In association with Freshcatch
We caught up with founder Graham Ritchie to hear about his ambitious plan to help change the way Kiwis get - and eat - seafood and how he roped award-winning chef Al Brown in to help.
NOTED: Why did you launch Freshcatch?
Graham Ritchie: We [Graham, along with his partner and daughter] returned back to New Zealand after three years up in New England in the US. New England is one of America’s original food bowls; it’s a place where they've been eating farm-to-table before farm-to-table became a buzzword.
What we found was that the connection to where our food was coming from and the freshness of it became a really big part of our eating experience. You got to know the people milking the cows, making the cheese, catching the fish, picking the apples. As a foodie, that really added to our food experience.
We arrived back to New Zealand and found that the food scene had grown dramatically in the three years we’d been away, in terms of restaurants and cafes and everybody taking photos of their breakfasts, but we found the supermarkets hadn’t gone any further.
Ironically, in Boston I could more readily get a selection of New Zealand seafood than I could get in my own supermarket right here. That seemed kinda crazy and so that’s where it began.
Why do you want Kiwis to eat more fish?
I read a stat recently that globally - and New Zealand falls in line with this - fish consumption per capita has risen to over 20 kilos a year so that means that people around the world are eating fish at least once a week on average. Part of what’s grown that demand is connected to eating more sustainably, wanting to eat more healthily. Seafood in general is better for your heart, better for your skin, better for your hair, and is a sustainable form of protein from an environmental point of view, better than most other protein sources.
What staggered me is that according to the Ministry of Fisheries, 50 per cent of fish that Kiwis eat is imported. For a country of two islands, that’s just crazy. Now some of that is connected to shellfish that comes in, some of that’s connected to fish that’s caught in our waters and sent overseas and processed and coming back here frozen. As a foodie none of those things make sense to me. There’s nothing like a pan-fried piece of fresh fish as a meal. Why was it that New Zealanders eat less fish than Australians or people in Europe when we have kai moana so close to us.
I think every Kiwi has an association or familiarity with fishing yet when it comes to a meal at home it doesn’t always translate. So for us it was OK well how can we help people understand what they are missing out on and the first thing we looked at was the barriers.
The biggest barrier for people is the terrible experience they have in retail environments. They can smell the fish counter before they see it. They don’t know where the fish is from, they don’t know how old it is… And if they don’t know what it is, they don’t know what to do with it.
For a lot of people their seafood experience hasn’t been a great one so we went, well could we find a way to get it to people, build a supply chain, get it to people quicker and better and we’ve been able to do that. And then the next question became how do we increase people’s repertoire. How do we show them that there is more to life than gurnard and tarakihi. Beautiful fish that they are, there’s another 135 species swimming in our ocean equally as delicious if you know what to do with them.
And we felt the best person to help us get people to learn about that was Al Brown.
So how did the collaboration with Al Brown come about?
I think if you’re a group of people starting a food start-up and you sit around a big table and you try to imagine what that could be and you look around New Zealand and you go ‘well, who inspires me?’ and then you add seafood into that layer you find, like we did, that every third image that we had on our table was an Al Brown recipe.
We knew that one of the biggest barriers that we would need to help people overcome is to introduce them to different ways of cooking fish and the different types of fish. So we needed someone to help with the education piece. And we went ‘well, maybe one day if we are successful we’ll approach someone like Al’, and I went ‘well, actually why don’t we approach him right now and talk to him’.
So we did and after an hour of spending time with him I went ‘I want to be in business with this guy. He’s just such a top bloke’. And that’s where it began. Serendipitously what we were setting out to do becomes a platform for Al to talk about all the things around seafood in New Zealand he’s been wanting to talk about for such a long time.
You mentioned earlier that there are some 135 species in the waters around NZ. What do you reckon is the most under-rated fish to eat?
For me it would be kahawai. It’s incredibly delicious raw; it’s delicious pan-fried and battered. Kiwis will probably be familiar with it smoked. There are all these urban myths around kahawai, bleeding it when it’s caught and so on, but it’s actually a beautiful fish to eat and bang for dollar, amazing value.
Another unknown or under-rated one would be trevally. For Kiwis for a long time that was the fish you found in the bait box when you went off to fish but when many of the Japanese come here to do fishing charters the only fish they keep is trevally because raw it beats tuna. It is a delicious fish.
Tell us more about the mouth-to-tail concept.
Up until the late 1970s the only way you used to get fish in New Zealand as a consumer was whole, pretty much. So Kiwis got used to breaking down fish and using all of the fish. Then in the late 1970s there was a campaign to promote white, boneless fish and that changed people’s eating habits. For some reason they think bones in fish are bad and it only has to be white fillets.
I think if we look at the beef industry there has been quite a push via chefs and restaurants for secondary cuts of meat again. Things like brisket and cross cut steak blade steak have become trendy again because if you cook them slowly they are delicious.
Equally with fish there are some many cuts and types of fish that if you cook them in the right way they are unbelievable value and great, great eating. That’s part of what we’re trying to educate people around.
If you go to your local fish store and you buy snapper fillets, buy it with the skin on because you’ll have better texture and it’ll cook better. The wings and collars and the belly of that snapper are things you can eat. You’ve got frames and the heads of snapper which make amazing fish stock.
One of our boxes is called ‘Bits n Pieces’. That’s a box where you could get snapper or hapuka wings and collars and bellies or whole small fish like pipers or blue mackerel; fish and cuts of fish that you may not really know or how to cook it and we can help with that.
So you’re using bits of the fish that you’d usually throw away or give to the cat?
Exactly. It’s been really interesting talking to some of customers who are perhaps recent immigrants to New Zealand and who buy these boxes because they know that eating fish that’s on the bone has so much flavour.
We are aware that we need to gently stretch people’s repertoires. That’s where Al comes in and helps with recipes.
Many people are thinking more about the environmental impact of what they eat and how they live. How is Freshcatch addressing these concerns?
Certainly sustainability is a big buzzword and rightly so, and we’re working really hard across our whole supply chain to be as sustainable as possible. But what we talk about a lot in our team is sensibility as much as sustainability, and for us that’s eating fish that’s caught seasonally and fresh to take the pressure off the so-called main species. For example, if you were ordering Al’s Picks box that could be a fish you’re familiar with like gurnard or tarahiki, but equally it could be trevally or warehou or monkfish or ling. It just depends on what’s been landed on that particular day. So we’re only picking fish that comes in on a daily basis, we don’t store anything.
We all lead busy lives and sometimes dinner can be a battle for those with young children. What’s the best way to get little ones to eat more fish?
The first thing is ensuring that it’s fresh. When it’s fresh it doesn’t have an odour, it doesn’t have a ‘fishy’ taste that so many people associate with fish, unfortunately. When it’s fresh, it’s a completely different eating experience.
For kids, I’d advise to add in a little bit of texture into the meal for them. So that could be adding some panko breadcrumbs and pan-fry or bake the fish in the oven. Or even a simple tempura, a little light batter and shallow pan-fry it. What we find with our kids is that just a little bit of texture and crunch makes them interested.
Finally, if you could invite anyone over for dinner who would it be and what would you cook them?
I think I’m a little bit biased because I’ve been living in the US for the last few years but for me, it would Barack Obama. I’ve watched him closely and from afar and I think he’d be a very entertaining dinner guest.
Dinner would be pretty simple. It would be kingfish or trevally sashimi, spaghetti vongole with some Cloudy Bay, New Zealand tuatuas and diamond clams, and whole-baked John Dory with a simple salad and that would be dinner for us.
For more information on Freshcatch, see freshcatch.co.nz