Chef Irene Li
We recently spoke with Irene to find out more about the world of mobile foodservice and its differing processes from work-life in a brick-and-mortar restaurant kitchen.Read Bio
How to Introduce Sustainable Seafood Practices to Your Restaurant
You’ve defined your culinary philosophy as “globally inspired and locally created with an emphasis on sustainable seafood.” In your own words, define what sustainable seafood means to you.
Sustainable seafood is a very large conversation. Climate change and over-fishing are the two largest threats so as I look at what is the most important conversation around food globally, to me, the answer is about healthy oceans.
A healthy ocean involves wild, well-managed fishery and responsible aquaculture. Looking ahead to a population of 9 billion by 2050, we're going to have to look deeper into the conversation about responsible aquaculture and what that means.
As a chef, my goal is to create delicious food while supporting wild fisheries but I also want to educate people on aquaculture responsibility.
The sustainable seafood movement itself, globally, is only 20 years old. Through the programs I work with in Canada, the US and around the world, what we try to do is educate awareness. We build this by having programs like OceanWise, Seafood Watch and the Marine Stewardship Council, giving consumers in restaurants and retail the opportunity to look for seafood species that are sustainable. The OceanWise program specifically was created as a tool to enable chefs and patrons the chance to make the best choices when it comes to their seafood more simply.
Explain the sustainable seafood practices you or other sustainability-seeking chefs might implement into restaurants and menus and what challenges are faced in doing so.
If I were a chef who didn't have the knowledge that I do, I'd look to work with suppliers or fisherman who are OceanWise recommended.
We now have a network of these fishermen and suppliers across Canada so that a chef can have access to anything and everything they could possibly want regarding sustainable seafood. Within that, there are limitations so you might not always get the exact ingredients that you have been used to using. Fisheries and world oceans are constantly changing.
Wild seafood is a resource that we continue to hammer around the world and basically take too much of unfortunately. The accessibility and availability of seafood is also always changing, whether it be seasonally or annually. Because of how much fish we like to eat globally, humans have put an incredible amount of pressure on our resources and they can't continue to replenish at the rate that we are taking from them. However, I believe chefs have the opportunity and the responsibility to know where their fish and food are coming from while being able to translate that to their diners.
Which cooking techniques and ingredients do you use to elevate the natural, fresh flavors of the seafood dishes that you create? Describe your flavor process.
Being a classically-trained chef, I like to seek, promote and take on the back-to-basics models of how to do things like perfectly prepping a piece of fish or roasting a filet of wild salmon or Atlantic cod, for example. First and foremost, I look at where to buy, who to buy it from, where it actually came from, how was it caught and how do we want to eat it and why? I look at seafood as the real fast food, only it's clean, healthy protein and it is better for you than most other animal proteins. When I’m making my own fish, I think my go-to flavours would be the citruses that come from lemons, limes, oranges or grapefruits.
Which new seafood flavors and ingredients can we expect to see making their way to the center-of-the-plate, in your restaurant
As much as I see people try interesting flavors like gochujang, fermented items or any other new fads, I really want sustainable seafood to be the new trend. For this, simplicity is best; good high-quality canola oil, fresh honey, maybe a little maple. These flavors are so delicious when it comes to seafood as long as you're learning the most important thing which is the technique of how to cook it.
What are 3 ways a chef can make their menu more sustainable?
First of all, know your fishermen.
Next, become an OceanWise ambassador or partner, we make it simple. If you're a chef, whether you're in Toronto or Quebec City, wherever you may be, just because you're not connected to an ocean doesn't mean you can't have access to great fish. My favorite ingredients - chocolate, coffee, tea, vanilla, sugar – aren’t sourced from Canada, they all come from somewhere else. If you think about fish in that way, and the fish was in the ocean today, it's only a few hours of flying from anywhere in our own country to have it on our plate tomorrow night.
You can also get behind community-supported fisheries. We have an organization here in Vancouver called Skipper Otto’s and it ships frozen, high-quality seafood all over Canada. It's important to note that fresh is not -always- better and sometimes flash-frozen seafood that's processed on the boat moments after being caught and is of higher quality than the “fresh” fish that took 4-7 days of processing and delivery.
Define Ned Bell’s signature flavor and dish.
My signature dish is a Dungeness crab taco made with a maple miso vinaigrette, albacore tuna and wild salmon.
It's the epitome of globally-inspired and locally-created cooking with its maple syrup (Canadian), miso paste (Japanese), Dungeness crab (West Coast), served in a wonton shell (Chinese). It just has this incredible influence of what Canada is all about for us which is flavors sourced within, and coming to, us here in the West Coast.