Published in The Planner


By: Marilyn Lazar


What to do? The world is a confusing, conflicted place, nowhere more so than at the dinner table. Concerns for health and the environment are both coming to the forefront. Fish choices are popular as a lighter alternative and for reasons of kashrut. To shed light on the topic, Toronto Party Planner spoke to Lauren Mozer of Chefs Chez Vous Personal Chef Service ( With partner Moira Murray, these young entrepreneurs exemplify idealistic world citizens vying for creative and commercial success in a competitive market.

Have you noticed shifts in clients’ behaviour that you attribute to environmental concerns?

Unfortunately, most of our new and existing clients are not yet very well educated on the subject of sustainable food choices. When it comes to “going green”, many citizens of Toronto have made changes in how they purchase cleaning supplies, household goods, and have placed a lot of emphasis on the Green Bin Program as well as on recycling responsibilities. In the outskirts of the city, these programs may not be in place. For example, we have clients who live in Mississauga, Oakville, and Maple who haven’t even been issued green bins yet. Instead, they have garborators, which have actually been outlawed in the city of Toronto because of their negative environmental impact. As personal chefs, we not only cook, but also clean up after ourselves within the client’s home. We don’t have much control over these issues.

What about food?

We find that the general public is still relatively uninformed about food choices. When splurging on a decadent evening in, most clients are concerned about the flavour and extravagance of the ingredients. We have yet to work with a client who has specifically requested local or sustainable food choices. Of course we don’t fault our clients for their unawareness on the issue of sustainable food, as the knowledge base is simply not readily available to them. Neighborhood supermarkets and superstores have made local options almost impossible. Finding local farmers is a challenge, even with the abundance of farmers’ markets in Toronto. Most of them are open during limited hours which make it difficult for people who work full time. Also, it’s unreasonable to expect consumers to give up products such as oranges or spices that cannot be found locally any time of the year.

How do you balance your awareness with clients’ demands?

As cooks/chefs who are aware of these issues, but who also prioritize pleasing our clients, we make those choices on our own when possible, and bring the awareness to our clients through menu design. For example, we note on our prix fixe and a la carte menus posted online, that certain ingredients are subject to change, depending on seasonality of products and availability. However, if a client wants asparagus in the dead of winter, we will supply it. We might suggest alternatives, but when it comes down to it, the choice is always the client’s. We hope to one day have more control over such choices, but as young women who have just started out a new business this year, we don’t yet wield that kind of power.

What animals are now considered “endangered species”?

When asked this question, the first thing that comes to mind is sustainability with regards to seafood. An estimated 90% of all large, predatory fish are already gone from the world’s oceans. Recent studies predict a world-wide fisheries collapse by 2048. Many organizations, such as “Ocean Wise”, suggest that consuming seafood in a sustainable manner is the only solution.

Their recommendations are based on 4 criteria. An “Ocean Wise” recommended species is:

1) Abundant and resilient to fishing pressures

2) Well managed with a comprehensive management plan based on current research

3) Harvested in a method that ensures limited by-catch on non-target and endangered species

4) Harvested in ways that limit damage to marine or aquatic habitats and negative interactions with other species.

– Ocean Wise

After attending an Ocean Wise event I did some of my own research. Commercial fisheries continue to reduce fish populations and have subsequently altered the world’s marine ecosystems. According to Sea Choice, 52% of fish stocks have been fully exploited; 16% have been over-exploited; 7% have been depleted. On their website, they classify species of fish into three groups: those to avoid; those with some concerns; and those with that are the best choice. Some of the most common fish that people have gotten used to purchasing at the supermarket are actually horrible choices. Atlantic Salmon, Sea Bass, Tuna, and Tilapia are all horrible choices, and yet the first and cheapest choices you’ll be faced with at the supermarket. I have just recently become aware of such issues. However, I have not removed all of the items on my menu that include such species. Again, the demand is there, and I aim to please my clients. Unfortunately, I also love a good Tuna Tartar, and Sea Bass is one of my favorite fish. It becomes a huge moral dilemma.

Why use food from within miles of home?

What it comes down to for me, is that eating locally from sustainable sources is beneficial from various standpoints. The fresher the produce, the more nutritious it will be. By supporting local producers, one supports the growth of our agricultural industry. Purchasing locally is also environmentally friendly because it reduces the carbon dioxide emissions involved in shipping goods.

Are other food items simply politically incorrect?

Veal is certainly known as a controversial product. The controversy that surrounds veal is in how the calves are raised. They are raised in dark, confined pens, and are fed iron deprived diets, which cause anemia. This is done to keep the meat a pale pink rather than red. Criticism is based on the fact that the calves are highly restricted in movement, spend their entire lives indoor, experience prolonged sensory, social, and exploratory deprivation, and are susceptible to high amounts of stress and disease. Ultimately, it’s up to individual chefs and customers to make that decision for themselves, in my eyes.

Is there a shift in how you source your products and in how these suppliers service you?

We go to many farmers’ markets and buy there when possible. We certainly do not restrict our menus to sustainable products. When presented with the option of locally farmed products vs. non-locally farmed products, we will most definitely choose the former.

Given your experience, can you predict the next trend?

My partner and I have noticed a growing interest in more “exotic” game meats, such as ostrich, venison elk, caribou, etc.

Published in: on October 22, 2010 at 1:18 pm  Leave a Comment  
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