Making Sustainable Sushi Deliciously Uncomplicated
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Walk into your local grocery store and you’ll find it in the seafood section: fresh (well, hopefully fresh) sushi. Deviating from its reputation as an exotic delicacy over the years, sushi has graduated from just another food fad to an American institution. By 2016, the sushi industry brings in over $2 billion in revenue in the United States alone.
“Sushi is not a fad,” says Abe Ng, who founded the Sushi Maki chain of restaurants in 2000. “A generation ago, guys and gals my age used to consider Sushi ‘Japanese food.’ But I really do think over next couple of years, it’s going to be considered everyday American food.”
A company that prides themselves on their motto of “delicious fishes, positive vibes and healthier lives,” Sushi Maki serves organic sushi made from sustainably sourced fish. So what inspired CEO Ng to focus on responsibly sourced, domestic fish, and why aren’t more Florida restaurants doing the same thing?
“It comes down to maybe a lack of awareness, a lack of availability,” Ng explains. “We’re at a size right now where we still have to depend on distributors, but as we get bigger and we have more scale, we can really demand from our distributors that they provide some more local options…that’s absolutely something that I believe deeply in.”
When it comes to perfecting the sushi bar prototype, restaurateurs like Ng are on a roll (pun intended). Ng has made it his mission to “demystify” sushi for the masses, an endeavor that has proved successful thanks in part to Sushi Maki’s partnership with Whole Foods Market. Currently, Sushi Maki is available in Whole Foods stores in Davie, Coral Gables, downtown Miami and Pinecrest.
At a time when 91 percent of seafood consumed in the United States is imported from other countries, the push towards eating locally and sustainably has increased in recent years. In order to make sustainable seafood affordable and accessible, innovators like Ng are gaining a following now more than ever.
According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), a significant portion of imported seafood is caught by American fishermen, exported overseas for processing, and then reimported to the U.S. That doesn’t make a whole lot of sense, does it? This is because America is currently experiencing what is known as a ‘seafood deficit.’
Americans eat about 15.5 pounds of seafood per year per capita. While this is the biggest leap in seafood consumption for Americans in the past 20 years, it’s still half of the global average. While the data shows that Americans are certainly eating more seafood, we’re still importing seafood from other countries that is low quality, despite the fact that the good stuff is right here in our own backyard, or canal (but more on that later).
This raises the question: when it comes to sushi, what are we really putting into our mouths? Where did that delicious salmon come from, or better yet, is it even salmon at all? Convinced that there must be a way for Americans to get their sushi fix without having to worry about where it came from, Ng is very open about how his sushi is made, and how other restaurants can follow their lead.
“It’s definitely in my blood, the restaurant business,” says Ng, a second-generation restaurateur and the child of immigrants. Ng’s family immigrated to New York City from Hong Kong, eventually settling in the Miami Beach area.
Ng took his passion for food and decided to start a restaurant chain that served healthy, sustainable sushi, using high-quality ingredients and domestic fish. With locations in South’s Florida east coast, Sushi Maki was the first sushi chain in the United States to earn the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification, sourcing seafood from sustainable fisheries and promoting responsible ecological harvesting habits.
Abe Ng, Founder & CEO of Sushi Maki
Ng insists that their environmental sensibility and desire for high-quality seafood was inspired by working with Whole Foods Market and following their example of how to act responsibly, which included getting MSC certified.
“We basically went through a 9-month process to get certified…and what they do is they bring in third party auditors that come and inspect all your supply chains to make sure you’re not switching seafood, or say you serve one thing and you’re serving something else.”
When most of the seafood eaten in the U.S. is imported from other countries, how can we convince more sushi restaurants to start buying domestic (or better yet, local) seafood?
“I think people in the younger generation…they’re concerned about the food, and they’re very interested in where it comes from, and how the people were treated who either harvested the food or farmed the food…all of this matters to them.”
Ng is right: people are concerned, and not just the younger generation. Some Southwest Floridians have embraced the call to “eat local,” and more and more SWFL restaurants are serving locally-caught fish. Exhibit A: the Mullet.
According to the FWC, Mullet populations are healthy and are considered sustainable enough to fish. Would restaurateurs like Ng ever consider serving SWFL mullet?
“Absolutely,” says Ng. “Things are changing…people are becoming more and more concerned about supporting their local business community.”
While Ng admits that he’s not familiar with the Mullet species, he’s eager to learn more about it and see if there’s a way Sushi Maki could serve it.
“We want to continue to do more with our friends at Whole Foods Market, so absolutely. The company is growing, so finding new seafood that is delicious is at the top of my list.”
Could sushi be the future of bringing sustainable seafood to SWFL? The answer may be yes. So the next time you’re in the Miami area, be sure to stop by Sushi Maki and see what all the fuss is about. Go ahead, bite into that delicious roll and taste that scrumptious MSG-free Kanikama crab, knowing that you're helping to conserve our ocean resources.
If that’s too far of a trip, try to find a SWFL restaurant that uses local species such as Mullet. Voicing your interest such fish will help support the economies and communities that ensure our seafood supply is safe, healthy, and sustainable.
Sushi Maki has locations in Coral Gables, Palmetto Bay, Miami International Airport, Brickell and Kendall Marketplace. You can visit Sushi Maki online at www.sushimaki.com. Follow them online at @gosushimaki on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.
To find out more about mullet, why it matters, and how a healthy future global population may come to rely on this nutritious protein, visit www.taleoftwofish.com.
You can read more about the history of sushi on PBS Food here.