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Local Chef Takes North Pacific Seafood Off Menu

Published On: Jan 15 2014 07:19:40 PM CST
Updated On: Jan 15 2014 11:13:07 PM CST

Chef Robert Perez says Fukushima disaster tainted California seafood

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. -

A Santa Barbara chef is taking extreme measures to keep his customers safe from what said is dangerous seafood.

Robert Perez has been a chef for more than three decades, but it was the nuclear disaster in Japan that changed the way he cooks.

In March 2011, a tsunami triggered by an earthquake rocked the Fukushima Nuclear Power Plant, causing radioactive materials to leak.

Even though scientists have said that the radiation in the ocean is now low, Perez isn't buying it.

"The way things are heading, we just feel strongly that it is not safe, and I'm not going to consume the fish and I'm definitely not going to provide it to my guests. I just can't do that with a clear conscience," said Perez.

The menu at Seagrass changed slightly two years ago when the restaurant stopped using Japanese seafood. Around a year ago, Hawaiian fish was taken off the menu. Now, all seafood from the San Diego border to Alaska is gone.

The change has forced Perez to get his fish from Mexico, the Atlantic or even farther.

"Alpine, New Zealand salmon," said Perez as he unwrapped a piece of fish. "It comes from glacier water."

He believes he's the only chef in the area making such strict choices on his food, because no one really talks about it.

"They go, 'Fuku-what?' It's like the F-word. It's like the other F-word, or maybe it's the new F-word," he said.

Scientist think avoiding the seafood is overboard and have said the levels of radiation in fish are less than what people are exposed to from x-rays.

Perez said he has to be able to stand behind what he serves, even if people think it's extreme.

"It's easy for people to be convinced that there's no harm right now, and that's part of the problem," he said.

Although it's an adjustment for customers, Perez said he's not trying to stand out.

"That's just part of who we are. And I cook because I want to please people. And I want people to be healthy with my food. I want them to feel good physically and spiritually. So that's my intent, that's the intent I put out there. So if I have a product that I feel uncomfortable with, and I don't care if it's an onion or a piece of meat or a piece of fish, it's all the same. It has to be something that I can stand behind and say, 'Please try this.'"

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