Local chefs create shark-fin-free alternatives at Sans Fin Soup Contest

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      It was an episode of celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay's U.K. series Gordon Ramsay: Shark Bait that convinced Vancouver chef and Edible Canada sous chef Tom Lee to enter Shark Truth's Sans Fin Soup Contest, which took place at the Renaissance Vancouver Hotel Harbourside (1133 West Hastings Street) on October 13.

      "I had heard about it [Sans Fin Soup Contest] through Facebook," Lee told the Georgia Straight while serving up samples of his fin-free version of the controversial soup. "But after I stumbled upon Ramsey's episode on shark finning, that's when I got in touch with the organizer and decided to be on board."

      More than 300 guests, including a panel of judges, which included Vancouver city councilor Kerry Jang and B.C. Chefs' Association president Edgar Rahal, attended the event to sample shark-free soups by seven finalists. The contest was organized by Shark Truth—a Vancouver-based nonprofit group hoping to stop the consumption of shark-fin soup by raising awareness of its alternatives—and competing local chefs were asked to submit a recipe for an alternative to shark-fin soup.

      "I made a variation rather than trying to mimic the soup," Lee said. "I did a roasted ginger duck soup, with soba noodles, scallions, B.C. wild mushrooms, and duck confit."

      Lee's creation, which featured a dark-brown broth and a gingery zing, won the People's Choice award.

      Entries by The Sandbar Restaurant executive chef William Tse and p2b Bistro Bar executive chef Edmund Yee also took home prizes (the Harry's Favourite and Sans Fin Soup Star awards, respectively). Tse's fin-free alternative was a seafood-based soup that used gelatin to mimic the texture of shark fin. Meanwhile, Yee used abalone and crab as the specialty ingredients in his soup.

      "For me, all soups come from the base, so I came up with a few special, favourite ingredients of mine to come up with my creation," Yee told the Straight. "It's the same base for shark-fin soup, but then it's really more about texture."

      While the consumption of abalone—considered part of the "big four" in Chinese cuisine alongside shark fin, sea cucumber, and fish maw (swim bladder)—also has experienced controversy, Yee said that his fresh abalone was within Ocean Wise's farmed abalone guidelines.

      "There are always ingredients for anything. You just have get the right product," he said.

      Not all of the soups were as traditional-tasting as the creations by Tse and Yee. Todd Bright, who is executive chef at Wild Rice, presented a creamy seafood bisque topped with mushrooms, glass noodles, and lotus root; while Montgomery Lau, executive sous chef at YVR's Westin Wall Centre, made a consommé-style soup with chicken, shitake mushrooms, Chinese ham, and quail's egg.

      "These seven amazing chefs have really hauled out their complete effort to attend this event and serve delicious shark-fin free alternatives. I think it's an amazing moment for shark conservation," Shark Truth founder Claudia Li told the Straight towards the end of the event. "This is right on the heels of the California announcement, and today (October 13) in Toronto, they voted unanimously to move the motion forward to ban shark fin. So this is really exciting for us, and this event is just part of the rollercoaster of momentum."

      Below, Michelle da Silva photos

      People's Choice award winning ginger-duck soup by Edible Canada sous chef Tom Lee.

      The Sandbar Restaurant executive chef William Tse serves his fin-free creation.

      Chef Ben Lai's cannelloni bean soup with vegetable marrow, Chinese sausage, and white truffle foam.

      Vancouver city councilor Kerry Jang was among the panel of judges at the Sans Fin Soup Contest.

      Shark Truth founder Claudia Li.

      You can follow Michelle da Silva on Twitter at twitter.com/michdas.




      Oct 14, 2011 at 12:09pm

      Vancouver, BC, should Ban Shark Fins for any reason with heavy fines + JAIL TIME.

      This Ban should extend to Bear Paws, Bear Gall Bladders, Tiger Balls and any other retarded body part and/or animal.

      This may help prevent a SARS type OUTBREAK in downtown Vancouver.

