Rick Moonen, one of the country’s leading advocates of the sustainable seafood movement, authored Fish Without a Doubt, a practical guide to buying, preparing and cooking fish. His restaurants, Rick Moonen’s rm seafood and Rx Boiler Room at Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, Nevada, showcase his commitment to sustainability without foregoing culinary creativity, and they’ve been acclaimed since day one. Moonen has been featured in Food & Wine, Saveur and Bon Appétit and seen on Food Network’s Best Thing I Ever Ate and Top Chef Masters. He has received numerous awards including Humanitarian of the Year by the American Culinary Federation.
Q&A Rick Moonen
Describe the West: Rich and wild
What is your favourite ingredient to cook with? Fresh herbs from my backyard garden … pick one or three … I love them all.
What is your favourite regional dish? California, Thai, Chinese, Korean, French, Mexican and Japanese [dishes].
What tasty bite should travellers to the West not miss? Abalone, caviar and oysters!
What inspires you about your region? Even though we are in the middle of the desert, the culture is organic, as it’s always changing and moving. Part of that culture is the challenge to stay current. I embrace that.
What inspires you about your work? Traveling, and being inspired by my experiences learning from other cultures.
What’s your favourite place to visit in the US? New York City; Napa and San Francisco, California.
Where is your favourite city to eat in the US? Asheville, North Carolina, and Las Vegas, Nevada.
Who/What inspired you to become a chef? I am a science geek, and I love to eat. I originally wanted to become a dietitian before I enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in 1976. During my two years at school, I fell in love with the need to multitask constantly to produce something that made people happy. My laboratory was the kitchen, and the multitude of fresh ingredients became my constant experiment. I still love what I do 35 years later.
How are you inspired by your environment and the seasonal foods in the US? My garden and the multitude of fruits and vegetables that I can grow in the desert blows my mind. If I am going to use water on my garden, then it will produce food for my table. I compost everything in my kitchen, and that amounts to a lot of nutrient-rich food for my garden. Remember…[I’m a] science geek. This is the ultimate way to connect with your environment. Grow your dinner! If it is coming from my garden, then it must be in season!
How has American culture shaped the way you cook? I eat much cleaner than I ever have before. My love for grilling is completely American. My father loved to grill and therefore … so do I. Non-GMO, more gluten free (my wife is intolerant), organic and fresh. I am a fan of barbecue and the various sauces along with the techniques that it requires to perfect.
What international influences have inspired your cooking? America is a real melting pot of flavours and ethnicities. I have experimented with every Asian cuisine at some point of my career. I learned under the watchful eyes of French-trained chefs, where I learned flavour and technique. I have ultimate respect for Italian cuisine for its simple treatment of great ingredients. Living in the Southwest, I incorporate Mexican flavours constantly. I have recently been on an Indian cuisine kick. I love using every spice in my pantry, and there are a lot. I get whole spices from high-quality houses and use them to inspire my next Sunday night feast. I invite friends over most times to help me with the abundance of food that I just can’t help but make.