Chef Allen Susser: A Q&A on Flavors of Fort Lauderdale, GMOs, and Robot Fish

Categories: Interviews

Which chefs?

José Andrés, Rick Moonen, Jeffrey Buben, Michel Richard, Larry Forgione: a lot of big name chefs. They were the leaders of the pack. We're on second and third generation chefs now.

We hear a lot of negative press on aquaculture. Which fish farms are doing it well?

A company that started probably 7 or 8 years ago, growing sturgeon, and sturgeon yields caviar. That's also something totally endangered, the sturgeons of the world. That came under CITES--international trade organization that banned the catch of beluga sturgeon. With the break up of the soviet union, all of a sudden, all of the countries surrounding the Caspian sea and the Black sea where all of those caviar and sturgeons families come from had a black market hey day. Practically wiped out the species. I've seen this go on. Now most of the caviar we get is farm-raised. Farms in California, China, Uruguay, Central America. There are farms in Florida raising fish sustainably, responsibly--raising caviar, raising cobia. Cobia is a beautiful fish that does very well in captivity, as long as they aren't overcrowding them. Tilapia, a flavorless fish, which I'm not a fan of that probably most people extent of farm-raised except for the salmon. They got way over their head with the salmon and killed the market for a long time--it still is a problem. The difference between $3 fish and $11 or 12 if not more for wild salmon. There are good examples and bad examples out there.

One more question, for now, are you feeling concerned about any other food related issues?

Yeah, we're still not convinced about genetically modified fruits and vegetables. Don't ask me why we're not, but we don't have as much money as some of those bigger corporations. They put more money where it's needed in order to throw their weight around. Genetically modified foods I just don't get. I think, like 90%, of the corn being grown has been genetically modified by now. It goes into processed food, cattle feed--although there is some grass-fed out there--feed for pork and other animals, feed for fish, gas production with ethanol. Do we really know what the long term effect of this is? The thing is you lose the more flavorful varieties, because the idea is to grow heartier elements. Meanwhile, it's sort of like making robot food. You're controlling too much. There're things that are meant to be in nature and you shouldn't touch it. That's why we like heirloom tomatoes. That's why we like varieties of fish. Say you come up with a robot fish that can feed everybody, but then you have one fish. Why cook? Why eat? I have trouble with that still. That's why we're going back to the small farmers--the local--even more so than organic. Organic is strong, but local is almost more important; because local farmers are keeping the economy close to the source. They are not going to be using as much chemical--even if they are using some. They won't be using as much free-flowing chemicals as the monster corporations. Organic from California or Europe sounds good, but carbon footprint-wise, I don't see the benefit.

Okay, you brought up another point. Do you think California's Prop. 37 is going to pass? You know the bill requiring mandatory labeling.

California is strange. You would think they would be advanced enough to watch out for their people. Politics today. I don't know where people's heads are at. I think what happens just like here in FL, we have like seven or nine amendments to our constitution this year. A--who cares? Most people should care. We don't. We don't have time to care. Meanwhile, the constitution is going to change one way or another and it's kind of ridiculous, because all we're hearing about is the fight for president There are a couple people bringing it up, I'm not saying nobody, and I'm guilty as anybody. It's weird. Thing is you can't do everything everywhere. You can try to get involved, but there's limits to what we can be involved in. And that's the good and the bad of it. There's not one clear direction that everyone wants to go and there shouldn't be. That's why diversity is great. There're different things that are important to different people. I do think that we get the wool pulled over our eyes way too often. Why didn't we allow it until it was tested? They didn't test it well before it was released. Someone had their hand in the till real early to allow that into our farm bills ten, twenty years ago.

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