Tuesday, June 15, 2010

This is the story of a “shameless opportunist”

In response to the blog posted by Jay Raynor, attacking my integrity on the Bravo TV website, I have been given permission to respond and explain why I have taken exception to his manners as a critic on this subject. He admits to be the person responsible for making sure I was not awarded the title of Top chef masters and contradicts himself from that point on…here is a small portion of my life. I used to have respect for him but…

“I’m not a tree hugger.” I’m not that much of an extremist nor have I tied myself to a tree to prevent it from being chopped either. I went to school to become a chef. There was no celebrity attached to the profession in 1976 when I enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America and I had no illusions of grandeur…never did. The biggest fear I had going into the CIA was public speaking…I swear! For the past 20 plus years, my career and lifestyle have been about being a responsible chef. Being a chef is complicated. When I first learned about the depleting population of the Swordfish while running the kitchen of the Water Club in the early 90’s, I thought, ok. I have noticed drastic changes in the size and quality of this majestic fish shrinking at the Fulton market; take swordfish off the list, no problem. Technology has outpaced the ability of the swordfish population and they just can’t keep up…now back to work Moonen…great. Then I was asked to became a spokesperson for the Give swordfish a Break campaign. I believed in it…so I did. Then I heard about this thing called by-catch, ok; now I have to take swordfish off the list and pay attention to how other species are caught and discarded by the ton…what a crazy waste of food...now I need to pay attention to this insane practice as well. I wrap my mind around the notion of bycatch and move on…back into the kitchen making tasty food and keeping my costs in line. Next, I learn about the extreme methods of catching our seafood and the amount of habitat destruction going on as a direct result. In my mind it was like clear cutting a forest to gather a handful of deer for dinner (maybe a bad choice of example for this blog but you get the idea). I need to pay attention to overfishing, bycatch issues and NOW the amount of habitat destroyed in the method used to bring them to my kitchen…insane but OK…I need to embrace all of these issues if I was to hold true to my values…so I did. I used to think that farmed raised Atlantic salmon was the greatest thing since sliced white bread (another bad example…another blog). Perfect fish every time and my benchmark for salmon was this fish. I grew up in the North East, and that was what Friday night dinner was to me as a kid. Next I hear about this… the ecological impact of fish farming of certain species and realized that farmed salmon is not what I was tricked into believing. ..bummer! more stuff to deal with. Now I have to take swordfish off the list to help revitalize the population, pay attention to how & where the fish is caught, and if we are destroying where they need to breed and survive and now if the fish were irresponsibly farm raised. Being a chef became more and more complicated the more I learned and paid attention. I could have chosen to bury my head in the sand and keep my life simple…just be a chef and believe that if it was offered on the market that it was safe and clean and OK to serve. I knew that this was not the truth and I COULD NOT. My life and career would have been a lot easier if I just could have kept myself ignorant to what was going on around me but…NOOOOO… not my destiny! This has been my single subject focus for my entire career and I can’t escape the importance of preaching what I have realized over the length of my professional career. This is what I have worked my whole life for, following and advocating Sustainable Seafood. Our eco-system is a mess because we’re taking species out of it so fast they can’t sustain their continued existence. We are destroying the engine that drives the health of our existence…our world…our future. 71% of our globe is covered with ocean…we rely on it’s health…I can’t stop thinking about it. I love the ocean and the many creatures in it. I love to cook and eat seafood and I want to share that with people, but we can’t continue to enjoy what the ocean has to offer if we don’t understand it and respect it.

So my story, my mission statement, of being “the sustainable guy”, Jay got tired of it…accused me of having “craven attitude toward environmental issues.” Sorry Jay, it’s the only story I got! I didn’t want it in the first place. I just wanted to cook and be great at it someday. Not only did Jay get tired of it, he decided to attack my integrity. I do admit I didn’t have an answer whether the venison was flown in from New Zealand (and in retrospect, neither did Jay). I’m not too happy about being “gently questioned” about the transportation of the venison when he didn’t even know the truth himself; the meat was ocean freighted in, less of a “carbon footprint” than that of an airplane. Judge me on the facts, Jay, not what you perceive to be the truth. Do your research before you come down on me. Numerous studies have demonstrated that the means of production and the method of transportation are more important than the distance the good travels. Last year for example, the UK government agency DEFRA, http://ww2.defra.gov.uk/ , published results of life cycle analysis on produce imported from a number of countries compared to UK grown produce. For lamb, the results were clear, because New Zealand pastoral production uses less fertilizer (due to the more benign climate and natural soil fertility) and never needs to house animals, EVEN AFTER shipping to the UK had been included, and the carbon footprint of NZ lamb was lower than UK lamb.

My research on venison started many years ago when I was at Oceana. I was asked to be a judge in a cooking contest in New Zealand. While I was there I visited and stayed on a farm of Cervena with Graham Brown. The deer were raised on beautiful lush pastures where the animals were treated with respect. They were fed apples, not injected with hormones steroids or antibiotics. The slaughter house and facilities were super sanitary. I have gone hunting in my life and have always used every part of the deer for sharing meals with people I care about. You can’t serve wild venison in restaurants any more Jay. So I chose venison as my last dish in an exhausting cooking competition, the dish that defines me as a chef today, because of its sustainability to echo my mission statement “to respect the environment that we live in.” We are omnivours afterall…The chef I am today is not only the fish guy, but all those other guys I picked up along the way, and that showed in my dish. I chose venison. I knew the meat, I’ve worked with it many times before and I wanted to make a dish that was going to bring home the money to my charity.

