Tag Archives: South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative

MasterChef SA Season 2 episode 10: Spicy Test, Blatant Branding, Beulah Bashing, SASSI Slating, fishy end to Neil Lowe!

MasterChef 2 10 Pressure Test team Whale Cottage PortfolioWhat a diverse and controversial episode 10 was last night, generating many emotions at different levels, as well as criticism of M-Net and MasterChef SA on Twitter for the first time since the commencement of Season 2.  There was little that was judged to be favourable in the episode:

‘Spice’ Test

The losing Red Team (Joani Mitchell, Karen Els, Khumo Twala, Jason Steel, Leandri van der Wat, and Neil Lowe) from Tuesday evening had to go into the ‘Spice’ Test when they lost the Pizza Challenge by two points.  Robertsons ‘Spices’ were the focus point of the Test, annoying viewers for such strong blatant branding of the sponsors’ products, in addition to being subjected to so many TV commercials, especially relative to Season 1.  MasterChef 2 10 Robertsons Whale Cottage PortfolioThe criticism was two-fold:

*   Herbs and spices are two different things, yet the contestants had to guess which combination of Robertsons ‘spices’ had been used in a number of dishes they could smell and taste (the company advertises spice and herb combinations), according to the judges’ brief, yet they had both herbs and spices to evaluate, including in a tomato dish, and in caramelised butternut.  Chef Andrew Atkinson said that one’s tastebuds must be attuned to seasoning, so thatMasterChef 2 10 Tomato Whale Cottage Portfolio one can change or enhance a dish’s flavour profile.

*   No serious chefs would use Robertsons spices in their kitchens (except Chef Reuben Riffel of course, who endorses the brand and appears in its advertisements!), as ‘fresh is best’, the trend in restaurant and home cooking! Continue reading →

Woolworths’ ‘sustainable seafood’ practice very fishy, misleads customers!

It was episode 15 of MasterChef SA, flighted on Tuesday last week, that attracted attention to Woolworths’ communication about its commitment to sustainable seafood.  The TV commercial matched the reality TV series focus on seafood prepared on the beach at Paternoster, and Chef Pete Goffe-Wood gave a brief introduction to the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI), saying that it educates consumers about buying fish responsibly. Woolworths is one of the major sponsors of MasterChef SA, and joins Robertsons as another MasterChef SA sponsor which is not being honest with consumers.

Chef Pete said that ‘green‘ rated fish is in order to buy, while ‘orange‘ and ‘red’ rated fish denotes fish varieties that are overfished and scarce, and should not be eaten.  The Woolworths TV commercial expressed the retailer’s commitment to sustainable seafood.

It was a visit to Woolworths the following day that made me check out the seafood section at the St John’s Piazza store in Sea Point, where I noticed the following:

*  the dominant SASSI poster about Woolworths’ ‘sustainable seafood‘ supply, using the SASSI colour rating

*   About half the fish sold is kingklip, on the SASSI ‘orange‘ list!

*   The ‘Fresh Fish’ department has fish displayed whole, and pre-packed in portions, and has a mix of such packs with and without the sustainability rating on it!  This is inconsistent per fish type, i.e. some of the kingklip is SASSI colour rated, and other packs are not.

*   The colour blue does not appear on the SASSI list, but the majority of Woolworths’ fish packs have a blue sticker. The Calamari Goujons pack I bought had a blue rating, with the heading ‘Fishing for the future’, which is defined on the pack as follows: ‘Our FISHING FOR THE FUTURE’ initiative is your guarantee that the product is responsibly sourced. Blue indicates farmed or imported‘.  It then provides the SASSI cell number for checking on the sustainability status of a fish type, and depicts and defines a green fish (Best choice‘), orange fish (‘Concern‘), and a blue fish (Farmed or imported‘)!

At the Canal Walk branch of Woolworths a sales poster attracted attention to a frozen hake promotion, and this carried the MSC logo for being ‘Certified Sustainable Seafood‘. Nowhere in its outlets does it explain what MSC stands for, and how it differs from the SASSI rating, leading to consumer confusion.

