Gourmet food has had a huge surge in popularity over the last few years - whether its homemade hamburgers or posh hotdogs, London is brimming with new fast-food pop ups and diners. What's fantastic about almost all of these new restaurants is that no matter what the décor might be like all make an effort to source the best possibly ingredients - be it high-welfare meat, local craft beer or seasonal vegetables. Sustainability is really important for me - of course I enjoy my food if it's been prepared well, but I love it even more if I know that what's been cooked has been sourced to the highest environmental standards.
As a nation we're all becoming increasingly aware of the importance of making sure we buy organic and Fairtrade, and nowhere more so than in London, but we still have a way to go before this becomes the norm. When opening London Fish & Chips in Covent Garden it seemed like an obvious choice to make sure all the fish on our menu was certified by the Marine Stewardship Council, but despite fish and chips being one of Britain's oldest culinary traditions (not to mention one of my personal favourites) there are still only a small number of retailers whose menu offers 100% MSC approved fish. In fact we're the only MSC certified chippy in the capital.
Making sure you make sustainable choices with the fish you eat has a significant environmental and social impact. By buying ethically sourced fish you're helping reverse the decline of threatened fish stocks, safeguarding communities whose livelihood depends upon the fishing industry and are helping preserve diverse underwater ecosystems. Fish might not be as visible as cows or chickens - I certainly never remember being taken out on a boat for the day whilst I was at school - but there's definitely an argument to be made that choosing sustainably caught fish is not just as important as buying free-range, it's more important. After all, cod is the nation's favourite fish, so we need to take steps to protect it.
Whilst the environmental case for using ethically sourced produce is very important to me however, as a restaurateur there's also a solid business case for making sure the items you offer on your menu are completely traceable. All too often people fall into the trap of thinking that you need to get your numbers sorted before you can start thinking about improving the quality of your stock, but I see both concerns as fundamentally linked. I'm a business man and an environmentalist - I choose to stock MSC products because they've helped improve my bottom line. Using MSC certified ingredients has helped us reflect our confidence in the sources and sustainability of our fish not only to our customers but to society as a whole. Sustainable fish has proven a future for our brand, and though more expensive, the benefits of having the MSC eco label displayed next to our meals is worth the investment.
When we first started working with the MSC we were immediately given access to a network of trusted suppliers which cut out a significant amount of leg-work, and cost, for us. A lot of providers are beginning to recognise the added value that sustainable produce brings - it gives you a point of difference. The problem arises when you begin to look further down the supply chain, you need to be able to guarantee that every stage in the process is environmentally sound, and few merchants can do that. Being connected to MSC certified producers ensures complete transparency.
Aside from the important logistical support they've provided, MSC is something our customers are familiar with, they know what it means, they know what it stands for. We knew that it would be no use improving the quality of our ingredients if what we were doing wasn't recognisable. It all comes back to the supply chain - customers recognise the blue logo and they know they can trust its claim to be supporting the highest environmental standard right from fish to fork. We had a little girl come in with her parents the other afternoon, she asked why it was plastered all over menus and when the staff explained her parents said they'd definitely come back as a result. MSC labelling is proving really popular with tourists as well - we get lots of large groups, anything from twenty to fifty people, who have heard about what we're doing and want to give us their support. They get to taste some proper British food safe in the knowledge that it's been environmentally sourced.
London was the first step, but we've got branches across the Middle East and are keen to roll this out to all our restaurants. We knew there would be an appetite here for sustainable produce and it's given us the added push we needed to take this overseas - I hope other restaurants will follow in our footsteps.