As executive chef of Four Seasons Vancouver, part of a company that includes about 100 properties around the world, Bell realized he had the opportunity to effect some change among his peer group.
"You don't meet many chefs these days who are worth their salt — you know, the top-quality, top-top-tier, really salt-of the-Earth chefs — who don't know where most, if not all, of their food comes from when it comes to the land: fruits, vegetables, pigs, chickens, beef, eggs, cheese, bread, artisan, whatever," said the Okanagan-born Bell, who has also worked in kitchens in Niagara, Ont., Toronto, Calgary and Kelowna, B.C.
"But most of my peers don't have any idea where their seafood comes from."
He's an avid supporter of the Ocean Wise sustainability standard and adopted it in the hotel's seafood restaurant Yew.
The Vancouver Aquarium conservation program was created to educate and empower consumers about the issues surrounding sustainable seafood. The organization defines sustainable seafood as species caught or farmed in a way that ensures the long-term health and stability of that species, as well as the greater marine ecosystem.
In early 2014, Bell founded Chefs for Oceans to engage chefs through education. Then he cycled 8,700 kilometres across Canada to promote his mission. During the 72-day trip last summer, he hosted 24 events with local chefs.
"My big hairy audacious goal is to have sustainable seafood accessible to every Canadian within the next decade. That was launched last year so I have nine years left in that mission," Bell, 41, said prior to addressing members of the hospitality industry at the recent Terroir Symposium in Toronto.
As the father of young children, he wants to ensure oceans, lakes and rivers are healthy for future generations.
"I want my little boy Max to be able to enjoy wild salmon when he's in his 50s. And at this point, I'm not sure he's going to be able to. And that scares me," he said.
"There are seven oceans around the world. In Canada, we're bordered by three of them. And though two billion people around the world rely on the world's oceans for their daily source of protein, the resource has been poorly treated."
Ocean Wise has a top 10 list of unsustainable items it suggests be removed from menus: black tiger prawns, rockfish, ahi tuna, Atlantic cod, squid, wild sea scallops, Chilean sea bass, open-net farmed salmon, sole and orange roughy.
One way to preserve wild species is to improve the way fish are farm-raised.
He's a fan of land-based salmon farming, which has the benefits of a controlled environment, lower energy consumption and no antibiotic use.
Most people don't understand how their shellfish is cultivated, said Bell.
"Shrimp is the most consumed seafood in North America and it's also the cheapest garbage that you could possibly want to consume," he said.
"I refuse to eat any black tiger prawns from southeast Asia because it's coated in poor antibiotics and poor chemicals."
Chefs can serve sustainable fish and seafood and explain why and where diners can purchase it to cook at home.
"If we ask for Ocean Wise or SeaChoice certified seafood and that's all we want to buy, guess what? There'll be more of it in the case," said Bell, who appeared on Food Network Canada's "Cook Like a Chef."
Chefs for Oceans, http://www.chefsforoceans.com
Ocean Wise, http://www.oceanwise.ca
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