David Friedman didn’t like fish growing up. But his tastebuds changed in 2002 when he took a life-altering trip to Japan following an abortive first career as a Web designer.
Developing a love for seafood was part of a personal sea change in which the 45-year-old Toronto native transformed into a chef upon his return to Canada in 2006.
Settling on the West Coast, Friedman enrolled in the Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, which was affiliated with the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise conservation program, created to educate consumers about sustainable seafood.
He was, you could say, hooked. “Sustainability is the idea that we’re not sacrificing the future in pursuit of food,” says Friedman, for whom sustainable seafood has become a passion.
His objective was to establish his own place where he could turn the passion into a practice.
After moving back to Toronto in 2007 and working under other chefs, last summer he opened Red Fish, billed as the city’s only 100-per-cent sustainable seafood restaurant. He owns and operates the core-area eatery with sommelier Jaime Duran.
In less than a year, Red Fish has attracted a strong following and equally strong reviews.
“Sustainability in Toronto is growing,” Friedman reports. “But we have to keep pushing for more.”
He has a no-compromises policy at Red Fish.
Before purchasing seafood for his restaurant, Friedman personally visits the fish farm from where it was sourced to ensure that environmentally sound practices have been followed. He is known to remove an item from the menu when sustainability can’t be assured.
What Friedman takes from his country’s waterways, he seeks to give back.
Red Fish is allied with Lake Ontario Waterkeeper, to which it donates $3 from every piece of whitefish sold. The novel fundraising initiative is aimed at helping the nonprofit organization clean up Lake Ontario, which has just one commercial fishery, the least of all the Great Lakes.
But it’s not just fish he’s trying to help.
Friedman comes from a family of educators and credits them for showing him how to share his passion for sustainable seafood with others.
“Lots of people can put food on a plate,” Friedman says. “But I think what makes a great chef is someone who can show someone else how to do it.”