We Tweeted about the visible predominance of the ‘orange‘ rated kingklip in the St John’s Piazza store in Sea Point last week, and received the following reply by e-mail from Alana Jattiem of Woolworths (she did not supply her designation): “Thank you for getting in touch with us on our Twitter page. With regards to your concerns, SASSI has requested all retailers to remove labelling off packs, hence the phasing out of on pack labelling by Woolworths. Customers are welcome to check this with SASSI. Regarding your query on Kingklip, Kingklip is orange on the SASSI list not because of the stock status, but rather because of the impact of the fishery on by-catch such as sea birds. Our kingklip is sourced from MSC trawled hake suppliers who make use of highly effective by-catch mitigation devices such as “Torry lines” to scare off birds and thus, to a large extent, preventing them from getting caught. It should be noted that there are fishery improvement projects underway to make the kingklip fisheries more sustainable and from a retailer side we are asking our suppliers to get MSC certification on kingklip which would be a guarantee of its sustainability.  We hope this answers your concerns & questions. Thank you for your support”.

On pressing Alana for further information and clarification of where Woolworths is moving in its sustainable seafood programme, we received the following disappointing reply: Given the changes required around SASSI labelling on product, we are in the process of revising and rebranding our fishing for the future initiative, which will cover certified products from the MSC, ASC, Sassi green label, and registered fisheries improvement programmes and new commitments through to 2015 . Please expect a full press release and awareness campaign in the next 4-5 months’. A third e-mail to Alana to request further clarification more urgently resulted in a non-response.

Given these disappointing replies, not understanding Alana’s cryptic and acronymic replies, and feeling fobbed off by her e-mails, I checked the Woolworths’ Pantry page on their website, which links blogposts to the theme of MasterChef SA week by week. There is no mention of sustainable seafood for week 15, which focused on seafood, and Woolworths’ commitment to it, as communicated in MasterChef SA’s episode 15.

I then checked the corporate Woolworths website, and under the heading ‘Good Business Journey’ found a lengthy statement about the retailer’s plan ‘to make a difference in our communities, our country and our world’, and its commitment to sustainability across a number of different fields (e.g. fibres, business, ecosystem). The company says it has a comprehensive plan to make a difference in respect of ‘transformation, social development, the environment and climate change‘.  On the company’s internal sustainability rating it scored 84% in 2010, it writes proudly. It then goes on to list all its awards relating to the environment, sustainability and responsibility.  There is no mention of its new ‘Fishing for the Future‘ initiative in this section at all, and information appears dated, with awards mentioned up to 2010 only!

At the St John’s Piazza branch of Woolworths the following fish types are sold:

*   Hake – ‘green’ rated

*   Norwegian salmon – some of the packs have no sustainability rating, others are rated ‘blue’ (with the same definition as the calamari above)

*   Kingklip – ‘orange’ rated on some packs, other packs not rated

*   East Coast sole – ‘orange‘ rated

*   Angelfish – ‘green‘ rated

*   Dorado – ‘green‘ rated

*   Yellowtail – ‘green‘ rated

*   Salmon fishcakes – no rating, and type of salmon unspecified in one pack type, and ‘blue’ rated in another pack type!

*  Norwegian salmon slices – ‘green‘ rated (one wonders why it is ‘green’ when its fresh Norwegian salmon is ‘blue‘ rated?

*   Smoked snoek – no rating

*   Mackerel – no rating

*   Snoek and haddock fishcakes – ‘blue‘ rated

*   Pickled fish – ‘blue‘ rated, even though its hake content is ‘green’ rated!

*   Haddock fishcakes – ‘green‘ rated

*   Smoked kippers – ‘blue‘ rated

*   Smoked trout – some packs ‘blue’ rated, others not at all!

*   Frozen lobster tails, half shell scallops, black tiger prawns, and ‘prawn meat packs are all not rated!

*   Lightly smoked mackerel – ‘blue‘ rated, plus has a confusing green logo to show it is high in Omega 3, and a blue MSC certification logo

*   Lightly smoked hake fillets – ‘green‘ rated, and blue MSC logo.

On the SASSI list snoek, West Coast lobster, as well as Alaskan salmon are green rated. Deep-water and shallow-water hake, kingklip, king mackerel (line fished), prawns, East Coast rock lobster (hand collected), Atlantic salmon, sole, and yellowtail farmed in sea cages are all orange rated.  Norwegian salmon, of which Woolworths sells a large quantity, does not appear on the SASSI list.

