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RM Seafood

The Secrets Behind Sustainability

    Rick Moonen
Creator/Executive Chef, RM Seafood

Rick Moonen, creator and executive chef of RM Seafood in Las Vegas, is not a man who stands still easily. His passion and enthusiasm is contagious. Perhaps that's why he's in charge of food and beverage for the proposed Las Vegas Railway Express, a high-speed train from Los Angeles to Las Vegas where he will be innovating and changing the way people eat when they travel. He sees it as a way for him to change the perception of travel and food. "I want it to be a party on a train and for people to get on the train early because the food is so good," he says, adding that he plans to do sushi and dim sum carts with food that is prepared and rolled through the car. "You can order stuff off the cart; it is tasty and affordable!" It's a novel concept, and it isn't his first. Chef Moonen's other original idea was Moon 'N Doggie, which debuted at this year's US Open. A collaboration between Chef Moonen and Levy Restaurants, the official restaurateurs of the US Open, it’s a shrimp-based hot dog with Gulf white shrimp -- which, as he notes in his cookbook "Fish Without a Doubt: The Cook's Essential Companion," are his favorite. Although his passion is limitless, the fish he serves are not. We therefore asked Chef Moonen, a well-known advocate for sustainable seafood, about the current state of seafood sustainability.

TravelsinTaste.com: What are the "big five" in sustainable seafood?

Moonen: We have such a narrow area of acceptance of the fish that we eat as mass consumers. We basically hone down on cod, tuna, sea bass, salmon and one more fish, depending on where you live. It could be halibut; it could be red snapper or grouper, if you live down in the Gulf area; and if you’re out on the West Coast it could be rock fish. There are certain species that are over-fished, yet there are hundreds of thousands of species of fish in the ocean that are untouched. If you are a fisherman fishing for cod and you bring a lot of fish up that are untargeted -- "bycatch" -- you throw them back overboard because there is no market for it. It is a gross waste of biomass and it's edible.

TravelsinTaste.com: What is our dilemma?

Moonen: First, we have to get the fisherman to bring it to shore because what we’re dealing with is the most perishable inventory that you can possibly be dealing with. It's not like you can put a book on the shelf and wait for the review. There has to be some sort of a demand for it. If it makes its way to the distributor then the distributor has to try to sell it to the chef or the market wherever seafood is sold. Then consumers have to have the confidence and the interest in paying for it, and it's expensive. Wow, that’s quite a problem, right? It's not that the chefs are not interested in taking species and doing something with them, but there has to be some kind of a relationship between it all. In my lifespan I've seen Chilean seabass become popularized and then endangered in a decade and a half.

TravelsinTaste.com: How do we as consumers help?

Moonen: I’m hoping that we get some of these species into the hands of the chefs, and then we get creativity going, and then we get media support and it will hopefully prime itself into a mentality where we have a wider spectrum of diversity being consumed on a much more mass basis. I was just speaking in front of the ACF, the American Culinary Federation, and I was telling them that it is really in our hands to try to relieve some pressure on the handful of species that are going to become commercially extinct by the year 2048. We’re going to wait for that? Or are we going to take a proactive stance and choose some fish from the best choices. I use The Seafood Watch pretty much as a rule of thumb to relieve some of the pressure on the areas that need to be avoided.

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