowl and you know that all of our ahi is sustainable, so, you know, one bowl at a time. We all have the responsibility to ask questions and to know where our food is from because we want to be part of the world that we want to live in.

Favourite seafood dish?

Obviously, poké is my favourite thing to eat. I eat poké every single day! However, I think what makes me happiest is when I eat something like freshly caught scallops or oysters from the shell; I could eat that all day without needing to mask it by cooking. I would say being able to taste the ocean in my mouth, that to me is the best thing in the world.


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Chef Patrick Verhoeven, founder of 238 the grill

“I have children, and I think it’s really important for everybody that they have fish in the future, and that’s why we only do sustainable seafood in our restaurant. People have to focus more on the fact of what is going on in the world instead of only eating stuff and not caring about the environment. Some people think fish comes from a factory, and that, of course, is not a fact.”

How can we do better?

First of all, know what you’re buying. Have a little bit of knowledge about seafood and where it’s coming from. When you go to a restaurant, you can ask them if this is sustainable seafood or not. And when the customers ask for sustainable seafood, maybe the restaurants will think as well: we must do something because there is demand for it.

Favourite seafood dish?

I love oysters and a seafood platter with crab and lobster, especially in Hong Kong with beer. That’s amazing.


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Larry Tang, founder of Locofama/Sohofama

“We understand the impact that consumers have. In Hong Kong, we have over 7.3 million people... So, where we spend our money actually impacts what kind of world we are building. Ninety per cent of our food right now is imported... [but] we consciously look at including some local sustainable seafood on our menus. I think today we can see that it’s not just about saving the ocean anymore. I think it’s about saving yourself, because plastic is already inside the stomachs of fish.”

How can we do better?

Honestly, I think it’s very challenging for people to make better seafood choices, and I’ve never had anyone call up the restaurant and say, ”Do you serve sustainable seafood? Otherwise we’re not going to come.” No one cares that much. For people who eat and cook at home, you go to the supermarket, you see live seafood. You go to the wet market, you see live seafood. [The importance of sustainable seafood] is really out of people’s minds right now.

Favourite seafood dish?

At Sohofama, the mud crab with sticky rice, which is like a healthier version of the very popular chilli crab, is my dad’s favourite and the prawn dish with egg yolk fried together; we actually named it after my mum. Those two are definitely my favourites.


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