As a participant in the Kin Hong Seafood Festival, Grand Hyatt Hong Kong Executive Chef Gerhard Passrugger is passionate about using sustainably sourced seafood. He dispels the myths and offers advice surrounding sourcing and ordering fish that is responsibly caught and sourced.
What is sustainable seafood for you?
Sustainable seafood to me is sourcing seafood in a way that can be sustained for our future generations. This means we do not overfish species and the methods of fishing are not harming other marine life and the environment. We treat these products and our planet respectfully. For farming, we farm without destroying the environment through conversions of land and we do not add harmful additives (such as medications, growth enhancers, steroids, etc) into the water and select the fish feed from sustainable sources.
Why did you decide to serve sustainable fish?
Because this is what it takes to preserve our food culture and the world for our future generations. Our world population has doubled in the past 40 years, which is half a generation. We need to strongly re-think the way we eat and how we produce our food as we will not be able to feed eight billion people if we continue the same practices that we used when we were four billion.
Which fish or seafood do you buy?
We offer a wide range. Our largest-volume items are all sustainable and make up 58 per cent of our purchases: lobster, scallops, salmon, blue prawns, vannamei prawns, tiger prawns, hamachi, octopus, black cod, toothfish and more.
How do you choose which fish or seafood to serve?
Our first question to every supplier who comes with a new product is: what is the sustainability status? If the answer is “sustainable”, we ask for certifications and chain-of-custody proof. If a product is not Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) or Aquaculture Stewardship Council (ASC) certified but claims sustainability, we work with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) to assess each item before we purchase.
Are diners becoming more aware of where their fish comes from and how it was caught?
Yes, we can clearly see a rising awareness. More and more people are conscious about their choices. Not only for sustainability but also for health reasons.
Do you see a positive response from your customers when they find out that you serve only sustainable seafood?
Yes, a lot of our guests recognise our choices for sustainably sourced seafood. Many guests are excited and love to hear the stories of our seafood as we well know where it comes from. Sometimes it also happens that guests are not well aware of what sustainability means and engage in a lot of questions, with excitement to learn more.
What would you say is the best way for a chef to educate him or herself about sustainable seafood?
This is a very difficult subject to touch. The sustainability of a product is not only dependent on species but also different regions and methods of catching. It is important to read a lot and keep asking questions. Look up different seafood and fish online and read the basic information on its sustainability status. Then keep asking questions to your suppliers, keep asking partners, other colleagues and producers. I learn something new every day about specific products, regions and methods. There is no universal recipe for sustainability. But it is an interesting subject for any chef, to understand the products with which he/she works.
Are there any notable organisations that are particularly effective at educating food professionals?
As for Grand Hyatt Hong Kong, we have a partnership with the WWF, which supports us in assessing our products and also communicating the messages on sustainability to the public. Of course, MSC and ASC are doing a lot of work in this field too, to educate people on the grounds of their certification. Here in Hong Kong, the Kin Hong Seafood Festival is for sure a great initiative by Ocean Recovery Alliance to communicate the message and connect the industry.
In what other ways do you try to educate consumers?
We are constantly promoting the story of our products – where they come from and how they are sourced.
What’s some practical advice for chefs in order to educate their staff about sustainable seafood?
It is a process to talk to them about each product and let them understand what they are working with. Many of these products have been commonly around and there was no problem in the past 10–20 years, however, it might be a problem now. I often use examples from the past, where we have experienced such a shift. The best example is European cod, which went from being one of the most common fish found in every supermarket to near extinction about 15–20 years ago. Only through immediate action and a complete stop, it was possible that this fish recovered over about 10 years and is now preserved for the future. It can now be purchased again – with MSC certification and strict regulations on catching.
Does buying sustainable fish mean paying more money?
Absolutely not. This statement cannot be generalised. Of course, some products do increase in price as the catching methods are higher in cost. But most products are not affected. We were even able to find some MSC- and ASC-certified products to lower our costs. Overall it balanced out and we pay about the same cost. Well, having said that, there’s the assumption that you are looking for quality products. Of course, in the past if you have bought the cheapest prawns you can find (grown with steroids, hormones, etc or injected with silicon, water, etc), then yes – a sustainable and naturally grown prawn will cost you more.
What’s the hardest part about being sustainable?
Some species are simply in trouble at the moment and we should not consume them at all – until they have recovered. I also enjoyed eating them in the past. It is sometimes not easy to simply renounce these products. But it is the right thing to do if we want to enjoy them in the long term. Just stop now to give them a chance.
What’s your absolute favourite sustainable seafood dish at Grand Hyatt?
I love our lobster that we are directly importing from a fishery in Canada. The meat is so sweet and wonderful in texture. That is why it is our most popular item at Grand Café. You will not be able to get better-quality lobster in any buffet in Hong Kong. Also a favourite of mine is the octopus, which we have recently sourced from Western Australia. It is braised with red wine vinegar and olive oil for two hours in the oven and then served with black cod – a great combination.