Tête à tête with François Pasteau

Last week, we gave tips on how to eat fish in a sustainable way. This week, we asked specialists to provide advice and recipes.

Let's start with the first one - François Pasteau - chef of the restaurant l'Epi Dupin, in the sixth district of Paris. François Pasteau works in collaboration with SeaWeb in order to propose a sustainable cuisine on a daily basis. He explains how overfishing modified his cooking habits and how much still needs to be done in terms of awareness.


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KENZINE: What are the things you check when you buy fish?
François Pasteau: I usually pay attention to three different things. First, I make sure the fish have sustainable stocks. Second, I verify the techniques that are used to catch the fish to make sure that they do not have a negative impact on the environment, especially that they avert unnecessary catch. Third, the size of the species you buy are a crucial issue. You need to be responsible and buy fish that have reached their sexual maturity size.


K: How has overfishing modified your cooking habits over the past 20 years?
F. P.: As soon as I heard about the overfishing of Mediterranean Bluefin tuna, I took it off my menus, even though it was a fish my customers loved. I then realized that a lot of marine species were endangered and I became interested in the issue as I wanted to make sure that I would serve sustainable species to my customers. I also stopped serving other species such as European skate and I started cooking other species that I had not served before but that were sustainable: black sea brim, pollock, mullet…


K: What species of fish would you never buy?
F. P.: I gave up buying and cooking bluefin tuna and skate for instance.

K: Name certain species of fish that are ok to buy.
F. P.: It is ok to buy Atlantic sardines, mackerels, pollock, coalfish…


K: Same question for other types of seafood?
F. P.: You can buy scallops, oysters and mussels.


K: Do you think diversity might be one key to the problem?
F. P.: Diversity is of course an important aspect. We have to eat different species and diversify the kind of fish that the consumers can buy to reduce the pressure on overfished and overeaten species (such as cod). The more diverse the fish consumers eat, the more diverse the species that are fished. That is why our actions as chefs are important, because they can impact the entire industry, in particular as far as the fishermen and the consumers are concerned. We have a pedagogical role to play, as we can make our customers aware of overfishing. We can make them discover less known species by putting them on our menus, so that the next time they go to their fishmonger, they can ask for new species they have sampled and loved after having eaten in our restaurant.

K: Do you consider that overfishing has already damaged French culinary heritage?
F. P.: I don’t think that our cooking traditions and practices have been hampered, quite the opposite actually. Emphasis on overfishing has contributed to having the chefs who felt concerned about sustainability turn to new fish species. Some fish have been discovered or rediscovered. In this respect, our cooking traditions have been broadened since we had to create new recipes for the new species! Yet it is sure that our marine heritage, its diversity and its biological treasures are being damaged. It is urgent to reverse the tendency.


K: What are the classical recipes of French cuisine you cannot cook anymore if you want to advocate sustainable fishing?
F. P.: Certain recipes that are often taught in cooking schools should be avoided, such as skate with capers and brown butter.


K: On a long term perspective, what could be the effects of overfishing on cuisine or gastronomy in France?
F. P.: Overfishing does represent a risk for our gastronomic heritage. Indeed, if we do not protect endangered fish today, they might disappear completely, and that would be a terrible loss since we would not be able to cook recipes that are the treasures of our cooking traditions and practices.

K: Do you feel like the French community of fishermen is concerned by the problem?
F. P.: Fishermen are starting to become aware of the problem, but there is still a lot to be done. Awareness needs to be stronger and habits have to change fast.


K: Same question for the fishmongers?
F. P.: Fishmongers are starting to become aware of the importance of sustainable fishing. They could be more involved if the customers, by refusing to buy fish whose stocks are endangered, would drive them to mainly sell sustainable fish.


K: How do you think you can impact consumers habits at your level, first on your menu and then in your restaurants?
F. P.: I think it is important to raise awareness by communicating on the issue: I tell my customers about the species I have on my menu and those I have taken off it, I have them discover new species that they are not used to eating… I want to see their mouths water! I have them taste species that the public no longer knows about or has forgotten. Ultimately, the goal is to have them feel like doing these recipes at home again and to have them making sustainable individual choices.


K: Do you think that public awareness could be easily educated with food being so popular on tv, on Instagram, blogs, etc.? 
F. P.: Everything would indeed be much easier if the people responsible for these programs and their content would take seafood sustainability seriously. That is not the case unfortunately. The media do however have a huge role to play and they have done so before with other products. Yet it seems to me that the consumers are not enough aware of the problems of overfishing as the topic is not tackled enough in the press. Too many popular shows are still suggesting recipes that use species known as endangered.


Interview done in collaboration with SeaWeb Europe.