Sam Talbot Is A Big Fan Of Water, Part 1

When Sam Talbot opened his latest restaurant, Imperial No. Nine in NYC in March, he could have taken it easy. He could have just served up comfort food or burgers or wood-oven pizza or pasta. But he didn't. He created a restaurant in a chic, glassed-in room off the lobby of the new Mondrian SoHo, and he made a commitment to serving sustainable seafood that's conscious of the environment in every way possible.

Talbot's a surfer, a Diabetic, a stylish guy who was recently profiled in The New York Times and spotted wearing "a black Valentino coat over a Rogan flannel." He's logged time on Top Chef, exhibited his paintings at Art Basel Miami Beach, and has been known to attract a model or two to his oft-tattooed 6'5" frame. When he's not tending to matters in Manhattan, he's at his other restaurant, The Surf Lodge, in idyllic Montauk—his personal surf paradise. You'll be able to read all about him in his book, due out in October, The Sweet Life: Diabetes Without Boundaries.

But for now, let's check in with Mr. Talbot about everything from the sourcing of his tuna to his eco-friendliness and more in this two-part interview.

How's it going with Imperial No. Nine and your commitment to sustainable seafood so far?

It's going really well. The thing when you're dealing with sustainable seafood is that it takes a lot of research. It's time-consuming and sometimes it just boils down to this: It can be a pain in the ass. Because if I run out of tuna on a Friday night, I can't just call up my fish guy and be like, "Hey man, I need tuna on the fly. Can you bring it here?" Right? Because it's not gonna be sustainable. So that hurts. When you're dealing with sustainable fish, they have seasons. Like Carolina Redfish is a certain season. Striped bass from Virginia is a certain season. Striped bass from Montauk is a certain season. So you have to be willing to be pretty diverse and really able and have the other options, be able to change your menu on the fly like that too.

What made you wanna do this in the first place?

I was raised in the Carolinas, so I was an ocean guy who moved up to Charleston like earlier teens and everything. And now having a house out in Montauk since 2008, and a restaurant. The ocean is where I'm happiest. The ocean is where I'm calmest. I'm trying to be in the water as much as possible: surfing, swimming, fishing, just being outside in general. So it's right to do by the ocean that does right by me. With that being said, there's a lot of vague information. There's a lot of grey areas. There's a lot of politics involved, too, you know. So what we do downstairs in the kitchen is we follow a lot of different sort of bibles. We follow the Monterey Bay Aquarium and their Seafood Watch list. We follow the Ocean Blue website. We follow Clean Fish. We check toxicity reports in the EPA and FAA. When you're dealing with a restaurant that is trying to become sustainable — or an even better terminology, what I like to call it is just being eco-responsible — it just takes a lot of time and a lot of research and finding the best purveyor. How are they farming their product? Whether you're talking about honey or a piece of striped bass? So basically every item. The eco-responsibility runs throughout the menu. It's not just the seafood. So every menu item has a storyline behind it, whether it's vinegar from Napa Valley or a small artisan producer of honey in the Adirondacks... Everything has a story behind it. We're just trying to do things the right way.

What about the peekytoe crab, which I just tried. Does that quality as a seafood that's not hurting the environment?

Peekytoe crab. So what you just ate was actually Alaskan king crab knuckles that have been shredded. Peekytoe Crab, Jonah crab, are from Maine and are 100% sustainable. So peekytoe crab is actually a made-up name by the industry, similar to something like Chilean sea bass. Chilean sea bass is a made-up name. That's no reference to the fish whatsoever. The name of the fish is Patagonian toothfish. But imagine sitting with your girlfriend at a restaurant and being like, "I'm gonna take the Patagonian toothfish." So they call it Chilean sea bass.

I love the Seafood Watch app, but I still feel like it's hard to tell which tuna is okay to have. I was surprised to even see raw tuna on your menu.

Well my tuna is hook and line caught from the Philippines. So someone says to me, "Oh, well how is that sustainable if you're flying it in from the Philippines?" The flight from the Philippines was already happening. The tuna gets to be on a commercial flight. So the flight was already going up regardless of paid seats that already emitted fumes and toxins into the environment. So I'm not adding more to it. But yeah, it's 100% sustainable. Hook and line cod sent from the Philippines. And it's amazing. You had it.

Yeah, it's really good.

It's one of the number one selling dishes on the menu. People just rave about it. I just wrote my first book, and it's one of the recipes of the book as well. There's like six ingredients in that dish. But that tuna is 100% sustainable.

When is your book coming out?

October 24. Book's called The Sweet Life. And off that I created a charity. I'm type-one diabetic. I don't know if you knew that...


So the book is called The Sweet Life, and it's a diabetes-based cookbook. It's about 75% cooking and 25% lifestyle. It's a guide, a blueprint. It's the story of me circumnavigating being a type-one diabetic from the age of 11 to today, which is what, 33. How to travel, how to tell a girlfriend you have a syringe in your pocket, how to go through an airport, getting to the Amazon, how to be homeless in Paris for 30 days. Being a type-one diabetic, I drove across the country. I drove to every state, through to Alaska and through to Hawaii. How to eat on the road without eating fast food potato chips.

That's a good point. That's one of the things that's really interesting about what's going on in the food world today. There's a lot of hyper-aware chefs in the major cities and sometimes out in the countryside. But it's very difficult to eat when you're on the road and in the middle of this country and eat anything that's eco-conscious or good for you or anything like that.

No, and with that being said there's like 10 items in my book that are kind of like grab and go items. For example I was driving to Durango, Colorado, and I passed this little health food store. I got ground açai, mulberries, golden berries, white sesame seeds, filberts, and goji berries. Eight of the things, six of the...

...Super foods!

Yes. I had a little skillet, a little camping thing. So I put the skillet on there, added the dried açai powder to the pan with no fat and it sort of gets almost woody. Tossed all the other ingredients with a little stevia and sweetened it. It doesn't raise your glycemic index whatsoever. And then I just put it in a Tupperware container and that's what I ate in place of potato chips. I would buy trout or catch trout. You have to take the time to do that, right. You have to want to do that. Like if you're driving cross country, you have to be a little bit more methodical and calculated. Like, Okay, I'm gonna try to sustain on the road. I'm not gonna eat all of this trans fatty, cheese burger, tacos, potato chip-ridden whatever.