Celebrity Chef Bobby Chinn is best known across Asia for his televised cooking shows, but in Vietnam, where he has two restaurants, he is raising awareness about food safety and sustainable fishing.
At Bobby Chinn’s Hanoi restaurant, the popular chef, launched a so-called “responsible seafood menu” to a room packed with local reporters. The event encouraged the use of seafood products, in Chinn’s case tuna and clams, certified by the Marine Stewardship Council and the Aquaculture Stewardship Council.
Chinn prepared a dish using certified tuna caught using specially designed hooks which do not threaten endangered turtles. His menu also includes clams which have been farmed using environmentally friendly and sustainable methods.
The pre-dominant message was overfishing, but the event also highlighted a problem facing Vietnamese consumers often aired in the local media.
“What I’m experiencing as a chef of 18 years is I have no idea where any of the products are coming from. You can say the beef is from the U.S. and has a stamp on it but it might not be," he said. "Recently in Vietnam we discovered that 80 percent of the noodles were laced with toxic chemicals to keep them white. So it’s really time for a change.”
Vietnam is one of the world’s top seafood exporters, with exports of catfish accounting for 90 percent of the global market. While not all exported goods are labeled with information which includes whether that product is certified or not, industry experts recognize that labels with more information are more popular with consumers, said Ngo.
Tien Chuong, Aquaculture Coordinator at the World Wide Fund for Nature’s Vietnam office.
He said the general trend is for authorities to make production for export more sustainable while less attention is paid to domestic consumption.
Lack of information on food sourcing and ingredients is a big issue for Vietnamese consumers, many of whom worry about the overuse of pesticides in vegetables, and excessive use of antibiotics and formaldehyde in meat.
Last month some residents in Lao Cai province were hospitalized after eating dried fish, which was later found to contain high levels of histamines, local media reported.
Poisoning cases have been blamed on poor enforcement of hygiene standards but so far there is no certification process in place for consumers at home.
Chuong said certified products and high quality products in Vietnam are mainly sold for the export market. But with a population of 90 million people, the country’s domestic market should not be ignored.
The lack of information available for consumers is also a big problem for chefs, Chinn said. “I only have a handful of suppliers and I keep my fingers crossed that they are going to provide me with what I ask them to provide me. But every restaurant, every hotel, every consumer has the exact same problem,” he noted.
Although many of the customers at his restaurants in Vietnam are foreigners, Chinn says he hopes his new menu will encourage consumers to be more demanding about where their food comes from. He said chefs in Vietnam need to be better educated and start showing more concern about what they are serving their guests.