Nobu Matsuhisa has done some remarkable things in the culinary world. He somehow convinced Americans to not only eat raw fish but to pay a pretty penny for it. Then he went on to make sushi an international cuisine; today, there are 24 Nobu restaurants around the world. In an interview I once did with him, I learned that he single-handedly introduced jalapeno farming to Japan because one of his signature dishes, the yellowtail sashimi with jalapeno, had become such a hit there. He has, needless to say, had a staggering global impact.
Nobu has the chance to change the way we eat once again, this time by taking Northern bluefin tuna, a critically endangered species of fish whose breeding stock the World Wildlife Federation estimates will be extinct by 2012, off his menus. Britain, France, and Monaco recently announced that they’ll support an international ban on the sale of Northern bluefin tuna. Yet the Nobu restaurant group, despite pressure from celebrities and from environmental groups, refuses to do this. The only concession they’ve made in this matter is to label bluefin tuna “environmentally threatened” on the Nobu London menu; none of the other Nobu restaurant menus carry such a warning (which woefully undersells the problem, anyway).
We’ll be the first to admit that we love us some bluefin tuna, especially the toro, or fatty belly, cut. We could eat it until we became human thermometers. But this fish is facing extinction. As a culinary innovator, Nobu could set a powerful example by removing Northern bluefin off his menus. There are, as the saying goes, so many other fish in the sea. And Nobu doesn’t just cater to tastes, he creates them. Once upon a time, fine diners used to think that raw fish was disgusting and slimy, yellowtail coupled with jalapeno and cilantro incompatible, and uni, or sea urchin, about as appetizing as baby poo, and now, we’ll pay $20 a plate for that shit. People adapt. The overfished Northern bluefin cannot, however, unless people like Nobu help lead the way.
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