Not only did Jay attack my integrity as a responsible chef he turns his nose up to the community I reside and work in, Las Vegas. There are many aspects to Las Vegas that make it a not so sustainable city, but doesn’t every big city? This is the place where we need to show change is possible and that there is hope. Las Vegas as a destination is not sustainable, but I have the opportunity to reach out to people from all over the globe that come here and visit. Also, just because we are in a high desert valley at the foothills of the Spring Mountains, which every winter provide plenty of snowfall for skiing, does not mean nothing grows here. Again, passing judgment on a subject you are not well versed in. If you are going to be a critic, criticize what you know. I live in a great community; I get my eggs and lots of produce from a local farm. And because of our proximity to California our access to their organic farms are actually closer to Vegas than they are to LA. Las Vegas is a great city; I’m honored to call it home and the surrounding communities my neighbors. Like I said, I have the opportunity to meet and share my life’s work with people from all over the world. I get to work next door to some of the greatest chef’s on this earth. I also get to work with a great charity that I have come to call family at Three Square. So say all the bad things you want about Las Vegas, it’s still not going to change the hearts and minds of the people that make this place so great.

Nonetheless, I’m going to keep cooking, thousands of people are going to hear my message, and many others will pick it up. I am not ashamed of who I am and what I stand for…



Bookmark and Share

30 comments:

  1. I have such an incredible amount of respect for you Rick Moonen...this was so well said...you will always be a Top Chef Master to those of us who love your work...your mission...and your talent...thanks for sharing this with us...as a culinary student hoping to make my own mark one day...you are an amazing role model to me and more importantly you are a fantastic human being <3

    ReplyDelete
  2. Awesome Rick. Well said.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You shoukd be very proud of what you have written. I can only hope that many young chefs read this piece and learn from it what it really means to be a great chef.
    You were robbed by a snotty brit from winning the title of beong Top Chef Master,
    I would like to see just how Jay Rayner would do working in a real restaurant kitchen. Let this man walk a mile in your shoes one day.

    ReplyDelete
  4. well said - you don't need a manufactured television title for folks to understand your contributions to our way of eating.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Thank you for your excellent explanation and hopefully people will remember you and Three Squared from the show. They have announced that Eric Ripert will be a new judge - replacing Jay?

    ReplyDelete
  6. Jay is a douche

    ReplyDelete
  7. Andy PforzheimerJune 15, 2010 at 8:27 PM

    Hey, those that can, do. Those that can't, teach. Those that can't teach write food columns.

    ReplyDelete
  8. Even more reasons why I respect you as a human, let alone a fine chef. I still would like to see the pompous ass respond to ANYTHING negative that's been posted on FB, your wall, or Jay's blog posts intead of censoring the masses. The truth hurts - Jay was wrong and he can't admit it. You got the love. Jay didn't. And you're much more pleasing on the ears and eyes than he is.

    ReplyDelete
  9. It's a real shame that you even need to post this. Your thoughtfulness and integrity are a beacon in a relatively soulless and highly processed world. New chefs look to you for inspiration, and rightfully so. Don't let the naysayers ever change what or who you are. A man of honesty, integrity and true spirit, who's leading a charge to change the world. Bravo (no pun intended) Chef Rick! Thank you for the breath of fresh air you bring to the art of cooking. Thank you for your moral conscious. Thank YOU!

    ReplyDelete
  10. And this is why you rock Chef!!

    ReplyDelete
  11. Well stated Rick. Perfect rebuttal. Now move on from the jackass and his comments.

    ReplyDelete
  12. You are a man true to his word and his cause and the unedjucated words of a pompus ass fall upon dead ears of those of us who know.

    ReplyDelete
  13. Rick: be cool. This too will pass. Don't let the snotty Brit get under your skin. Don't jeopardize and opportunity that might be waiting by an impulsive response. As the saying goes "be the change you want to see". Stay cool.

    ReplyDelete
  14. Rick, you are the truth, the real deal, the one who joyfully shares his love of food and dedication to sustainability, with the world. What does Rayner share???...Negativity. Who do we love??? YOU!

    ReplyDelete
  15. Well researched, well stated, and true to yourself. the critic in question should take a lesson from that alone.

    ReplyDelete
  16. Well said Chef...Don't let ignorant people like "JAY" get under your skin. Jay is ignorant about facts and issues we face daily, and he choses to hide under criticism....Shrug him off you are the better person. Tell Jay to be judge on American Idol, lack of knowledge is more his speed... HATS OFF to you chef...I believe in you and thank you for standing up to that blimey jerk.!This is why once a year we need a day dedicated to "Slap stupid people day-so Jay line up"

    ReplyDelete
  17. Rick,

    I appreciate your ability to recognize the destructive practices that are depleting our oceans. I must admit, however, I am a bit disappointed to see that you are speaking out against farmed Atlantic Salmon. I would love to see some fo the scientific research that is making you vilify farmed salmon. Salmon farming produces healthy, affordable food that is high in beneficial omega-3 fatty acids, an important factor in reducing heart disease. Both wild and farmed salmon, along with fish and shellfish in general, are better for your health than other meat products.

