The Five Questions – Sustainable Sushi?:
Kristofor Lofgren Says, “Yes.”
Sustainable Sushi? Is there such a thing?
And, just what exactly does sustainable mean?
Here is the official definition: Fishing activities that do not cause or lead to undesirable changes in the biological and economic productivity, biological diversity, or ecosystem structure and functioning from one human generation to the next.
First, let’s talk about the sushi part of the equation: Raw fish, vinegar treated rice, a touch of Japanese horseradish mustard known as Wasabi, that’s it!
As a self-proclaimed sushi head, I’m truly a minimalist. I adore that perfect diver’s scallop “hand gathered” in Maine. It will be touched by a dot of white ginger, a drop of that special soy sauce from the Grateful Palate – long gone now – and a tiny slice of lemon. This is all I want, the Tao of the enjoyment of texture, flavor, color.
Yet, with demand for sushi rising and supplies of fish dwindling, sustainability is crucial to the sushi business. In my recent interview with Mark Kurlansky (Author of A World Without Fish) I discovered that “if we keep doing things the ways we’ve been doing things, fish could become extinct within fifty years.” That’s a bold statement.
But, does that mean we should stop eating fish? Or if we do, should we feel guilty for the pleasure?
Kristofor Lofgren has a plan to create change in the sushi industry. In my quest to seek the freshest possible ingredients, I love to write about success stories. Kristofor is one of those stories. But what makes him unique? How would the Five Questions translate to his vision and his restaurant? That, my friends I leave to you to discover.
WRR: When did you discover raw fish? Did your parents take you to have sushi as a child? Do you own a specific type of knife to cut fish? Who made it? (material)
Kristofor Lofgren: I first ate raw fish when I was 16. It was not something that my family introduced me too, but rather, a family friend. My best friend’s father told me that I should be eating sushi because of its health benefits, and the fact that it was a great date food.
Being 16, the idea that I could be ahead of the curve with a great date food, seemed very compelling. As well, I was an athlete, so eating something that would provide tremendous health benefits was something that was too good to pass up.
That said, my first bites were not so easy for me to get down. As many Americans do, I had an issue with the texture. However, I was so surprised that sushi was mild in flavor and not “fishy”. As with most great things, the better the quality, the finer the flavor, and obviously fish is no exception. Up until that point I had only been exposed to very average to low quality seafood, and so, eating with my friend’s father, who only enjoys the highest quality of things, was great, because my initial sushi/raw fish experience was good and not scary, as many unfortunate people have the first time they try sushi because they eat low quality fish.
As for knives, I prefer Japanese knives, and I like to purchase them from Korin in NYC. They have one of the best and widest selections of super premium high quality knives anywhere in the world outside of Japan. There are all different types of knives to purchase that cover a broad selection of uses, but that said, I like a solid, “in the middle” style of knife, so I prefer something like a Masamoto.
WRR: What is Sustainable Fish? How is this verified? Is your fish ever frozen?
Lofgren: In short, sustainable seafood is caught from populations of fish that are not in any danger of being over-fished. Also, fishing practices do not damage or harm the surrounding ecosystems where those fish are caught.
We base our guidelines on what is “sustainable” however, on the preeminent scientific organizations in the world. Therefore, we use the Monterey Bay Aquarium guidelines and the Blue Ocean Institutes (we are partnered with both organizations to utilize the latest scientific findings), cross referencing their opinions, and applying the Precautionary Principle where necessary.
We are certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, the Green Restaurant Association, and BCorp, as well. So we basically create complete and utter transparency and accountability for our customers as to where our ingredients come from and how we operate as a business. There is full traceability and knowledge of where all of our fish and other ingredients come from, no matter where in the world we source them. We are just adamant about this.
As for the question of fresh vs frozen, with regard to sustainability, there is really no comparison. Premium quality frozen seafood is the best. All of the top chefs use it: Thomas Keller, Gordon Ramsey, Michael Mina, etc. They know that if you can find premium sourced frozen seafood, it will be better in taste and less expensive. As well, it is much more sustainable because it does not go bad in transport or storage.
The reason why frozen seafood is actually better in flavor too, is because when seafood is frozen on the spot, it stops the cellular breakdown of the tissue of the animal. Therefore, by the time a customer gets it weeks later, that fish is only minutes old. If the fish is “fresh” it is often a week or more old before a customer gets it. Now, that said, we do source a lot of fresh seafood and we have many of our own boats and fishermen, so we get our fresh seafood within 24-36 hours. But, when we can find super premium frozen seafood, we go for it, as it actually tastes great, if not better, and is better for the planet.
