Cycling across Canada in ten weeks might not be the Tour de France, but it’s certainly a tour de force. Though Chef Ned Bell plays it off, it shows just how committed he is to his cause: healthy seafood populations in rivers, lakes and oceans worldwide.
If you hadn’t heard about Ned Bell, you were probably about to. Executive Chef at YEW seafood + bar at the Four Seasons Hotel in Vancouver, Ned came up under Rob Feenie and Michael Jacob, working at Le Crocodile before moving up to Sous Chef for the opening of the world-famous Lumiere. Anyone who’s eaten his food knows his credentials are impeccable, and the runaway success of the sustainable seafood-focused Yew (nearly $9 million this year) proves it.
On Canada Day 2014, Ned took his 23 years of cooking experience on the road from Newfoundland to BC with the goal of engaging his peers in the chef community across Canada. “Chefs have a unique opportunity and ability to spread a message through how they feed people,” Ned says. “I feed thousands of people a week, and I like to say if I put something tasty in your belly you’re going to like me, and if you like me you’re probably going to listen to my message.”
The message of Ned’s organization, Chefs for Oceans, is that the way we eat seafood today must change, not only for our own health, but also for the health of the worlds’ oceans and endangered species and for our ability to feed the coming generations. “I have two young sons,” he says “I have to make sure that when I look at them, that they know I did something about the world that I spent my entire life in.”
Two billion people worldwide rely on the ocean for regular meals, but 90% of the world’s oceans are overfished, and many wild species have been nearly or completely destroyed. To reset the balance as best we can and look ahead to feeding future populations, Ned is focused on reducing our reliance on wild fisheries while changing the way we raise seafood as livestock.
We already produce more farmed fish than any other protein worldwide, but as many on the west coast know, farmed fish doesn’t always have a stellar reputation thanks to bargain-basement, high-pollution operations. When governments begin to charge corporations the true price of using their oceans as feedlots, the far more sustainable practice of land-based, closed-containment aquaculture promises to take over and provide a healthy and environmentally-friendly source of protein. And when regular people like us know the issues and go to the grocery store to buy only sustainably produced seafood, the commercial fishing industry will bow to the will of the consumer.
It’s this tipping point that Ned is hoping to reach through the establishment of a National Sustainable Seafood Day on March 18th. “We need to get people to start thinking about it when they go to every grocery store, because at the retail level is where 2/3rds of seafood is purchased in North America,” says Ned. Within the next decade, Ned hopes to make sustainable seafood accessible to every Canadian. “That’s my big hairy audacious goal.”
Last week, Ned visited the Cook Culture store in Victoria for the first of three monthly classes he’s offering on sustainable seafood. I’ve seen my share of kitchens, and great chefs are a sight — but given the scale of a modern hotel operation, great hotel chefs are entirely another.
As I watched Ned expertly command a legion of eager kitchen volunteers over a simmering pot of candied smoked tuna and 20-odd plates of Dungeness crab tacos, I felt reassured knowing the world’s oceans have such a committed crusader on their side. - Sol