      And NEXT TIME there's a fucking SARS type Outbreak (there will be) BAN ALL FLIGHTS FROM ASIA INTERMEDIATELY.

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      Oct 14, 2011 at 5:05pm

      Way to go Gordon Ramsay! He may not be liked by many due to his finely honed "shouty chef" tv persona; but you have to respect the fact that he has some very big clout, and walks the walk.

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      Heather Smith

      Oct 17, 2011 at 4:41pm

      The comment above is just further proof that this movement is rooted in xenophobia. If this really had anything to do with cruelty, we'd ban veal and foie gras and hell, all factory farming too.

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      Oct 24, 2011 at 7:38pm

      Hi Mayor Ford of Toronto

      Unlike all of these Conservative bashing people of Toronto, I'd like to extend you my thanks for standing behind the asian community.

      Never have I been more disgusted by the double standard that Canadians treat us (and yes I am Canadian). Foie gras is cultivated by ramming food down a goose and killing it for its liver, but since it's a delicacy and 'ethical foie gras' doesn't taste as good, Canadians turn a blind eye. But since no Canadian understands shark fin as a delicacy, they are first to ban it because it makes them feel all warm and fuzzy inside.

      Let's end Canadian racism by showing Canada that Toronto is a multi cultural city.

      Many thanks and keep up your leadership

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      Ric C

      Oct 29, 2011 at 2:30pm

      To take issue with the above comments, firstly I agree that comment by commies smacks of xenophobia and does not help the discussion on shark fin issues. In fact it detracts by turning this into a issue of race/culture. It isn't- it is an issue of sustainability! It is a cruel practice, but the food industry is full of cruel practices as mentioned by the posters above- I do not disagree with this or the point that IF this was the only issue then shark fin would be no different to veal or foie gras. this IS NOT the issue however. Sharks are being killed unsustainably (73 million plus per year), wastefully (fins make up 5% of the shark's body the rest is usually wasted) and for no clear reason (sharks fin imparts NO taste to the soup, has NO nutritional value, and NO health benefits- high levels of mercury make it risky in fact for women who are or are planning on becoming pregnant). This is not to condone intensive farming practices or issues of cruelty but on sustainable domestic species and to feed the nutritional requirement of populations does make it a different issue.
      Shark fin soup is a luxury which is about kudos of having the name of the dish on the menu, nothing more. Consider this in the face of the fact that shark species are being driven to EXTINCTION and the impact that this will have on entire ocean ecosystems. As the apex predator sharks are essential in maintaining the marine ecology in balance, remove them and sea life diversity will suffer as a whole. Fishing industries, tourism (reefs etc), even the oxygen producing potential of the oceans is potentially at risk.
      This is not an issue of Culture or race, if you still believe it to be so then you need to look into the impact that the trade is having and will have to check the validity of what I have written. For me it is not even an issue of cruelty, because it cannot be held as unique in this regard. It is overwhelmingly an issue of ecological sustainability and pure common sense. To condone the continuation of the practice in the face of the evidence on these accepted conservation issues is short-sighted and selfish, most people will agree once they are in full possession of the facts. Too often however these facts are lost in a misguided belief that the prime concerns are cruelty and cultural differences. The most ardent and well informed supporters of shark fin bans that I know are Chinese and it is because they do not want to be associated with with this level of destruction. Racism and anti-Chinese sentiment has nothing to offer this movement and threatens to derail all the good work being done to educate people.

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      Mark Chudleigh

      Nov 17, 2011 at 6:32pm

      The reason people pay high prices for Shark fin soup , is because it's authentic and traditional . It's sounds like offering an American a Hamburger , but making the burger from Vegetables and not meat ! Ramsey is on the right lines and good on him to highlight the problem , but die hard Shark fin soup lovers aren't going to accept alternatives !

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      Nov 24, 2011 at 8:50am

      Went to Chinatown the other day. Shark Fin soup...$150.00 a small bowl!! They're nuts! I suppose they are NOT nuts. The clowns that pay for it are.

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