SERVING UP THE FUTURE: SUSTAINABLE SEAFOOD WORKSHOP WITH RICHARD EKKEBUS IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE HONG KONG CHEFS ASSOCIATION
One afternoon at the Technological and Higher Education Institute of Hong Kong (THEi), chefs-in-training and institute teachers filter into a classroom. Soon, the room is buzzing with life as participants await the workshop’s beginning. Some sat and chat, but most participants are congregated on the right side of the room where the room’s centrepiece— a several-metre-long spread of sustainably sourced seafood is displayed for everyone to see. Drawing everyone in, this impressive array is a statement in itself— the perfect preface for the information to come.
The sustainable seafood workshop features an impressive array of fresh and frozen seafood
Spread out on the table is every seafood-lover’s dream: from fish to scallops to shellfish to live lobsters, over 70kg of seafood await the workshop’s chef participants. Already, chefs are honing in around the table, dreaming up all sorts of prospective dishes. Kindly sponsored by foodservice provider Indoguna Lordly and Food Made Good HK Fish Marketing Organization, the seafood spread is a sight to behold— but that’s not to forget the fresh fruit and veg nearby. Sponsored by Full Nature Farms, the Vegetable Marketing Organization and Food Made Good HK Aquagreen, a tantalising selection of local, hydroponic and organic vegetables await the chefs as well.
STRIKING A CHORD
Once a crafty lobster (caught trying to escape) is swiftly put back into his tank, the session begins and Chef Richard Ekkebus, Director of Culinary Operations and Food and Beverage at The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong and president of Food Made Good HK, and Anita Cheng, culinary team manager from The Hong Kong Chefs Association take the stage. Richard begins by recounting the seeds of his own passion for sustainability, illustrating how he— a boy growing up in a small fishing village in the southwest of the Netherlands— came to become aware of how precarious our environment and its ecosystems are. The Netherlands, Richard explains, translates literally as ‘lowlands’, and over 50% of the country is under sea level. “We are fighting the seas constantly,” he says, noting how the effects of global warming and rising sea levels are becoming ever more apparent in the region.
From a culinary point of view, Richard observes that the ingredients his kitchen receives have changed. Whether it be the look and taste, the seasons they are available in, their origins or even whether or not they can be found at all, this shift in ingredient availability is impossible to ignore. For sustainable seafood, a multitude of areas needs to be considered, spanning from healthy populations, vitality of the species, impact on marine environment, livelihoods of dependent communities and many more.
In a world where over 34.4% of the world’s fisheries are currently overfished, Richard explains that sustainable seafood should be a no-brainer. If we continue neglecting the health of fisheries and oceans and deplete the world’s fish populations, there will be less fish in the ocean for future generations and a significant decline in biodiversity— which is why the problem can no longer be ignored.
Chef Richard Ekkebus emphasises the transition to sustainable seafood is a step by step journey
Hong Kong is well-known for its love of seafood. Each day, the city consumes 260 tons of marine fish and 164 tons of freshwater fish, ranking it as the eighth largest seafood consumer globally. It also ranks second in terms of per capita seafood consumption in Asia, with each person consuming an average of 70.75kg— 3.5 times the global average of 20.3kg. The statistics are daunting, but as Richard argues, “what better place to start than in Hong Kong?”. As such a fundamental part of the city’s diet and culture, seafood can become a leverage point for sustainability and create enormous impacts on our environment and food footprint.
As it currently stands, sourcing sustainable seafood still poses several challenges. “We are sourcing from rapidly declining global fish stocks that are unable to replenish themselves,” says Richard. Since 1960, the total fish biomass in parts of the South China Sea have reduced by almost 50%. Having fished out the waters of Hong Kong, Richard explains that the city now depends on imports for 90% of its seafood. This makes Hong Kong the tenth largest importer of seafood in the world— to put this into perspective, the ranking compares Hong Kong (a city) to countries around the world.
From a chef’s standpoint, sourcing sustainable seafood may involve a lot of thinking, planning and head-scratching. “It took me three decades to get my head around the subject and develop a structure that worked for us,” he admits. Yet the work pays off: today, 100% of the seafood used in the Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong is sustainably sourced and certified as such. “I’m still learning,” says Richard.
As for chefs who have yet to embark on this journey, factors such as confusing terminology, low consumer awareness, insufficient knowledge and information, and limitations in terms of availability, choice and consistent supply can make it hard to make progress— which is why Richard is here today.
