Latest Stories

Kitchen Rescue

Chef advocates sustainable seafood in his New York City restaurants


CHEF RickMoonen

Chef Rick Moonen’s credentials are stellar, the highlights of his career many. He graduated top of the class at the Culinary Institute of America, New York. He was given three stars by The New York Times for his restaurants Oceana, Molyvos (a Greek fish house) and New York City’s rm.

He moved to Vegas and built his multilevel restaurant, Rick Moonen’s rm seafood, at Mandalay Bay, where his offerings are “state-of-the-art sustainable seafood” with a world-class sushi and raw bar.

Chef Moonen is also co-author of the cookbook “Fish Without a Doubt.” His signature recipe, Catfish Sloppy Joe, was highlighted in Esquire’s “Sandwich Encyclopedia,” earning him a guest spot on “The Oprah Winfrey Show” where he served it to the talk-show queen. It ended up earning the title Best Sandwich in America.

On TV, Moonen is known as guest judge on US cable and satellite channel Bravo’s “Top Chef Las Vegas” and a contestant on “Top Chef Masters” and “Top Chef Masters 2.”

He spends the rest of his time traveling to give talks on the importance of ocean conservation and the dangers of over-fishing.


Tireless efforts

Moonen was named “Seafood Champion” by the Seafood Choices Alliance, honored at the International Chefs Conference with The Community Award presented by StarChefs.com, and hailed Chef of the Year by the Monterey Bay Aquarium for his tireless efforts to promote sustainability.

I had an interview with Moonen, thanks to my dear friend and colleague, chef James Antolin, who arranged it.

On Moonen’s advocacy:

“It started with (the international organization) SeaWeb and getting involved in the ‘Give Swordfish a Break’ campaign several years ago. Nora Pouillon (of Restaurant Nora and Asia Nora in Washington, DC) called me, asking to take swordfish off my menu because it had been over-fished.

“I knew that swordfish had become harder to get, that it was smaller and sometimes of lesser quality. So I got involved. I became the spokesperson, and it ended up being a historic campaign that actually forced the government to take action.”

On cooking with a conscience:

“We have such a narrow area of acceptance of the fish that we eat as mass consumers. We basically hone down on cod, tuna, sea bass, salmon and one more fish, depending on where you live. It could be halibut or red snapper or grouper, if you live down in the Gulf area; and if you’re out on the West Coast it could be rock fish.

“There are certain species that are over-fished, yet there are hundreds of thousands of species of fish in the ocean that are untouched.

“If you are a fisherman trying to catch cod and you bring a lot of fish up that are untargeted, you throw them back overboard because there is no market for it. It is a gross waste of biomass, and it’s edible.”

What does sustainability mean to a chef?

“It’s about diversity. Stop eating just tuna, salmon and shrimp. You like salmon? Try farmed Arctic char. [But if] you really want to eat salmon, eat it from a responsibly managed fishery.”

How can regular cooks, housewives cook “responsibly?”

“Use the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch website. Ask your purveyor questions like, ‘Is this line-caught or farm-raised?’ Ask where it’s from. Eat smaller fish, they’re lower on the food chain, and better for the environment and your health.”

Is there a right way of choosing ingredients to support the advocacy?

“Instead of salmon, I would recommend Arctic char. It’s farmed in recirculating systems, so it doesn’t have the environmental impact. And it’s a relative of salmon, more closely related to trout. It’s delicious; I call it salmon light. If you are a red snapper addict—and red snapper is on the red list—go for barramundi, perhaps. Instead of Chilean sea bass, sablefish (black cod) is a great fatty, flaky fish. Alaska has a good conservation system in place, so that it can become the methadone program for Chilean sea bass addicts.”

He ended with something for us to ponder: “If nothing’s done to change the way we’re purchasing, consuming, and removing biomass from the ocean, all commercially available fish will be extinct in the next 35-40 years.”

(Catch chef Rick Moonen for a most interesting cooking demo at 1:30 p.m. Thursday, at the SMX Convention Center, SM Mall of Asia complex, Pasay City.)

I asked Chingling Tanco of Mida Food Distributors for a local list of sustainable fish: “Sustainable would be anything aqua-cultured—bangus, tilapia, apahap, pampano, yellow wax pomfret, mangagat, hito. Semi-sustainable—danggit and samaral. Not sustainable are galunggong, alumahan, matang baka, talakitok, tuna, bariles, tamban, tawilis, maya-maya, wild-caught lapu-lapu, betilya, emperor, loro, blue marlin, espada, wild-caught pampano.”

Moonen gifted us with a recipe:

Whole ‘branzino’ with ‘charmoula’ on the grill

2 whole branzino (European sea bass), 2 lbs each, scaled and gutted, gills and fins removed. Trim tails with scissors.

Make several shallow cuts through the skin on both sides of the fish.

Slather liberally with the charmoula, stuffing the rest in the cavity.

Marinate in the refrigerator for five to eight hours.

Prepare grill and set the grate 4 inches above the fire. Make sure it is very hot.

Brush a fish basket with oil and pack the fish into it.

Grill fish for five minutes on each side.

Insert a thin knife or a metal skewer into the thickest part of the fish and leave it for 30 seconds or so.

Let the fish rest for 10 minutes before you fillet and serve it.

Charmoula is a Moroccan spice paste, terrific for flavoring a whole grilled fish.