MSC stands for Marine Stewardship Council, an international organisation that conducts audits of sustainable seafood from catch, to supermarket sales, to restaurant presentation. Nowhere in the Woolworths stores is any information provided about MSC, or is the abbreviation defined, other than two fish types having the MSC eco-label. At St John’s Piazza branch I noticed a second poster, with the three colours Woolworths is using, adding blue to denote ‘farmed or imported, not listed by SASSI‘, being downright dishonest and confusing to consumers in making it appear that ‘blue’ may be a SASSI rating, in that it contains SASSI’s name, cell number, and website address, but makes no mention of MSC! The poster concludes that Woolworths’ ‘fish and seafood is responsibly sourced, legally caught, has full traceability’. This poster is smaller than the one at the top of our blogpost, and is not visible to shoppers buying the pre-packaged fish on the opposite shelf, as they would have their back to both posters!  The staff member at the fresh fish department could not answer any questions, and said she only started working at this Woolworths  branch yesterday!

It appears that Woolworths is at early steps of becoming sustainable as far as its seafood supply goes, and has jumped the gun in creating a TV commercial in this regard, in not being able to practice what it preaches in the ad! It needs to be consistent in labelling all its fish products in store. Fish stock sustainability is not only a South African issue, but also an international one, and therefore creating a ‘blue‘ rating is irresponsible (because it does not exist on the SASSI rating system), and labelling all imported products into this rating is too, as imported fish varieties need to be responsibly eaten too!  It is deceiving consumers to use the ‘blue’ rating, to make them think that it is in order to buy these fish products. While I personally love kingklip, Woolworths should discontinue its supply of this endangered fish variety, as well as all its other ‘orange‘ fish types, in order to remain true to its ‘sustainable seafood’ commitment! Currently it is a fishy and confusing  consumer con!

POSTSCRIPT 3/7: Impressed that Woolworths has called (what a bubbly and friendly media person Babongile is!), and has invited me to a meeting to discuss the blogpost with them next week.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@WhaleCottage

MasterChef episode 15: Blood, Sweat and Tears; Fishy in Paternoster, Khaya Silingile sauced out!

Last night’s episode 15 of MasterChef South Africa is one of the most beautifully filmed, on the beach of Paternoster, the ‘kreef town’ of South Africa, Sue-Ann Allen said.  The Red Team of Sarel Loots and the Blue Team led by last week’s dish winner Manisha Naidu had to cook their seafood platters on the beach. The Red Team lost the challenge and went into the Pressure Test, and Khaya Silingile had to leave MasterChef SA.

Chef Pete Goffe-Wood said that Paternoster is a ‘quaint West Coast village, a magnet for chefs passionate about seafood’.  He spoke about the South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI), which educates consumers about buying seafood responsibly, and also to order it responsibly in restaurants. Unfortunately he did not explain it further, ‘green’ rated fish being in order to order and buy, while ‘orange’ and ‘red’ rated fish denotes fish varieties that are overfished and scarce, and should not be eaten.  To tie in with the programme, Woolworths flighted a commercial based on its fish offering, and also declared its SASSI responsibility.  The six Finalists were introduced to Chef Suzi Holtzhausen, who ran a cooking school in Johannesburg before moving to Paternoster eight years ago, where she runs a B&B and her restaurant Gaaitjie, beautifully located on the rocks at the edge of the beach.

The Finalists were divided into two teams, being allowed to choose their team members. Manisha chose Sue-Ann and Lungi Nhlahla for her Blue Team, while Sarel chose Deena Naidoo and Khaya for his Red Team.  They had to ‘celebrate West Coast local cuisine‘, and prepare in two hours a ‘Seafood Platter of a Lifetime’, with enough food for fifteen of Chef Suzi’s invited guests and ‘VIPs’, being locals of the fishing village.  The Blue Team chose to prepare grilled crayfish, marinated trout (an odd choice for a village catching its food from the sea), and fried calamari. Manisha chose to make a white wine sauce for her team’s fish dishes.  The team’s food was served first, and its food was described as being ‘nice and soft’ by a local, its prawns were liked, as were the oysters served with horseradish sauce. The Red Team also made prawns, deep fried calamari, yellowtail, asparagus, served with wasabi mayonnaise, tartar sauce, chilli sauce, lemon butter, and peri peri sauce.  Sarel had to gut the fish, and whilst doing so, he cut himself badly, and had to receive medical treatment.  Khaya and Deena carried on without him for a while, probably giving their team a knock.  The southeaster was blowing strongly, and Khaya tried to shield her team’s food from it.  The prawns and yellowtail were praised, the crayfish was said to be undercooked, and the good selection of sauces, especially the tartar sauce, was liked.  Manisha commented about how stressful it is to stand and wait for the voting.  Chef Suzi and her guests had to each vote, and the first team to obtain 8 votes was declared the winner, the honour bestowed upon the Blue Team.