WRR: Have you visited the Hunt’s Point Fresh Seafood Market in NYC? Impressions? Have you worked on a fishing boat?
Lofgren: I have indeed been to the Fulton Fish Market. I like the new one more. I know that everyone has nostalgia for the old one, but new, better working and more efficient facilities are always nice. So, overall I like it. As with any fish market though, I wish they would commit to 100% sustainability and not continue to contribute to damaging the oceans, which is the very thing that is providing the jobs and life’s blood of the market. As for fishing boats, I love them. I am kind of a geek when it comes to equipment and machinery, so, fishing boats are a fascinating thing for me. I have yet to go out for a long stretch on one, but soon enough I am sure, I will get the chance. I would prefer to do the warm water fishing though, as I do not have much tolerance for the cold for very long…not compared with how rugged our fishermen and women are. They are truly incredible people.
WRR: Who taught you how to cook? Mother? Father? Grandparents? Television cooking shows? Is there anything you prepare that brings a tear to your eye when you make it?
Lofgren: In the most basic sense, I learned to cook by necessity. I really really love food, and no one in my family really “cooks”. Yes people cook good meals here and there, but no one is really focused on it. Everyone in my family is moderately to extremely healthy, and so, food is almost more like medicine and fuel, as opposed to art, beauty, la dolce vita, you know. So, I just had this feeling inside of me from God only knows where, that said food is more than just for eating; rather, it is the greatest joy in life. So, I had some innate skills and just really paid attention to any and everything I could. I also love to eat out, so I have done that from a very early age, even on my own. While I would have friends in college that would go to a pizza place or something, I would choose to meet up with them after dinner, go by myself somewhere, and experience something special and unique simply for the joy and learning. I honestly would say that a perfectly prepared nigiri plate is something of pure beauty. Perfectly hulled, cooked, vinegared rice, with a perfect cut of fish…nothing is better and harder to make. Also, a great omelet has a special place in my heart, as most people don’t know how to cook eggs properly, especially in that form. I really like the simple things. I greatly admire and appreciate food that pushes the boundaries, like say Grant Achatz, he is truly remarkable and changing food forever, but day-in-day-out style of food done perfect, more like Chez Panisse is what I prefer and enjoy most.
WRR: Do you own a smart phone? Use Twitter? Facebook? What are your links?
Lofgren: I love love love my iphone. I cannot imagine life without it. I Tweet, Instagram, Facebook, and send out newsletters. As a company, we love to stay connected to our fans, guests, and friends. It is such a vital part of our business now. Our website is: www.bamboosushipdx.com. Our facebook is: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Bamboo-Sushi/132382577749.
Warren Bobrow is a mixologist, chef, and writer known as the Cocktail Whisperer. In 2010, Bobrow founded “Wild Table” for Wild River Review and serves as the master mixologist for several brands of liquor, including the Busted Barrel rum produced by New Jersey’s first licensed distillery since Prohibition.
Bobrow has published three books on mixology and written articles for Saveur magazine, Voda magazine, Whole Foods-Dark Rye, Distiller, Beverage Media, DrinkupNY and other periodicals. He writes the “On Whiskey” column for Okra Magazine at the Southern Food and Beverage Museum and has written restaurant reviews for New Jersey Monthly.
His first book Apothecary Cocktails, was published in September 2013; and immediately went into a second printing. In 2014, he published Whiskey Cocktails. He was born and raised in Morristown, NJ, on a Biodynamic farm.
Warren Bobrow in this Edition
COCKTAIL WHISPERER, Editor
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Billy Reid: Bourbon, Branch and a Splash of Southern Lore
Blue Hill/Stone Barns: Time Exists in Harmony with Nature
The Cocktail Whisperer asks Anthony Bourdain Four Questions about Scotch
The Five Questions: Andrew Bell, American Sommelier
The Five Questions Catherine Reynolds
The Five Questions: Lincoln Henderson (Master Distiller)
The Five Questions: Natalie West (Foppiano Wines)
The Five Questions: Randall Grahm
The Five Questions: Sustainable Sushi
A Glass of Bourbon, Branch, and History
Midnight in the Bronx: Visit to Hunt’s Point Wholesale Fish Exchange
A Modern Day Absinthe Alchemist
A Summer Cocktail Party for Artie Shaw
Tales of the Cocktail: New Orleans, Louisiana