Looking back at my career as a professional cook and chef, I’ve noticed an undeniable difference in the way food tastes in comparison to organic, it’s astounding; especially fish. Fish doesn’t even taste like fish anymore. I watched a show on Netflix yesterday called, Rotten. Watch the episode, Cod is Dead. In fact, watch them all. Eye-opening to say the least. This will explain to you why more than likely our fish tastes awful and how hard our farmers of all types are so passionate about the food they grow, catch, milk and slaughter. Recently, I dined at a few of my favorite local sushi bars and the texture and taste were notably different; dry and fishy, almost like it's fake. They’ve always had nice fresh and non-fishy sashimi, but the taste just isn’t the same. I also didn’t feel well afterwards. I wasn’t ill, but I definitely felt ‘off’. I’ve been hearing this a lot lately from other people too. I’d stopped eating sushi after the nuclear accident at Fukashima, Japan in March of 2011. I was eating way too much of it anyway so it was a good reason to quit and I was surprised how much better I felt too.
My favorite sushi, hand rolls and sashimi were the fatty belly cuts, which carry very high amounts of fat, (which I love), mercury and radiation. Some of these tunas are 600 to 1,200 pounds. The largest one ever caught on record was in 2016 at a whopping 1,496 pounds! I saw a thousand- pound whole Blue Fin tuna at one of my favorite sushi bars in Encino, California being broken down right in front of me on the sushi bar. That fish costs them at the time around $25,000.00 dollars, mind blowing really. Today, he could have gotten 1.2 million dollars and if he went to auction in Tokyo, he could have easily sold it for 2 million dollars.
There are many species of tuna but the most popular and common ones found in sushi bars are southern blue fin, albacore, yellowfin, big eye (best belly ever), Atlantic blue fin, skipjack and black fin tuna. So now let’s ask why are some fish sushi grade and the others aren’t? Although stores use the label "sushi grade fish," there are no official standards for using this label. The only regulation is that parasitic fish such as salmon, should be frozen to 85 degrees below zero at sea, or FOS, to kill any parasites before being consumed raw. The best ones are assigned Grade 1, which is usually what will be sold as sushi grade in restaurants, or at least should be, but sadly this isn’t always the case. Nobu and a handful of other sushi bars in Los Angeles obviously serve the highest quality Grade 1 tuna and other fishes, making the sashimi very expensive but very tasty. But, since our oceans are rather polluted and that nuclear accident in Fukashima happened, does it matter if it’s sushi grade or not, or if it’s FOS at 85 degrees below zero? I doubt it highly, which really bums me out.
Sushi bars were around when I mentored under Wolfgang Puck in 1979, the famous Hollywood Eatery, Ma Maison, but not like there is today. It seems like there’s a sushi bar on every block in Los Angeles. But, in 1987, the first epic sushi bar opened by the highly acclaimed chef, Nobu Matsuhisa, called Matsuhisa. His restaurant had incomparable quality of raw fish and incredible cooked dishes. It was a game changer for the sushi bar industry, and with extraordinary food when our oceans were pristine. So many opened up after that and of course Nobu has gone on to open 40 locations around the world. I think that’s pretty amazing, but it also means lots of fish are being caught, forcing us to farm all types of fish and seafoods. But, it doesn’t seem like people are too concerned about the radiation and mercury in raw and cooked fish, and they also don’t care about the parasites that dwell inside their stomach from eating it either.
From a chef’s point of view, it’s sort of a responsibility thing. I don’t push sushi or sashimi on my clients anymore unless they insist on having it on the menu. I wonder if any Japanese chefs gave up their business because the fish isn’t really fit to consume? I doubt it and I don’t blame them at all. It’s a tough place to be. I couldn’t give up my sushi bar because of it either, but I have to admit I would be more conscientious about how I source my fish. I remember when I was the chef of Bambu, Malibu, we had a sushi bar in it as well as my kitchen and people lost their minds over our sushi! This was also when Chilean Sea Bass was the fish to eat. I had a dish on the menu that was a seared miso marinated Chilean sea bass on chopped grilled vegetable salsa, beer battered onion ring on top and balsamic syrup. It was my top selling item. We sold at least 150 -300 pounds a week and mostly on Friday’s and Saturdays, and so did the rest of the country, if not the world. Do the math on that! The outcome? They are practically extinct which a total bummer.
I love sushi, but should we still consume it anymore? I don’t know the answer to that, but it seems we still are and full steam ahead too. Only time will tell of the long - term effects of eating sushi several times a week will be, heck I used to eat it four to five times a week! I hope it’s not as bad as it seems.