Neighborhood Kitchens

Q&A with Chef Rich Garcia

Chef Rich Garcia Executive Chef Rich Garcia oversees all culinary operations at the Renaissance Hotel in South Boston.  He is known for his commitment to spreading the word about ocean-friendly seafood, fishing and the state of the oceans.  Chef Garcia was interviewed by series producer Patricia Alvarado Núñez. Below are excerpts from the interview.  
NK:  When did you discover your passion for cooking?
RG:  I discovered my passion for cooking I think as a kid.  The first thing I ever made with my mom was a quiche.  And I think I was six years old.  And saw Julia Child making a quiche on TV and I said, 'Wow that's cool, I want to do that.'  And I asked my mom to do it and she thought I was a little nuts but  she let me do it.  And I think just from a kid, I really enjoyed watching food--you know, I didn't watch too many cartoons, I guess.  But the passion for cooking really didn't come in until a couple years after I had already been in the industry.  When I saw the impact food could have on people and the experience you could create with a person through your food--that's really when food started to become a passion. 
NK:  You are known for your innovative cuisine and for being an advocate for ocean-friendly seafood.  
RG:  We have so many challenges with our local fisheries that I wanted to essentially save the American fishery, so to speak.  And I wanted to help you be able to understand what's going on with the fishermen and the fish that's in our waters.  But also help you understand that we're not running out of fish.

  We're running out of certain species, but there are so many species that are in abundance out there that we can use to replace the popular fish.  That had really become my mission in the last couple years to really focus on under-utilized species of fish that we can keep our fishermen fishing.  We can keep and economy going, 'cause it's not just the fisherman, it's also the guy that sells the ice and the guy that sells the gas, and so on. So we can keep an economy going strong.  We can keep people fishing.  But we can also help revive a species that might be struggling.  So it's really about helping people and saving people. 

NK: What is happening with New England’s fish supply? 
RG: What happened really is that we have been really focused on fishing for a certain number of species.  I mean, I can count on one hand the species that Americans eat.  So if you can imagine the last 50 years of only targeting, you know, 5 species here in New England. Then we've started to deplete essentially the inventory of certain fish.  So for example, cod.  You know, we're having a tough time measuring how many cod are out there.  Now this is the challenge with fish.  Fish move.  So the places that we counted cod last year, it's no guarantee that those cod are gonna be in the same place this year.  So that's the first challenge that we've had.  But science has given us good evidence that there just aren't that many cod out there anymore.  Um, even the proof from the, the Gloucester fish, fish auctions.  At one point not long ago, they were selling over a million pounds of fish a week.  Today if you go to the Gloucester auction, it might sell 30 thousand pounds in one day.  So we're not even close to that million pounds a week any more.  So there's definitely something going on in the ocean.  Something that we need to fix quickly.

NK:  How do we solve this issue?
RG:  What's happened here is that we have not been able to market other species of seafood properly to people, so that you can go to the supermarket and say, 'Well, I'd like to buy pollock today.  I'd like to buy hake.  Or I'd like to buy skate wing.' So now the challenge is getting the fishermen to see the value in what's been called 'trash fish' for so long.  So the fishermen don't see a value in going out to catch it because you and I don't want to go to the store and buy it.  So what we need to do is start to get out there and ask for these fish by name.  We need to go to the restaurants.  And you need to ask your, your server know, 'Do you have pollock?  Do you have hake?'  Now chances are today the answer's gonna be 'No.'  But a good chef listens to what his guests want.  So that's Step 1.  Step 2 is also bringing these fish into your home.  So if that person at home go out and buy pollock, redfish, hake, skate wing, dogfish, they create a demand for it, then fishermen are gonna want to go out and fish for it.  And now we're gonna be targeting another species that's not in danger.  And we're gonna allow those species that have some struggles to rebuild their stocks.  And eventually it's just this cycle that continues.
NK:  Where do you find inspiration for your cooking?
RG:  Being across the street from the fish pier is awesome.  A lot of times, you might be coming up with a new menu or we've got a guest who's come in and wants something special.  And you kinda get writer's block sometimes.  And, and for me sometimes, I just go across the street and walk into my buddy's place and just have the opportunity to look around, taste things, fresh and alive and just really see what's there--it's huge inspiration. But just being here on the seaport and being around all this water, and seeing the fishing boats come in.  I mean, that's inspiration every day when I'm walking down the street to the hotel.  Seeing that fishing boat offloading their product and knowing that many chefs around the country are gonna be waiting 5-7 days to get that fish.  And I can just walk over and bring it back in 2 hours.  I mean, that's, that's pretty lucky I think.  I love it.

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About Neighborhood Kitchens

Building on a 35-year history of producing Latino and multicultural programming, WGBH’s award winning La Plaza team has a new offering — Neighborhood Kitchens, a series about the exploration of culture through food. Every week the show offers a unique window into immigrant communities in New England.

Saturdays at 4pm on WGBH 2
Fridays at 7:30pm on WGBH 44

About the Author

On the Go

In each episode, host Margarita Martínez visits a different ethnic restaurant and learns three delicious recipes from the chef. She also explores the restaurant’s neighborhood, discovering hidden gems along the way. Join her as she learns about new ingredients, new cultures, and new neighborhoods. ¡Hasta pronto!

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Find a Neigbhorhood Kitchen
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Margarita's Neighborhood Visits

»Boston: Bristol Lounge
»Boston's South End: Orinoco, Teranga and Oishii
»Boston's Back Bay: Casa Romero
»Boston's North End: Taranta
»Roxbury: Merengue
»Boston's Beacon Hill: Scampo
»All Around Boston: Mei Mei Street Kitchens
»Cambridge: Muqueca, Oleana, and Sandrine's
Somerville: Dosa Temple
»Lawrence: Cafe Azteca
»Lowell: Simply Khmer

»Fresh from the Fish Market
»Jamaica Plain: Tres Gatos
»Dorchester: Pho Le and Cafe Polonia
»Medford: Bistro 5
»Portland, ME: Emilitsa
»Newport, RI: Tallulah on Thames
»Pawtucket, RI: Rasoi


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