To make:

5 garlic cloves, cut in half

2 tbsp fresh lemon juice

2 heaping tsp paprika

1 tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground

1 ½ c fresh cilantro, coarsely chopped

½ c fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped

¼ c olive oil

In a food processor drop the garlic on the feed tube.

Scrape down the sides, add the lemon juice, paprika and cumin.

Pulse a few times to combine.

Add herbs.

Pulse to make a coarse puree.

Scrape the bowl.

Turn the processor on and pour the oil in a steady stream.

(Acceptable local substitute to little black sea bass, mackerel or barramundi is apahap.)

Recipe is from “Fish Without A Doubt” by Rick Moonen and Roy Finamore.

Follow Us

Follow us on Facebook Follow on Twitter Follow on Twitter

Recent Stories:

Complete stories on our Digital Edition newsstand for tablets, netbooks and mobile phones; 14-issue free trial. About to step out? Get breaking alerts on your mobile.phone. Text ON INQ BREAKING to 4467, for Globe, Smart and Sun subscribers in the Philippines.

Tags: Food , Mandalay Bay , New York City , raw bar , Rick Moonen , Seafood , Seafood Choices Alliance , sushi

Copyright © 2014, .
To subscribe to the Philippine Daily Inquirer newspaper in the Philippines, call +63 2 896-6000 for Metro Manila and Metro Cebu or email your subscription request here.
Factual errors? Contact the Philippine Daily Inquirer's day desk. Believe this article violates journalistic ethics? Contact the Inquirer's Reader's Advocate. Or write The Readers' Advocate:
c/o Philippine Daily Inquirer Chino Roces Avenue corner Yague and Mascardo Streets, Makati City, Metro Manila, Philippines Or fax nos. +63 2 8974793 to 94
  1. How to enjoy Buntod
  2. Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  3. Life lessons I want to teach my son
  4. No tourist draw, Malang the croc will remain wild
  5. ‘Wild West’ Masbate’s pristine marine gems
  6. The best flavors of summer in one bite, and more
  7. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  8. Homemade yogurt, bread blended with pizza, even ramen
  9. What has happened to Barrio Fiesta and Singing Cooks & Waiters?
  10. Haneda International Airport: A destination on its own
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. How to enjoy Buntod
  3. Historic Fort Bonifacio tunnel converted into a septic tank
  4. How Margie Moran-Floirendo keeps her dancer’s body
  5. Are your favorite malls open this Holy Week break?
  6. Miss America: Don’t suspend teen over prom invite
  7. ‘Wild West’ Masbate’s pristine marine gems
  8. Kim Atienza: At home with art and design
  9. ‘Labahita a la bacalao’
  10. Life lessons I want to teach my son
  1. How Zsa Zsa Padilla found Conrad Onglao; Sharon Cuneta played Cupid
  2. Mary Jean Lastimosa is new Miss Universe Philippines
  3. Did Angara ruin Pia Wurtzbach’s chances at Bb. Pilipinas?
  4. Dominique–Gretchen and Tonyboy Cojuangco’s daughter–now an endorser
  5. Vinegar test helpful vs cervical cancer
  6. From Jeannie to mom of suicide victim
  7. San Vicente beaches hidden but not for long
  8. Borgy and Georgina are back; others are off–again
  9. Why is the lifestyle set now afraid to wear jewelry–before Kim Henares?
  10. Sen. Angara: I thought Pia Wurtzbach gave a good answer


  • Smooth Edsa ride up in 2 years, but…
  • Obama: US will defend Japan vs China
  • Santiago accuses Lacson of fronting for Enrile, Gigi Reyes
  • Name names, Lacson told
  • Ukraine FM: We are ready to fight Russia
  • Sports

  • Sharapova advances to Stuttgart quarterfinals
  • Galedo caps ride of redemption
  • Beermen, Express dispute second semis slot today
  • Lady Agilas upset Lady Bulldogs in four sets
  • NLEX roars to 7th D-League win
  • Lifestyle

  • Marinduque: Visiting the ‘palm of the ocean’
  • First at Vatican in 60 years
  • How Jing Monis Salon gave Krissy the pixie
  • Want to be a supermodel? Work on your inner beauty, says Joey Espino
  • Denims that keep you cool–literally
  • Entertainment

  • Kristoffer Martin: from thug to gay teen
  • Has Ai Ai fallen deeply with ‘sireno?’
  • California court won’t review Jackson doctor case
  • Cris Villonco on play adapted from different medium
  • OMB exec’s assurance: We work 24/7
  • Business

  • Nielsen sees car buying boom in the Philippines
  • How author of best-seller exposed ‘one percent’ economic elite
  • Bangko Sentral readies new bank lending rules
  • Gaming stocks gain, PSEi eases on profit-taking
  • Cebu Pacific flew 3.74M passengers as of March
  • Technology

  • Vatican announces hashtag for April 27 canonizations
  • Enrile in Masters of the Universe, Lord of the Rings?
  • Top Traits of Digital Marketers
  • No truth to viral no-visa ‘chronicles’
  • ‘Unlimited’ Internet promos not really limitless; lawmakers call for probe
  • Opinion

  • Editorial Cartoon, April 25, 2014
  • No deal, Janet
  • Like making Al Capone a witness vs his gang
  • MERS-CoV and mothers
  • A graduation story
  • Global Nation

  • HK victims to get P115M; traders raised money
  • Afghan hospital guard kills 3 American doctors
  • Career diplomat is new PH consul general in Los Angeles
  • US4GG: Aquino should ask Obama for TPS approval, drone technology
  • Complex health care system for California’s elderly and poor explained