A great restaurant starts with a great idea. It’s the idea that excites the chef, draws in the staff, and puts reservations on the books. Erik Sun had one such notion while raising funds for one of LA’s most respected restaurants: He wanted to build a restaurant around his philosophies of ethical sourcing and sustainability. It’s an idea borne out of the chef’s own twin passions of hunting and fishing and reflects his love of the outdoors.
As he puts it, “You need to give time to nature in order for nature to give back to you.”
When he’s not in the kitchen, Sun spends his time in California’s kelp beds tracking, spearing, and collecting fish. He hunts in the brush-covered foothills. He believes — fully and completely — that there’s nothing fresher and more sustainable than harvesting proteins yourself. It’s a concept that he takes very seriously.
“When you know where your meat comes from,” he says, “and you have a hands on experience — you’re able to respect it.”
For the average person on the street, what Sun is doing is revolutionary. Most of us have never had a hand in harvesting our food. We rely on farms and ranches to supply products to stores and restaurants. By the time we see it, it’s plated and ready to go. That’s not to say that we all need to rush out to stalk deer or spearfish every week — but to do so even once would certainly offer a new outlook. It would push us toward conscious consumption. For now, Sun acts as our surrogate, ensuring that any dish he plates is sourced in a way that shows respect for the animal and has a sustainable future.
The fact is, ethical sourcing isn’t always easy. This year we’ve paid close attention to how often commercial fisheries are exploited. As our own Steve Bramucci put it earlier this year “As with many conversations around food system sustainability, the right approach is complicated. Sadly, there’s no magic bullet.” Sun’s approach may be narrow — in that he’s one chef in one city — but it’s a direction that brings us closer to understanding where we belong in this ecosystem.
Naturally, we don’t all have time to go out everyday and spear some sea bass or track a wild pig. Nor do we often have the wherewithal (or even the desire). Sun openly worries that fishing and hunting are seen negatively these days, but statistics would suggest otherwise. A study by Scientific American showed that 80 percent of Americans support hunting and fishing as a natural part of our society. Could the chef lead a new era of people sourcing their own food? Maybe. But he’s definitely helping push the sustainable sourcing conversation in new directions. That’s a huge win.