It is a frightening concept to mess with success. The old adage, “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” is alive and well in our modern economy, and the seafood industry is no exception. Many seafood purveyors, when confronted with pressure to change their ways, can be resistant – especially if they see success and growth in their businesses. Why change, if the status quo seems just fine?
The fact is, however, that all is not well. There are a plethora of rocks and growlers lurking in the murky waters of the seafood industry: overfishing, habitat destruction, IUU fleets, and more. Still, it’s not common that a business owner is able to see all of these obstacles clearly… especially if ones perspective is obscured by the constant back-and-forth of a ringing cash drawer.
Chef Hajime Sato, however, is different.
A tiny revolution
Mashiko restaurant has been operating in Seattle for fifteen years, and it is by no means an unsuccessful operation. Chef Sato has a line out the door nearly every night, and unless you arrive just as the restaurant opens, it’s almost certain that you’ll be waiting for a table. By all standards and appearances, this is a prospering business. And frankly, Chef Sato had all this to lose when, in August of 2009, he took his entire business model and turned it upside-down.
Mashiko is the first sushi restaurant in the world that has transitioned from a conventional operation to a sustainable one. With only minimal help from myself and the other players in the movement, Sato turned his restaurant into a sustainable operation. He bid good riddance to his bluefin, hamachi, eel, monkfish, and other unsustainable items. These days, he directs his efforts towards innovation, education, and the identification of local and sustainable options.
Moreover, Chef Sato is the first traditionally-trained Japanese sushi chef to embrace the sustainable sushi movement. In his words, however, he is simply returning to the basic principles that gave rise to sushi over a hundred years ago: utilization of local and seasonal products, reverence for life, and interpretation of the bounty of the oceans in a respectful and reverent manner.
In the last few months, Mashiko has achieved a much greater degree of exposure than ever before. Interviews with Chef Sato have run on any number of popular food blogs; he received a glowing review of his operation from the Seattle Times and has appeared on the Food Network’s Extreme Cuisine with Jeff Corwin, where he discussed innovation in sushi, local seafood sourcing, and the amazing bounty of Puget Sound.
Through his bravery in challenging the conventional model, his determination to hold ethics and ocean conservation over the maximization of profit, and his contribution to the nascent sustainable sushi movement as well as the overall awareness of the consumer public in the Pacific Northwest, Chef Hajime Sato has brought a new spark to the sustainable sushi movement.
Good to have you on board, buddy.
A quick shout-out to all the journos and bloggers that have been covering the sustainable sushi issue in the past couple of months:
Massive gratitude to Allison and Son of Sushi Day for a trio of pieces covering the Mashiko launch in August (an overview of the event, an interview with Chef Hajime Sato, and an interview with me.) Thank you so much for your incredibly supportive and generous sentiments.
Patrick Robinson of the West Seattle Herald did a nice write-up of Eat Local Now!, a extremely well-attended Seattle event that included Chef Hajime of Mashiko and other local entrepreneurs.
Hajime was also recently featured on the Food Network’s Extreme Cuisine with Jeff Corwin, where he lovingly prepared a local Puget Sound delicacy — sea cucumber — for a squeamish host. I don’t yet have a link to a video clip, but will put one up as soon as I am able.
There’s little out there that excites me as much as the Japanese media’s growing interest in the sustainable sushi movement, and Dani Rippingale of the Tokyo Weekender has kick-started it with her excellent piece on the modern sushi industry and our dwindling resources.
Check out Peter Smith’s excellent article for the GOOD Blog highlighting ten people, projects, and ideas that are making a difference in the world of food — sustainable sushi is number one! Thanks Peter!
A heartfelt thank-you goes out to Bryan Walsh for including the founders of Tataki Sushi and Sake Bar (Kin Lui, Raymond Ho, and myself) in Time Magazine‘s Heroes of the Environment 2009. We are humbled and flattered beyond words.
The Chic Ecologist had a nice shout-out to sustainable sushi, especially to the work being done by the Monterey Bay Aquarium and their Seafood Watch program.
Chris Mikesell of the University of Hawaii has jumped into the sustainable sushi world head-first in his thorough investigation of sushi and tuna awareness in Hawaii. Great work.
Immediately after learning of the Time Magazine award, I was interviewed mid-gush by Jacqueline Church of the Leather District Gourmet, who was her usual wonderful self. Thanks Jackie for believing in us from the very beginning.
On the same note, one my my personal heroes, Eddie Kohan of Obamafoodorama threw us kudos as well in a congratulatory follow-up piece on her consistently poignant muck-raking website.
Fist-bumps to the newly bluefin-free Jane Black of the Washington Post for her insightful and provocative piece on sustainable sushi for Hemispheres, United Airlines’ in-flight magazine. Interviewees include Bamboo Sushi’s Brandon Hill and the lobster sex god Trevor Corson. I got a couple of words in as well. Best part is: I’m going to be flying on United in about a week, and I finally have a reason to be excited about getting on a plane.
The good people at the UTNE Reader picked up John Birdsall’s article on sustainable sushi (originally for Edible San Francisco) — they even gave it a byline on the cover of their 25 anniversary issue! UTNE’s Julie Hanus wrote an excellent supporting piece as well, with some great accolades for both Tataki and the Monterey Bay Aquarium. Thanks!
Did I miss anyone? Do you know of a journalist or blogger that’s interested in this topic? Maybe a chef who’s pushing sustainable seafood on his or her menu? A sushi bar or grocery store that’s considering making the switch? Please let me know!
It’s wonderful to see all the ground that the sustainable sushi movement is gaining in the conventional media, the blogosphere, and in popular culture. Hopefully this will lead to more entrepreneurs, chefs, and business owners taking the plunge.