Sustainable Sushi – Bun Lai (part 1 of 2)
Bun Lai is the man behind the progressive and environmentally sensitive sushibar Miyas Sushi, in New Haven CT. We interviewed Bun last week because he has demonstrated how a progressive restaurant can be mindful of the environmental impact of our food choices and still serve great sushi. This ran a bit long, so we’re posting it in two parts. Let’s jump right in!
SushiPro: Why should we care about sustainable fishing practices and eating locally sourced food?
Bun: As food production becomes more industrialized, the connections between the source and methods of harvesting our foods become obscured. If we’re not aware of how our food is processed, or how it’s caught, or how it’s affected by others along the distribution chain, we are giving up personal freedoms in one of the most important choices that we have; the freedom to choose to eat good food.
SushiPro: It’s discouraging to me to see that our reaction to increasing appetites for sushi fish seems to usually be industrial scale fish farming. Tuna farming, for example, seems to be a solution that might be as bad as the original problem. Can you comment on that trend?
Bun: Bluefin Tuna farming is not a good idea. The feed to flesh ratio, alone, makes it the wrong type of fish to farm. The only reason people are interested in Blufin tuna farming is because there is obscene amounts of money in it.
SushiPro: What can the average sushi consumer do to positively impact the world and still enjoy that great cuisine?
Bun: Much of the problem comes from the fact that many traditionalists refuse to change the way they eat. But the reality is that if they open their minds to other types of ingredients or other ways of making sushi, they can have experiences just as good as they’re used to.
SushiPro: What advice would you offer to the mainstream sushibar owners who really are afraid of losing customers if they don’t carry unagi and toro and all the foods their customers come in and order every week?
Bun:I think it takes courage to do the right thing, especially, when it seems as though you are swimming up stream. It’s still a challenge for me, too. I just severed ties with the biggest Sushi seafood supplier in the world, and my costs have gone way up, but man, I feel much better not dealing with those assholes. And, there are customers that complain but we are not here to cow tow to every person that walks in. Love and appreciate and be grateful for the people who support you in your quest to do your art ethically.
Miya’s has been challenging for me since the beginning of my career, because I have always tried to find a better way, and not following the herd, may have been lonely at times but in the end it has lead to tremendous creativity and there is no restaurant that exists that has a more loyal following. My friends have supported me through the toughest times because they believed in the earnestness and wisdom of my mission.
SushiPro: Miyas menu is a great example of creativity applied to the problem. It’s an example of what sushibar owners can do.
Bun: Miya’s is a pretty good example of a sushi bar that serves no Eel, Octopus, Red Snapper, Maine Sea Urchin, Farmed Salmon, Bluefin, etc, that is highly successful nonetheless. We don’t cram sustainability down people’s throats and we don’t wave a green flag, but there are few restaurants in the world that are more sustainable than us; and most of our guests don’t even know we are sustainable! In the end, people wait in line at Miya’s because they like how we have evolved sushi.