In Veggies & Fish (Experiment, Oct.), chef Bart van Olphen focuses on plant- and fish-forward recipes that promote better health and sustainable oceans.
How did you come up with the pairings in the book?
As a chef in Paris, I created meals according to traditional gastronomy, meaning I would choose the meat, pick the sauce, and then decide on the sides almost as an afterthought. I decided to turn things around and create dishes starting from the veggie side, with smaller portions of fish, because it’s better for health and for the planet. An added benefit is that fish and vegetables take roughly the same amount of time to cook, and taste so good together, so we can take care of the oceans, indulge in seasonal vegetables, and cook and eat for health in a very short amount of time. I also aim to show that cooking fish is actually very easy and can be done in only a few steps.
Could you tell me more about sustainable fishing and how you became such a strong advocate for it?
When I opened my first fishmonger store in Amsterdam, a customer came in and told me that much of what I was selling was from non-sustainable sources. So I started learning about where fish came from and how it was processed, and then I removed all of the non-sustainable fish from my offerings. I had little left. This motivated me to travel around the globe. I learned that in some regions of the world, such as Alaska, they do a great job with sustainable fishing and protecting the ocean, but in other regions, such as Asia—which has the highest consumption of seafood globally—sustainable fishing just isn’t happening. We as consumers have the greatest power here because we control demand, and if we only consume sustainable seafood, the market will respond.
You’re also a connoisseur of tinned fish. In fact, you even wrote a cookbook about it. Why is this a good option?
I believe that chefs and cookbook authors have a responsibility to inspire people to make informed choices. They need to educate, and tinned fish has so many advantages. It’s affordable, readily available, lasts for a long time on a pantry shelf, and is already cooked so it’s very quick to use. All tinned fish is oily fish, so it’s healthy, and combined with fresh elements, you can produce amazing dishes. It’s also very easy to make sustainable and fair-trade choices when buying tinned fish because the cans are labeled.