Jack Stein talks to The Sustainable Restaurant Association about sustainable seafood

The Staff Canteen

This month The Sustainable Restaurant Association speak to Jack Stein, chef director at Rick Stein's  The Seafood Restaurant based in Padstow about the importance of sourcing sustainable fish and seafood.

Seafood stocks - the facts

Facts about the plight of some seafood stocks can be as terrifying as a shark movie. 90% of the world's fish stocks are either over or fully exploited and populations of marine species have halved in the last 40 years. All of this, while 500 million people rely on fish for food and their livelihood.

Fruits de mer at The Seafood Restaurant: Copyright davidgriffen.co.uk

Fruits de mer at The Seafood Restaurant

Copyright davidgriffen.co.uk

Knowing how to navigate your way through the murky waters of seafood sustainability can also be as complicated as the plot of the very best thriller.

Should you be sourcing wild salmon or farmed, or maybe no salmon at all? Has cod made a sufficient comeback to be battered and served on a regular basis? Do you know when the mussel season is and would you understand if your supplier told you what catch method he used to snare your saithe?

How do you know if you are using sustainable seafood?

To stop your head spinning like mackerel on the end of a line the Sustainable Restaurant Association is running a month long campaign with a straightforward ask, to help restaurants source and serve responsibly caught seafood. We’re calling on the whole industry to Remove the Worst, by which we mean, ensure that no fish rated ‘5’ by the Marine Conservation Society appear on the menu. And for those with a clean bill of health, now’s the time to take the opportunity to promote the best – those most sustainable of seafood items, the ones rated ‘1’ and ‘2’ in the MCS’s Fish to Eat guide.

Why is wild sea bass off the menu at The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow?

One of the UK’s best known fish restaurants has been working closely with local fishermen ever since it opened its doors back in the 1970s. Last year, Jack Stein, chef director, and his father Rick were faced with a very tough decision at The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow. 

Since the first customers ate in their restaurant, sea bass has been a mainstay of the menu. Caught by local fishermen who land the fish literally a stone’s throw from the restaurant, these beautiful fish have graced thousands of plates.

Jack Stein David Griffen photography

Jack Stein 

David Griffen photography 

Jack says: “The 50kg seabass deliveries at the backdoor on a Saturday evening have been part of the kitchen’s folklore and a big part of the chefs’ training, having to scale git and fillet them.

“Then last year the SRA told us about the plight of wild sea bass and we knew we had a big decision to make. We were pretty certain that the fishermen would understand and we wanted to be involved in something would challenge us – we’ve been a restaurant that has always prided itself on serving the best wild fish, so it would be a big thing to remove it from the menu.”

Rick Stein had built a business and a reputation, in part at least, on the back of sea bass. So would he want to remove this fabulous fish from his menu?

“I really wasn’t sure what Rick would say, but he agreed that it was the progressive thing to do,” says Jack. We decided to stop sourcing and serving wild sea bass for a year.”

Any nervousness about doing so has quickly dissipated and Jack is now confident it wasn’t just the right thing to do for the future of the local sea bass stocks but for the restaurant, its reputation and that of the wider industry.

“We were genuinely concerned about what effect the decision might have on business, but customer awareness around topics such as fish sustainability continues to grow and when you make a decision to implement a change, you adapt and find creative ways around it and that’s what we have done, finding alternative fish and adjusting recipes.

“Five years ago, if you’d suggested we should remove wild sea bass from the menu there’s no way we’d have done it. Organisations such as the SRA has given us the confidence to understand where the decision is coming from, why it makes sense and why it’s necessary. We’ve got a good understanding of the big picture which means we can implement necessary changes. Working with the SRA we know we’re involved in a process of change rather than being lectured about what we’re doing wrong.”

What alternatives are there to wild sea bass? 

Finding a delicious, sustainable swaps is key to maintaining a viable, popular seafood menu. The Steins’ hard work has paid off.

“It was a big decision and part of the challenge has been sourcing an alternative. We’ve found some fantastic farmed bass which is a really decent size – about 1-1.5kg and has good fat content. It tastes great and our customers like it.”
How The Seafood Restaurant has responded to the plight of wild seabass is indicative of its whole approach. Education is a key part of maintaining and building on this firm footing.

Turbot Hollandaise The Seafood Restaurant Copyright David Griffen photography

Turbot Hollandaise at The Seafood Restaurant

Copyright David Griffen photography

Jack adds: “Sustainable fish is now a core part of our in-house NVQ and we also teach the students at the cookery school about which fish to use and which ones to avoid too.” 

How can you use the Food Made Good website?

So, to bastardise one of the most famous lines from the best known shark movie of them all, “You’re gonna need a more sustainable seafood menu!”

Grab that menu, go to the Food Made Good website, read more inspiring examples and find, prepare to share your seafood triumphs, as well as the ones that got away and act to ensure your menu is fit for purpose with the help of a brand new toolkit compiled with the help of our partners; MCS, Marine Stewardship Council, Sustainable Fish Cities, Soil Association and Freedom Food. Come and join the conversation on social where you can tantalise your customers with fishy tales and photos too @FoodMadeGood #GoodFishGoodDish.

The Sustainable Restaurant Association is a not-for-profit membership org that helps foodservice make smart, sustainable decisions through the Food Made Good campaign.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th July 2017

Jack Stein talks to The Sustainable Restaurant Association about sustainable seafood