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Jimmy Schmidt

picJimmy Schmidt is the chef and owner of the Rattlesnake Club in Detroit and Palm Springs, specializing in sustainable and organic foods and serving contemporary American cuisine since 1988. Schmidt, a native Midwesterner, says that using locally produced foods is the secret to his recipes. He is also the author of several cookbooks and a nationally syndicated column.

What is your favorite seafood to eat?

What is your favorite seafood to prepare at the restaurant?
Probably the same. One dish that’s on the menu now that’s quite popular is seared sea scallops served on a lemon risotto, topped with a lobster salsa.

What’s the most popular seafood dish on your menu?
Salmon usually leads in sales, followed closely by tuna.

How did you get interested in the issue of sustainable seafood?
I’ve been interested in sustainability, both land- and water-based, for many years. I was the founder of Chef's Collaborative in 2000. I had been watching what was going on with pesticides and pollution and it seemed to me that as a chef, I had a duty to make other chefs and our customers aware of environmental issues.

In the 20th century—for the first time in the history of mankind—there were some pretty dramatic changes in food: how it was produced, how it was fished, and the environments that it was raised in. And although most people looked at food as being wholesome, pure, and ever bountiful, exactly the opposite was true. We need to be more aware that our food choices definitely impact the planet.

Specifically, how important is salmon to you? And when did you first begin serving salmon?
We’ve been serving salmon since we opened 14 years ago and it has become very popular. We used to follow the wild salmon season more closely, such as the Nova Scotia run in the spring and the West Coast run. But then it became more industrialized. However, now I think we’re beginning to get a better balance between the wild and farmed salmon; we’re not overfishing the wild salmon and are better managing the farmed salmon.

How would you describe your philosophy on ocean conservation?
My philosophy is to sustain the current fish population and biodiversity through choosing fish for my customers that can be harvested in a manner that is beneficial to the environment. And obviously I’m more in tune with what’s going on and what’s available in the fishing world; thus I can present those issues to my customers and they can vote with their fork.

How has your philosophy changed what fish you serve at the restaurant?
Over the years, different species of fish have been overfished or affected by some other mostly man-made disaster. We have not served fish that has been overfished or caught before reaching maturity.

Have your diners noticed?
I think that they’re more open to trying different fish. And once they’re given the information, the choice is natural. They’re not going to sit there and say “I’m going to have swordfish every single day until the last fish is gone.” It’s pretty much an educational issue; given the information, they choose accordingly.

Do you feel it limits what you can offer?
No. Because there’s lots of things that you can do with the fish that are available. I never find it limiting. It’s no different than trying to get wild blueberries in the middle of winter; you’re just not going to get them.

Have your seafood purveyors worked with you on getting sustainably caught seafood?
They’re getting better and better. It’s a continuously improving process. Once again, I think it’s an overall educational issue. As more chefs become aware of the issues, they can make certain decisions about purchasing fish that affect the overall demand. And as the demand for the fish drops, then the supply drops. The purveyors are after what’s going to bring in the bucks. So although it’s almost a completely economical way to force the issue, the consumer can still directly affect it.

Why do you support Seafood Choices Alliance?
Because I think that it’s an important organization and philosophy that coordinates sustainable fishing issues. It allows us as chefs to take part in the issues, to get the information, and then act accordingly. Because although we try to get the information ourselves, it comes from multiple sources. That was the purpose of Chef’s Collaborative, to address these common issues with chefs across a number of fronts, but I felt we were too small of an organization to have the knowledge to know all about seafood and farming and everything else. Through Seafood Choices, we can act together to find out about the issues and then act accordingly.

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