|A Champion for Sustainable Seafood, Without a Doubt: Rick Moonen
by JJ Proville photos by Antoinette Bruno
Hailing from Queens, New York, Rick Moonen is a veteran chef of the American culinary scene whose passion for seafood has fueled a career-long drive to defend the depleting supplies of fish in the world’s oceans. His latest effort is a most brazen enterprise: to bring the sustainable seafood concept to the landlocked desert town of Las Vegas, Nevada.
Moonen fell into the world of environmental advocacy almost by accident. When Moonen was executive chef at the Water Club in New York City, an impromptu radio appearance on the subject of genetically modified foods won him national attention. From that point on, people began to consider him as an environmental chef-spokesperson – an association that he embraced.
From 1994 to 2005, Moonen earned a cache of stars from the New York Times for his work at Oceana, Molyvos, and rm (New York). Then he was made an offer he couldn’t refuse: an 18,000 square foot restaurant that would bear his name and adhere to his sustainable seafood philosophy. The unlikely and not exactly sustainable-minded Las Vegas location presented a challenge he couldn’t resist. With rm Seafood, Moonen put together a business model that blends an eco-conscious approach with Vegas-style dining that handles both the casual and fine dining crowds.
How does he pull it off? Moonen has several principles. He sources exclusively from suppliers who fully disclose information about their products and fishing methods. He requires his staff at rm Seafood to view instructional DVDs from the Monterey Bay Seafood Aquarium and learn sustainable seafood fact cards by heart. He also stresses the importance of sharing information with fellow chefs about purveyors, seasonality, and techniques as much as possible.
Another of Moonen’s central tenets is to have a diversified menu. He insists that chefs need to give up the standard formula of tuna, shrimp and salmon, and opt for sustainable alternatives. For Moonen, it’s a chef’s duty to sensitize their diners to the fact that there can be excellent substitutes to the usual unsustainable suspects. “If you need your salmon, try some arctic char” Moonen urges. And, if you ask him, it’s not a choice– “it’s do or die”.
In 2008, Moonen published Fish Without A Doubt, which took First Choice in Gourmet Magazine’s cookbook club. While the book is sensitive to consumers’ home cooking needs, it is also intended to serve as inspiration for chefs to make sustainable choices.
According to Moonen, environmental sustainability begins with restaurant chefs’ choices, and as weathered as this seadog may be, he remains a prime example to follow. And, as he puts it: “the bottom line is, it’s all in our hands.”
3930 Las Vegas Blvd S
Las Vegas, NV 89119