The sustainable seafood workshop features fresh fruit and vegetables by Full Nature Farms, the Vegetable Marketing Organization and Aquagreen
BIG FISH TO FRY
In addition to engaging with suppliers, sharing his requirements and forging sustainability-directed partnerships, Richard has also worked with various governmental bodies in Japan (where a lot of his seafood is sourced) to raise concerns on excess packaging and other sustainable issues. These partnerships, he explains, have given him the opportunity to spearhead several projects in the area of sustainability and, on the way, gain a deeper understanding on how to navigate the field.
For chefs listening in the room today, Richard emphasises that the process must happen step-by-step. “If you do it all at once, it can become very overwhelming,” he explains, “in my case it was a journey of 15 years”. As president of Food Made Good HK and member of the Hong Kong Sustainable Seafood Coalition, Richard highlights the importance of joining organisations who can help provide the necessary toolkits and advice on how to kickstart the process and build a viable structure. As for sourcing, Richard is keen to share his own accumulated knowledge and experience, making the transition to sustainable seafood an easier journey on the next generation for chefs in Hong Kong.
Cooked food from responsibly sourced ingredients: specked blue grouper in clear congee, razor clam, shima-aji sashimi and deep fried octopus
SPILLING THE BEANS
His first piece of advice: mix things up. “Try to explore lesser known fish species from healthy fish stocks. Instead of bluefin tuna, for example, try yellowtail tuna. There are lots of alternatives and it’s up to us as chefs to drive the change”. Richard emphasises that offerings on a menu shouldn’t be static, but instead should include a variety of species that change and evolve constantly.
Then comes the big question of wild or farmed. In farms that aren’t well managed, there may be high instances of disease and the sustainability of farmed fish varies. Bluefin tuna, for example, is often caught before it gets a chance to reproduce. To raise it to maturity, the tuna is then fed baitfish at a ratio of 20 kilos of baitfish to produce 1 kilo of bluefin tuna— a highly unsustainable farming practice. Meanwhile, other types of farmed fish are fed plant-based or sustainable feed. Hence it’s all about doing research and finding out about the practices of the fish farm (including the type of feed) to determine whether healthy measures have been set in place.
As for wild-caught seafood, fish are often no longer locally caught in Hong Kong but rather brought over from the South China Sea and Indian Sea. Hence, it’s important to consider the carbon footprint of logistics and operations as well. Moreover, fishing methods vary widely from bottom trawls to harpoons— all of which have different degrees of sustainability.
Another dilemma chefs face is fresh or frozen. Most will opt for fresh seafood, yet Richard explains that some fish actually travel better when frozen. Sometimes, seafood is caught and frozen at the peak of their season, creating a more efficient way of managing and supplying it. As Richard notes, freezing seafood doesn’t affect taste but may impact its texture— a drawback that is fading away as technologies improve.
Typhoon shelter style star snapper, shima-aji two ways, crispy soft shell lobster, batfish with green and white bitter melon, and stir fried batfish with pan-fried prawn stuffed baby bell pepper
MORE TO LEARN
For wild seafood, one must always consider seasonality, examining the breeding and spawning seasons of each type of species. Richard shares that he has various calendars that he uses to keep track of this information, and that he avoids sourcing seafood during their breeding seasons. “It’s the time for fish to regenerate and reproduce,” he explains.
Accreditation labels, which are often specific to the type of seafood or the region it is farmed or supplied in, are also good sources to lean on. For example, international accreditation bodies for farmed seafood include the ASC and GGN. Meanwhile, a local accreditation body in Hong Kong is the HKAFFS, which offers a label ensuring that seafood is locally produced, sustainable, and high quality. As with everything else, looking into these accreditations requires patience and research— all part of the journey to sustainability.
The sustainable seafood workshop participants cooking up delicious dishes from sustainable ingredients
Following Richard’s presentation, chefs were invited to try their hand at cooking up sustainable seafood. As they flocked towards the tables to grab their chosen ingredients, the workshop chef participants were immersed in discussion, and soon the room was buzzing with energy. After each selecting a few ingredients from the vast array, the chefs made their way into the kitchen, preparing to turn the session’s takeaways into a tasty outcome.
Sourcing sustainable ingredients— whether that be seafood, animal products or produce— should be a priority for each and every chef. For more information on sustainable seafood and the HKAFFS accreditation, check out this video. For a free consultation and support on your sustainability journey, reach out to our team here via firstname.lastname@example.org.
This content was created prior to our rebranding to Future Green, as of 28/11/22, when we were known as Food Made Good HK.
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