Cooking with Sustainable Seafood: A Q&A with James Beard Award-Winning Chef Ryan Prewitt at Pêche Seafood Grill

9161519600_3a4ccdd891

Without a doubt, Ryan Prewitt, chef and partner at Pêche Seafood Grill in New Orleans, embodies the philosophy of “Healthy oceans, healthy planet,” the theme of World Oceans Day on June 8. Prewitt is conscious about sourcing the restaurant’s seafood sustainably from Gulf of Mexico fisherman. And he has the chops to turn these products into delectable menu items like smothered catfish and curried shrimp bisque, earning him a James Beard Foundation Award for Best Chef: South in 2014. That same year, Pêche was honored as Best New Restaurant. Friendly and energetic over the phone, Chef Prewitt talked to us about the importance of sourcing seafood sustainably and how home cooks can source the best quality fish.

How do you use seafood in your restaurant?

It’s all over the place. We use everything from fin fish to crab to shrimp. If it comes out of the Gulf, we figure out a way to use it. We source about 90 percent out of the Gulf. We go a little bit farther afield for the oysters, primarily the East Coast.

Do you source all the seafood sustainably and why is it important to pursue that avenue?

We work closely with the Audubon Institute, which is establishing fish sustainability programs similar to what the Monterey Bay Aquarium does with Seafood Watch, but particular to the Gulf of Mexico. They go out to the docks and conduct interviews and combine that with government scientific information. If we are watching a fish increase in price steadily over the course of two months, and everyone’s being kind of cagey about why, that’s an indication that something might be going on, and we might want to back off for a number of reasons. In the Gulf, we’re fortunate. The fish stocks that we use are pretty healthy. Things like crab, shrimp, and crawfish are so abundant down here that there’s not even a question of sustainability. The practices in use have been long modified to become as sustainable as possible. It’s really fin fish that are the most complicated.

Where did your philosophy around sustainable seafood come from?

Honestly, it’s continually developing. When we first opened the restaurant, I had a very surface level understanding of what was going on. Since we opened Pêche, I’ve been in a position go to more meetings with the fishing community and to listen more closely to what’s going on in legislative community, Just being more in touch with what’s happening in the Gulf has taught me a lot more, and in turn taught me a lot about what I don’t know. It’s made me realize that it’s a very complex world that I still have a lot to learn about.

Do you have any tips for home cooks in terms of cooking with sustainable seafood?

You have to have a relationship with the person that you’re purchasing from. If you walk into a place and it doesn’t feel right then it’s probably not right. There’s so much fraud in the world of seafood sales, particularly on the retail level, that you really have to have a relationship with somebody in the store, or the seller, to really know that you’re getting what you want. When you ask where something comes from, they should be able to tell you immediately with no hesitation.