When Chef Rick Moonen — known as one of America’s top seafood chefs — arrives in New Orleans to judge chefs competing in the Great American Seafood Cook-Off, it will be like coming home, in a sense.
Moonen, executive chef and owner of Rick Moonen’s RM Seafood at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas and a “Top Chef Masters” alum, came to Louisiana mere months after the BP oil spill to see for himself how the fish and marine life were rebounding.
What he saw convinced him that Americans needed to stop wavering over Gulf seafood’s safety, and start eating it. And he began speaking out.
“I’m even more vocal now,” Moonen says.
“I tell people that in the Gulf, you have traceability — meaning you know exactly where your fish is coming from — sustainability, monitoring and safety testing. What more could you want? We can’t turn our backs on the Gulf now.”
What he calls is “mission, his core belief” is that in order for the ocean to continue to feed us, we need to only eat sustainably harvested fish from certified sources. As a chef, he says, he can’t always trust that a fish labeled “red snapper” is actually red snapper. So he supports programs such as Gulf Wild, which tracks a fish from the moment it’s caught, so buyers know it’s safe and sustainably harvested.
That sense of mission is why he plans to promote Gulf seafood at his Las Vegas restaurant. And it’s the reason Moonen said “yes” when Chef John Folse, who is one of the Great American Seafood Cook-off’s masters of ceremony, asked him to be a judge for this year’s cook-off.
“The spirit of this competition,” says Moonen, “is that it highlights using domestic, sustainable seafood — that’s what we all have to do. And the Gulf of Mexico is the most perfect, fertile place for harvesting fish.”
Indeed, as the contest challenges leading chefs to strut their skills, it underscores an important message, says Ewell Smith, executive producer of the cook-off and executive director of the Louisiana Seafood Promotion and Marketing Board: “Cook with domestic seafood at home and ask for domestic seafood when dining out.”
The Great American Seafood Cook-Off is held Saturday, August 6, in New Orleans. More information is available at http://www.GreatAmericanSeafoodCookoff.com.