Growing up, we were told there were “always other fish in the sea” — a tidy little metaphor to explain the power of choice. But that trite cliche may not hold water for long: studies say that at the rate we’re consuming fish there will be none left as soon as 2050. It’s a frightening statistic, one that Chef Rob Ruiz is determined to change.
The San Diego chef, ocean activist, and 2016 winner of the Ocean Award for his work saving the Vaquita Porpoise, has become a world leader in seafood conservation and sustainable, ethical consumption. And Ruiz’ popular San Diego eatery, The Land & Water Co., is known for being on the forefront of sustainable seafood and ethical eating.
“We bake our own breads, and we make everything here in house,” Ruiz says. “Every sauce, every grain of rice, everything is made from scratch here in the building.”
When preparing fish, they waste nothing. “We utilize the entire creature — we don’t just take the filets off and throw it away.”
Ruiz’ passion is making his restaurant as environmentally friendly as possible and he carries his “waste not” philosophy to nearly every aspect of the operation. The Land & Water Co. composts their organic waste, recycles everything that comes out of the building, and uses their compost to support a garden, where they grow many of their ingredients. Even the water that The Land & Water Co. soaks veggies in is saved and used to water the garden after service ends.
It’s an ambitious operation, but Ruiz wouldn’t run the business any other way. As his mentor, Chef Alan Wong, a James Beard winner, once told him, “If you don’t know where it came from, what it ate, what it is, and how to cook it, you have no business serving it.” It’s a philosophy Ruiz has remained focused on for his entire career.
Originally from Oceanside, 50 miles north of San Diego, Ruiz has always felt that the ocean was his home. “I was born and raised next to the ocean,” he says. “I spent my life living in the ocean, and I care for it deeply. It’s something up from a young child to now, that I’ve just been consumed with.”
At 17, fresh out of high school and feeling directionless, he decided to move to the islands of Hawaii to clear his head, surf, and figure out what he wanted to do. It was a move that would lead to a lifelong obsession with cooking and fish.