The birth of Canada is on the backs of the fishing industry,” says Ned Bell. “The Spanish and Portuguese came for the abundance of cod; the fabled stories are that you could walk across the Grand Banks on the cod. Unfortunately, we overfished them.” Bell is speaking from the tip of Vancouver’s English Bay and gazing towards the fishing boats heading out to bring in local spot prawns, which are in season at the moment. It’s what you might expect from someone who’s dedicated his career to the cause of sustainable (and delicious) seafood.
Bell is the former executive chef of YEW seafood + bar at the Four Seasons Hotel Vancouver and current executive chef for the Ocean Wise Program at the Vancouver Aquarium. He apprenticed with chef Rob Feenie at Le Crocodile in Vancouver, later following him to Vancouver’s Lumière and Accolade in Toronto.
After several years in Ontario and Alberta, Bell returned to British Columbia about 10 years ago. When he was offered the position at Yew, he accepted on the condition that he could make the menu completely sustainable. “We became the first luxury hotel in the country to become 100 per cent Ocean Wise. Over the next five years, we grew the business by about $1 million a year. It’s my belief that we grew on the back of our hyper-concentration on sustainable seafood,” he says. “Sustainable seafood at that time became my singular focus as a chef.”
In 2014, Bell cycled across Canada to engage chefs and the broader community in the future of our oceans.He founded an alliance called Chefs for Oceans and the annual National Sustainable Seafood Day (March 18).
While acknowledging the challenges of bringing endangered and overharvested species back from the brink of extinction, Bell is optimistic about the future. In September, he is launching the first in a three-part seafood-cookbook series, and his Ocean Wise contract has been extended.
“In our 150th year, I would argue our country has as good a chance as any other country in the world to be a global leader when it comes to how we manage our ocean resources,” he says. “We just have to lay off some of the species we have hammered for the last 50 or 100 years. And I know that in these oceans that I’m staring across, there are 10,000 edible plants. I get so excited, I can barely stand it.”
Volume 50, Number 4
Written by Sarah B. Hood