A few weeks ago, YouCook posted a recipe for Spicy Spot Prawn Mayo from Red Fish Blue Fish in Victoria, BC. We had a chance to sit down with Kunal Ghose, co-owner/chef of Red Fish Blue Fish and creator of the popular tacones. We talked about the success of Red Fish Blue Fish and the importance of sustainability.
The Scoop on Red Fish Blue Fish
How did Red Fish Blue Fish get started?
My business partner Simon Sobolewski heard that the Victoria Harbour Authority wanted to put something in that space that we’re in. We put in a bid and from then on it took two years for us to get in there.
Has Red Fish Blue Fish always been Ocean Wise?
From the beginning, we decided we wanted to be 100% Ocean Wise and as green as possible. It was hard to swallow all the garbage we were creating and things not being Ocean Wise.
We both have kids and we want fish to be around and the oceans to be healthy for generations to come. Using fish that is troll caught in Russian waters, destroying the oceans and the carbon imprint of shipping it over here just because it’s cheaper is not the way to go. I think there should be a law against them even being able to get that here in BC. We have such great fisheries here. There is no reason not to use anything local.
Where did the tacone come from?
Gord Martin one of the owners of Go Fish went on a cooking show making fish tacos on City Cooks and we had a huge rush of people coming down asking for fish tacos. We had wanted to put fish tacos on the menu for a long time. In the end, I just tried to utilize the food we already had at Go Fish and I came up with it in about 5 minutes. It was pretty amazing. First one I made and it was like…this is it. Vancouver Magazine put it on their 101 things to eat and drink in Vancouver 2008.
Who are your food suppliers?
I try and find the best ingredient from the best person…hopefully at the best price. I mix and match and try to share the wealth. We have buying power since we’ve been around for 3 years now so we shop our needs around to different places. I have my own tuna fisherman and I get Qualicum Bay scallops and fanny bay oysters from up island. Local local local! I also use Finest at Sea and make a Red Fish Blue Fish fish stock for them to sell. Sysco and Gordon Food Services are our suppliers for paper products and drinks.
YouCook really likes that Red Fish Blue Fish uses products that are compostable.
We’re fortunate to have reFUSE, which is a composting company here on the island. We’re able to create just one bag of garbage a week of soft plastics and things like that. We pay more to have wooden cutlery that people can throw in the compost , but if we were using plastics, people might throw it in the green bin if they don’t read the signs. Now they CAN toss everything into the same bin. We pay more.. believe me, we pay more, but it’s so much more worth it. At the end of the day I can sleep well at night.
People don’t create any garbage when they eat here and I think that’s one of the reasons why we’re doing so well. People in Victoria were crying out for a place like this. There are a lot of conscious people in the city and there weren’t that many places they could go to feel good about what they’re eating and what they’re eating on. There are some serious issues going on in the world and there are a lot of Victorians that care a lot.
The Scoop on Kunal Ghose
When did you become interested in cooking?
I just always enjoyed cooking and have been cooking since I was 13. I’ll be 38 in a couple weeks so it’s been 25 years. I was working in a restaurant when I was 13 and then managing a Cactus Club when I was 19. That was my last sort of corporate job and, from then on, I did smaller sole proprietorships in Vancouver. I was creating menus and doing consulting. I was part-owner of some places around Vancouver, but Red Fish Blue Fish is probably my greatest accomplishment to this day.
What are your influences?
I come from a multi-ethnic background. My dad is East Indian and my mom is Greek, Scottish, Chilean…but we’re always eating lots of food from all over the place… Chinese, Greek, Indian. I just loved eating, that’s basically what it was. I learned from watching my parents, helping in the kitchen and just had a knack for it. I was in charge of a 60-item salad bar when I was 13 back in the 80′s and I just loved it. Now I can say I’ve made a career of it with that many years behind me so I’m pretty lucky.
What do you cook at home?