    ReplyDelete
  18. We were shocked to see that you didn't win - the comment from Jay seemed like a slap in the face. As native Las Vegans, we know that Pahrump is home to many of the valley's CSAs and we have found it impossible to buy a share because they are so popular they are consistently sold out! Not to mention we have Mario Batali's weekly farmer's market and several other farmer's markets here in Las Vegas and Henderson that bring in products from other local farms. Rick, we loved and supported you all season, as we support Three Square, and will be pleased to continue supporting you in the future. Look forward to eating at your restaurant soon!

    ReplyDelete
  19. Until you have your "facts" straight about farmed salmon, stick to being a chef, not the biologist that you are clearly trying to be. Give a guy an egg-beater and all of a sudden he's an expert on salmon farming. What's worse is that people actually believe what you say; too bad for them.

    ReplyDelete
  20. Don't listen to what anyone says. You have a lot to be proud of. People always have so much to say, but do very little. You are a wonderful, talented chef and a very sincere caring person. Enjoy your popularity and success - you deserve it! You should have won Top Chef Masters, but the reality is that you already are. Just because the "critics" didn't award it to you, doesn't mean you didn't deserve it. Keep cooking, hold your head high and be proud to be "the" Rick Moonen! You have had such a strong influence in your area of expertise.

    ReplyDelete
  21. Rick, you are the best and the most sincere chef I ever had the pleasure to meet. I am incredibly honored to share with you the love for the city we live in – Las Vegas - and to support with you the same incredibly and wonderful charity which fights hunger in our community – Three Square. You have impacted hundred of our students as well as our faculty and staff. For us you are the Top Chef Master without a doubt or question.

    ReplyDelete
  22. Sarah in FloridaJune 16, 2010 at 9:28 PM

    That's the problem with being a critic. One might forget that one is only entitled to be critical within very clearly defined and narrow parameters....parameters determined by one's area of expertise.

    Mr. Raynor may indeed be entitled to legitimately criticise food.

    However, he appears to lack the necessary expertise to intelligently critique "integrity" and "character".



    Thank you, Rick for being "real", for not feeling the need to overstate your position as an "environmentalist" nor the need to understate your commitment to your chosen craft. This more than anything illustrates your integrity and credibility.....and Mr. Raynor's lack thereof.

    ReplyDelete
  23. Wow. Well said. The more I read about you the more I respect you. There is a delicate balance of being responsible with the world around us and yet not going overboard. You are obviously one of those who are trying to keep it in balance and I applaud you for it!

    ReplyDelete
  24. farmed fish - the water runoff is damaging the surrounding ground water.
    but main thing is that Rayner's blog article has been removed! What kind of crap is that?

    ReplyDelete
  25. Jay Raynor shouldn't be allow to judge any further after admitting that he was the one that denied you the title. Because it was his personal biases towards you, and not based off your dish. It is unreasonable to lose with a dish that was described as perfect to a dish that was described as tough.

    With that, I mean no disrespect to Marcus, who meals also are top quality. On that day though, you were the clear winner. Jay Raynor didn't like you as a person for false assumptions, and we are all forced to accept his agenda.

    ReplyDelete
  26. Chef Rick - we all know it's easier to sit on your tushie and yap versus cooking with heart & soul to put a story on a plate, n'est-ce pas?

    Earlier this week I saw the finale of Top Chef Masters on Food Network Canada (yes, much delay) and, no matter the result, I applaud your performance. I was glad you were given a second chance (I felt bad that you came up short in season 1) and really enjoyed watching you cook and keep things light-hearted despite the competition, even if it meant cackling diabolically!

    No matter what anyone says about your raison d'ĂȘtre, don't stop what you are doing (yes, even the evil laughter), because it works and we're all hearing your message, loud and clear.

    Please come & visit Montreal sometime! Cheers

    ReplyDelete
  27. what are you making sausage here? why don't you try paragraphs? then people may actually read these lies....

    ReplyDelete
  28. Rick,

    Great comments. Congratulations on your run at Top Chef Masters.

    ReplyDelete
  29. Dear Ricky Rambo...this is your old expeditor from Bar Lui, Karen. I was so thrilled to watch you on Top Chef. It was like spending time with a friend and incredible teacher! I am a good home cook, thanks to watching you "through the window", listening, tasting, trying to learn.(I only wish I had followed your advice and gone to culinary school) Every time I cook something over my head, I think of what I learned from you and Jamie! NOW, I am learning from you again. I live in Cape May, New Jersey, near the ocean and I vow to you that I will be a responsible, home cook, and inform my friends about sustainable fish.
    p.s.: I never liked that jerk Jay anyway! And here I have been upset that Gail Simmons didn't give you a higher rating!
    I just wanted to say, THANKS CHEF!

    ReplyDelete