Peter Hoffman is the chef/owner of Savoy, a Mediterranean restaurant in New York City that he opened with his wife, Susan Rosenfeld, in 1990. Hoffman is also a board member of the Chefs Collaborative.
What is your favorite seafood to eat?
Striped bass is probably my favorite seafood to eat. I grew up in New Jersey and it’s one of the great local fishes. I also love all the history and lore around it. I enjoyed spending summers on Long Island watching the guys driftnetting off the south shore. It was one of the last inland fisheries and that was exciting to see as a kid. Striped bass is a great-tasting fish. It’s a powerful, fighting fish that’s very muscular and has great texture.
What is your favorite seafood to prepare at the restaurant?
At the moment, I really enjoy cooking skate. We’ve cooked it on and off over the 12 years and people love it. For some, it’s not your run-of-the-norm fish, but it’s not too weird, so that people are willing to take a chance with it. I love that we cook it on the bone. Many people don’t like to eat fish or meat on the bone because they don’t want to work to eat their food. As chefs, we know that cooking fish or meat on the bone gives it a juicy, better taste. But with skate, it’s basically a single plane so it’s not much trouble. It’s fun to cook and fun to serve to people.
What’s the most popular seafood dish on your menu?
How did you get interested in the issue of sustainable seafood?
I’ve always being very involved in fishing and marine diversity. I worked as a shad fisherman on the Hudson River after I graduated from high school. I also ran a small fish business where I went down to Fulton Fish Market and brought fish back to the people in the town where I lived. It was back then, in 1973, when I started to get a real sense of what was coming into the market. In the mid ‘80s, I came back to New York and started to work as a chef. I went back to Fulton and saw that the swordfishes were getting smaller and the diversity was narrowing. I also read news articles that said we were overfishing and were maxing out the stocks. So I wanted to raise my own level of education and awareness. I saw that this was really an important issue for chefs, because we use so much of the product and we love it. Later on, I became involved in the Chefs Collaborative and the Seafood Solutions Program.
How would you describe your philosophy on ocean conservation?
We need more effective management; that’s something we should expect of our government. As chefs, we need to celebrate diversity in the oceans so that we are not relying too heavily on any one species. We also have a responsibility to educate our diners, cooks, and fellow chefs about the terms and issues so that we know where we are treading. In a certain way, consumption is about the reduction of resource, but we need to know that we are doing it in places that are well managed and have sustainable stock. And we need to know when we are not completely perfect in our use, because of consumer demand or whatever.
How has your philosophy changed what fish you serve?
As I educate myself, my philosophy has shifted. For example, I used to serve farm-raised salmon; as I became aware of the complex issues that exist with farm-raised salmon, I decided to stop serving it.
Have your diners noticed?
Yes. And, for instance, with the salmon issue, there has been a lot of awareness raised by the press, chefs, and different organizations. So now when we say we are serving wild salmon, that means something to people. And their tastes have changed as well.
Do you feel it limits what you can offer?
We cook seasonally and I use the seasonal list as the point from which we create. Some people might see the list as restrictive, but you can’t have an infinite list. The limitations allow the expression. I wouldn’t want to have a restaurant that was Italian, Asian, French, and South American all rolled into one. Some people do that but I think it’s kind of weird. So when you say that you’re going to have a culinary approach of one sort, that narrowing represents the point at which you are then able to express yourself. I view the fact that there is a set of fishes that we work with and a set that we try to stay away from as part of that same expression. The list is the definition of who we are, so I don’t feel restricted by it.
Have your seafood purveyors worked with you on getting sustainably caught seafood?
Yes and no. I think that their awareness still needs to be raised. Sometimes I think that they want to move as much product as they can and they don’t really care which product it is. Some people still want things that are overtaxed and are willing to pay for it, so the purveyors will move it along. I wish that they would feel strong enough in the security of their businesses that they could say, “I’m not going to sell those items. I know you can get them somewhere else, but I think you are going to keep doing business with me because I’m selling what is good and fresh and responsible.”
Why do you support Seafood Choices Alliance?
It’s a great resource for more information about these topics; it furthers my education. There is a lot of information out there that needs to get filtered.
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