I just love to, for instance on a Sunday, go to Red Barn Market up in Saanich and it’s so great. I look around and… look at these little baby rutabagas, look at these organic short ribs, look at this… and I fill my basket with stuff. I’ll come home and make something with whatever I find. I like to let the ingredients speak for themselves. I look at it and figure out what I want to do with it. Lately, I’ve been having some pretty cool dinner parties and theme nights like an Indian spread or an Italian feast. I kind of feel a little bit re-inspired because I’ve been cooking fish tacones and fish and chips for quite a few years. I started at Go Fish about a month after they opened and was there until I moved here in July 2007, so that’s about 6 years of fish and chips and tacones. When I get a chance to cook other stuff it’s pretty fun.
What is your favourite kitchen tool?
My knife and chopping board. That’s all I need really and a frying pan and I can do wonders. The knife has to be sharp and nicely balanced between the blade and handle. I’m using one right now from Portugal. It’s a good knife, costs about $60 and it does the job. You need to sharpen and hone your knife. Sharpen it to change the shape of the blade and hone to get rid of the little metal spurs that happen from using the knife. I have a little sharpener that does both and I pretty much use it every time before I start cooking. One swipe on each to keep it nice and sharp.
Do you have any advice for home cooks?
Follow what you enjoy to eat because it comes through in your passion.. If it’s something you’re passionate about, like maybe it has to do with your own ethnicity, it will come through. Try and use as much local product as you possibly can and use a greener approach to running your business, whether it’s a restaurant or anything.
When the Dalai Lama was in town, he did a piece on businesses becoming more green and the pros and cons of it. He used Red Fish Blue Fish as an example. Sure, we pay more for all these eco-friendly features we have, but you see how busy we are and it pays for itself. If restaurants don’t jump on this trend, they’re gonna end up falling behind, especially in a town like Victoria, where people are becoming more and more conscious everyday.
Kunal left us with some resources and books that he recommends for those interested in Red Fish Blue Fish and learning more about the seafood industry.
Books You Should Check Out
I’m writing a book called Green Fish: Tales from Red Fish Blue FIsh. There are going to be recipes from the restaurant, features I’ve done and other recipes I’ve created for projects that never happened. It’s all seafood, vegetarian and all Ocean Wise. It’s in collaboration with Ocean Wise, who will help me publish it when I finish. I have no set date, but I’m hoping to get it out by next spring.
Ocean Wise also has their own book that’s coming out this summer and I have three recipes in it. It’s a collection of recipes from a bunch of local, lower mainland and Vancouver Island chefs. I’ll also have my tuna tacones published in a David Suzuki-sponsored book that’s called A Good Catch. It features chefs from all across Canada featuring Ocean Wise fish.
A really great book to read is called Bottomfeeder by Taras Grescoe. It’s a really easy read and it’s eye-opening. It talks about everything from salmon farms on our coast to tuna fishing to all sorts of travesties that are going on in the world.
Many people don’t realize what’s going on in the fishing industry, especially when so many fish that aren’t sustainable are being offered in grocery stores.
The Monterey Bay Aquarium website has a little card that you can print off and stick in your wallet. Bring it with you to the grocery store and you can check “Oh, do I want that?”. People don’t realize that they shouldn’t eat jumbo tiger prawns, but if they knew what they were pumped full of, they wouldn’t eat it. I haven’t eaten it for 7 years and only eat local spot prawns. The whole prawn industry in SE asia is horrific and is now moving on to South America.
Bottomfeeder is the book to read about all that. All we have to do is stop eating it and the industry will collapse, but it’s too hard… restaurants with super cheap seafood deals is where all the cheap fish goes… and there’s no guideline, who knows how long it will continue.
Kunal’s love of food is clear. His eco-thinking and strong passion for sustainability is really inspiring. Hopefully it will make people stop and think about their buying habits and influence more restaurants to make a change in their own establishments. Thanks for the taking time to chat with us!