The Red Team of Khaya, Sarel, and Deena went into the Pressure Test back at Nederburg, and they had to replicate the dish that won the silver medal at the Culinary Olympics in 1995, of which Chef Andrew Atkinson was a SA team member, and which he said took four years to perfect. It was a brioche encrusted Springbok loin, an asparagus tower with a mushroom and leek ragout, a peppadew relish, and served with a Béarnaise sauce infused with Rooibos tea, and charcoal and tomato pasta.  They had 2½ hours in which to replicate the dish.

Deena picked up a problem almost immediately, in that his Béarnaise sauce ‘split’, which he said ‘derailed my thought process‘, the first time we have really seen Deena worried.  He added that he was disappointed with himself, and said that ‘I don’t think I have performed adequately in this challenge’.  His sauce was said to resemble scrambled egg, his asparagus looked like a ‘leaning tower‘, the pasta was ‘spot on’ said Chef Andrew, with the right thickness and he could taste the roasted nutmeg. The asparagus lacked seasoning, and some of it was overcooked. Chef Benny Masekwameng praised the well-cooked relish. Sarel bumped his sore finger whilst preparing his dish, and said it throbbed in ‘ache and pain’. His Béarnaise sauce was prepared at too high a heat, and curdled.  The asparagus tower was praised, and all the spears were of the same length, Chef Pete said. The meat was described as ‘blue’ by Chef Pete, but Chef Andrew said that it was in order for game to be served rare. His ragout had  ‘just the right amount of balance’, and his dish was judged to be almost identical to that prepared by Chef Andrew, except for the sauce. Khaya made the pasta herself, saying it was not as easy as it looked. She admitted that she had never made Béarnaise sauce before, and her sauce ‘split’ too. The judges spoke amongst themselves about her preparation, saying that she had left things ‘to the last minute’ and that her pasta was too thick.  Her asparagus spears faced the wrong way, she was told by the judges, her asparagus tower looked like a ‘teepee’, not all the asparagus spears being of the same length. Chef Benny praised her for her meat being perfectly prepared but lacked some seasoning but this was counteracted by her spicy relish. Chef Pete found her meat dish to be ‘very bland’, not being able to taste the mustard under the crust. Chef Andrew added that the pasta was too thick, that the sauce had split, and that he could not taste the nutmeg.  She said that she was ‘content‘ with what she had prepared. As Khaya’s dish had the most errors, she was sent home, with words of praise for her passion, and she was encouraged to carry on with it. Chef Pete wished her well with her new family, having announced her pregnancy in episode 13.  She said that she enjoyed many highs and few lows in the programme, and that she had learnt patience by participating in MasterChef SA.  Her friend Lungi seemed more sad than Khaya herself, crying about her departure.

Exciting news is that Chef Michel Roux Jr, of two-star Michelin La Gavroche restaurant in London, is to be featured in episode 16 next week, conducting one of too few Masterclasses on the programme series.

POSTSCRIPT 27/6: Visiting Woolworths’ St John’s branch in Sea Point today, it was interesting to see their SASSI poster near the fresh fish section. Of concern, however, was that more than half of the fresh fish packs do not denote the SASSI sustainability colour rating. Of even greater concern is that they sell quite a lot of kingklip, rated ‘orange‘, defined as ‘conservation concern’ on its own in-store poster! They qualify ‘orange‘ fish, writing that ‘some ‘orange’ fish are caught when catching ‘green’ fish. This is known as bycatch. We only sell selected bycatch from well managed fisheries’! One wonders if kingklip qualifies as ‘bycatch‘. The poster also states that ‘Woolworths is working with its fish suppliers and WWF (World Wildlife Fund) to ensure sustainable seafood.’ It provides a cell number (079 499 8795) which one can sms to obtain the SASSI rating of any local fish type.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio: www.whalecottage.com Twitter:@Whale Cottage

Marine Stewardship Council ecolabel shows restaurants care about seafood sustainability

I have only recently become aware of the (South African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) and its good work in trying to retain and enhance endangered fish and shellfish species, through a consumer awareness campaign which helps fish shoppers and restaurant patrons to identify which of the fishes they eat are green, orange or red, depending on their degree of endangeredness.   Last week I spent a most interesting day with the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC), an international organisation that encourages seafood sustainability by conducting audits of seafood products, from the catch until it appears in the supermarket or on the restaurant table.  Each of these steps is audited, which results in being awarded the MSC’s ecolabel, guaranteeing fishlovers that the fish they are eating is sustainable in its availability, as well as its fishing method, its processing, and transport to and use in restaurants as well as sales in supermarkets.

