Bobby Chinn: Cooking for a good cause
Award-winning chef and restaurateur Bobby Chinn joined the rest of the Coral Triangle region in celebrating Coral Triangle Day on June 9 in Bali by preparing sumptuous dishes and spreading the message about the importance of sustainable seafood for the future.
In Kedonganan village in Jimbaran, where the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) with its partners held a full-day celebration, Chinn visited the kitchens of 24 seafood restaurants located along the coast to talk with the chefs and called on the restaurant managements to be aware of how their suppliers caught the fish.
Born in New Zealand from an Egyptian mother and Chinese father, Chinn spent many years in San Francisco, studied in England and lived in Vietnam for the last 16 years. He received a BA in Finance and Economics, moved to New York City and began working on the floor of the New York Stock Exchange. After a quest for something he loves, he found food very interesting, so he started learning about food in a restaurant in San Francisco.
Below are the excerpts from an interview by Bali Daily’s Desy Nurhayati with Chinn on the sidelines of the Coral Triangle Day celebration in Kedonganan village.
Question: What makes you so passionate about becoming a chef and restaurateur?
Answer: I used to be a banker, but I ended up working as waiter. I was always surrounded by food but never consider taking it up as a profession, and I found the passion and the sense of enjoyment from feeding and entertaining people, so I decided to become a chef, a much more respected job than being a banker.
Why does the issue of sustainable seafood concern you?
I have a very interesting job. Outside my restaurant, I travel all over the world; I cook, I visit markets and chefs, and I see a lot of traditional dishes from all over the world. The majority of our planet is actually seawater, but only some seas are protected and regulated. I’ve seen illegal fishing in many countries.
Whenever I visit countries that have seafronts, I go to the fish market, but I don’t really feel the sense of excitement of seeing fresh products. I feel like I’m visiting a morgue of sea creatures, seeing baby sharks without their fins, seeing tuna illegally caught and seeing swordfish, which is an endangered species.
While the human population grows incredibly, fish are being taken out of the seas faster than they can be replenished, and with highly destructive means. This is why we all need to be more conscious of the seafood on our plates and start asking questions on where they came from and how they were caught.
Someone’s got to do something about it, and the only way we can do it is by changing people’s behavior and habits through education.
How aware are people now about responsible seafood consumption?
No one knows, we just accept it on our plate. We become irresponsible human beings. The fishermen do it to make a living. The cook does it to bring you pleasure. If we don’t start managing this a little better, we’re not going to have much fish left for our children.
Indonesia is enriched with something that it just geographically has. It has a very sophisticated archipelago. It brings tourists from all over the world to come and dive in Indonesian waters, because Indonesia has beautiful corals. If you lose your live coral and you bleach your coral, then you’re destroying the blueprint of life and we can’t manage the ocean, that’s scary.
What do you think about restaurants selling fish from depleted populations?
There’s nothing sexy about endangered species being served on a plate. It’s a problem. They can’t reproduce quick enough to meet our demands. It’s mismanagement. Fish is an important food supply, it’s a protein that we need, but if we don’t treat it right, we’re not going to have any left.
What can you contribute to this joint effort toward sustainable seafood?
On Coral Triangle Day, we celebrate the wonders of the oceans and think what individuals can do to help protect them. As a chef, I would like to do my part by helping raise awareness on the importance of patronizing responsibly caught seafood and the many creative ways to enjoy them. I’m here for a good cause, not only for food, but for our future. We have to be using more sustainable fish. By talking to the people here today, I can share my passion and beliefs, because I don’t think I’m making this stuff up, this is what is really happening, and we’re not doing enough about it, so we got to change our behavior, change our habits to educate people, to know what they can serve. They can start by making a grouper farm, for instance. That’s how it starts.
What’s the best way for restaurants to contribute to sustainable seafood?
Restaurants here can play a big part because they sell so much seafood. Restaurateurs need to realize that their businesses will do better when they know what they should serve, what fish are endangered, because if it runs out, we don’t have much more left. We need to bring awareness on what people seem not to care about now, just because they don’t know. That’s communication, coordination. That’s why we need an organization like WWF. Let’s bring awareness, educate today, start changing our behavior today, and do it together as a coordinated effort with fishermen, suppliers, and with that, consumers become aware. Bali is the best place to do it because it has so many creative minds, and so many tourists