The Mission statement of the MSC is as follows:”to use our ecolabel and fishery certification program to contribute to the health of the world’s oceans by recognising and rewarding sustainable fishing practices, influencing the choices people make when buying seafood and working with our partners to transform the seafood market to a sustainable basis”.

The South African branch of the MSC, with the pay-off line “The best environmental choice in seafood”, hosted the workshop, which was held at Giggling Gourmet Jenny Morris’ Cooks’ Playground in De Waterkant last week.   The MSC “is a global non-profit organisation promoting solutions to the problem of overfishing”.  Its blue ecolabel is an environmental standard reflecting “the world’s leading sustainability certification for wild-caught fish”.  Consumers are encouraged to choose MSC ecolabel fish products when shopping, to help in reversing the decline in fish stocks.  In South Africa brands such as I&J and Sea Harvest carry the MSC ecolabel.

Restaurants have been slow in coming on board the sustainability boat, and we are only aware of WildWoods in Hout Bay and Blowfish in Blouberg that actively promote SASSI on their menus, particularly the latter.    Those restaurants buying their fish from MSC certified fish suppliers are encouraged to display the MSC ecolabel on their menus.  This will require an annual audit by independent auditors.  At the workshop the Shoreline Café at the Two Oceans Aquarium won a free MSC sustainable seafood audit.   The work of the MSC internationally has already changed the habits of a leading chef such as Jamie Oliver, who only selects sustainable fish from the MSC website for his dishes now. Raymond Blanc, Chef Patron at Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons in the UK, says about MSC:  “I passionately believe that it is up to each of us, be it consumer or chef, to make a responsible choice.  By supporting MSC, I am ensuring that as a chef, I am helping to ensure fish stocks will be replenished for generations to come.  I also hope that many more chefs will join this worthy cause”. 

Internationally, the following companies have become involved in the MSC seafood sustainability programme:  Walmart and Asda (pledged to be 100% certified for fresh and frozen fish by next year); Carrefour; the Dutch Retail Association, representing 99% of retailers in Holland, has committed to 99% of wild seafood sold will be MSC certified by next year;  Sainsbury’s; Marks and Spencer; Aldi; Dansk; Compass; Sodexo UK; Iglo; Bird’s Eye, John West; KLM; and many more. 

Internationally 5500 product lines from 1100 companies carry the MSC ecolabel, in 66 countries, at an estimated retail value of $1,5 billion.   In July 92 fisheries around the world were MSC-standard certified, representing 4 million metric tons of fish, with another 120 fisheries undergoing assessment, representing a further 3 million metric tons.

The MSC certification programme has helped SASSI in its work, according to Dr Samantha Petersen of SASSI: “The MSC certification provided a platform and an incentive for us to work together. Prior to that, the industry was more suspicious of us.  Once MSC status was on the cards, it gave us a common goal and opened up a dialogue that was not there before.” 

After some demonstrations by Jenny, the workshop participants grouped into teams, and I was lucky to be paired with Ingrid Gold from Caxton Magazines and Eat Out reviewer Greg Landman.  Greg is clearly a creative cook, especially when I saw him add honey to the hake he prepared for our team!   It was delicious, and it was a good way to get involvement by the participants.  Jenny’s team had prepared the most amazing seafood and salad buffet, with salmon and mussels, and we were spoilt with the wonderful looking display and tasty food.  I loved Jenny’s paper thin crispy fried butternut slices.  Then followed the most delicious seared tuna, as well as a dessert. 

What made the lunch really special was the mix of persons at our table.  Martin Purves, the Southern Africa Programme Manager for the MSC; Odette Herbert, a photographer and blogger; chefs from Bodega at Dornier wine estate, the Arabella at Kleinmond and the Shoreline Café at the Two Oceans Aquarium; and Ingrid and Greg. 

Marine Stewardship Council.   www.msc.org  Tel (021) 551-0620.  The MSC also has offices in the UK (its head office), as well as in Japan, Australia, and the USA.

Chris von Ulmenstein, Whale Cottage Portfolio:  www.whalecottage.com  Twitter: @WhaleCottage