Meet the Producer : JOTO Fresh Fish
Seafood: delicious, clean and healthy, known for being the star in the world’s healthiest diets.
Here in Australia, we love seafood, and it’s often a key player in any Aussie celebration or summer BBQ.
Interestingly, although we are a large nation surrounded by ocean, Australia’s seafood production is surprisingly small. In fact, around 70% of the seafood that we consume here, is imported from either New Zeeland or Asia. So why is that?
Well, even though we have access to so much open water, there is a limited amount of rainfall in Australia, which subsequently restricts the nutrients from our soil (that is a natural resource for a lot of fish stocks) to run off of our lands and into the ocean. We also don’t have any significant offshore upwelling’s from nearby deep seas, like a lot of other continents like North America, South Africa and Europe has.
After speaking to Robert Cockerill at Bennelong, in this month’s Meet The Chef interview, we were intrigued to find out more about their supplier of seafood, and how, as a wholesaler, you can separate yourself from the norm to provide a unique product.
So we went down to the fish market to catch up Jules Crocker, founder of JOTO Fresh Fish and Business development manager Wayne Hulme, who deals directly with clients like Bennelong and Quay.
Jules started JOTO Fresh Fish almost 20 years ago but has been part of the industry much longer than that. What started as a “just a job” down at the fish market, developed into a lifelong fascination, not just of the diversity in seafood, but the customer service and satisfaction in presenting a consumer with the best of the best.
After having worked in retail for a couple of years, managing a range of smaller fishmongers, Jules felt the urge to start something of his own, and so the JOTO brand was born.
Today JOTO supply some of Sydney’s most prestigious and well-known restaurants and maintain a significant relationship with wild and agricultural fisheries around Australia and New Zealand.
Last year JOTO was bought by wholesale giant Poulos Bros Seafood, but Jules and his team are still very active and involved in the JOTO Fresh production and supply. In fact, his team are still working exclusively with the JOTO clients, and if anything the merger has increased Jules connection and access to produce around Australia, as Poulos Bros is Australia’s largest wholesaler and have exclusive contracts with a number of fisheries.
What makes JOTO’s Fresh Fish so unique, is the communication that Jules and his team have worked so hard on for decades to build and strengthen between the fishermen and the customers. It’s a constant battle to keep on top of supply, availability, weather and at the same time actively looking ahead for alternatives. But this is what makes them such a respected and well-known wholesaler.
Jules and his team are all very passionate and invested in the process of producing the perfect product. They love to see their product being made into a “masterpiece on the plate” by our talented Sydney chefs.
It’s impressive to get an insight into the daily preparation of fish and seafood at this level, the Poulos and Joto production warehouse is clean and pristine, and there is a buzz as I arrive around 8 am on a Tuesday morning. Most of the workers are well into the day by this stage and production is flowing. The men in white lab coats and hairnets are fast, precise and their knives are cutting into the fresh fish flesh as if it was butter. Crushed ice and running water are flowing over the stainless steel benches, and polystyrene crates and boxes are neatly stacked around the large warehouse. A lot is going on, but there is no mess, no smell. It’s clean, fresh and efficient, every chef’s dream.
Jules Crocker has always had a personal soft spot for sustainability in his work and has in the past owned two independent retail businesses, which exclusively supplied sustainable seafood. Today JOTO Fresh Fish prides themselves in their range of seafood but recognises that the market is much bigger now and that sticking within the limitations of 100% sustainability doesn’t always meet the customer’s demands. When talking about sustainability in fishing, we often speak of overfishing or farmed vs. wild caught fish, and we asked Jules what his view on this subject is;
“From an overfishing point of view, farming has benefits, but it also has issues with feed and environmental impact. Australia and NZ farmers have the world’s best practice on sustainability criteria, but it depends on what you are looking for as an individual.
“Feed is a big issue in farming because quite often the feed comes from an unsustainable fishery or a fishery defined as not sustainable or less sustainable. So you might be producing a farmed product that’s ticking all the boxes regarding sustainability, but using a feed or company that comes from an unsustainable source. That is an issue in many agriculture businesses. Australian farms, however, are quite aspirational and are always looking to improve their product.”
Internationally, Australian & NZ fisheries are highly regarded and rated amongst the top four best-managed in the world. Our rules and regulations are very strict, and fishers are required to take out several licenses and report their takings, to regulate fishing.
Another thing that Jules thinks is important and sees as his responsibility as a wholesaler is to inform his customers of where and how the product has reached their kitchen. It’s then up to the buyer to decide whether they want to proceed with that purchase. However, there has been a product recently, which JOTO used to promote and is no longer advocating for, which is the Southern Blue Fish Tuna. A couple of years ago the CCSBT (Conservation for the Southern Bluefin Tuna) increased the quota and decided that the fishery was sustainable, but has since then reversed that and subsequently Jules and his team will strongly discourage any chef from using that product.
For Wayne who is working closely with the top kitchens here in Sydney, the favourite part of his job is to bring a unique product to the table. He especially appreciates the relationship that he has with Quay and Bennelong and welcomes the inquisitiveness and creativeness in people like Peter Gilmore and Rob Cockerill.
“Peter is my go to guy with anything that comes through the door that looks unusual. Sometimes I’m really surprised by what elements in the product he is attracted to. For example, a live scallop has a frill around it, both top and bottom, everyone is chasing the meat in the middle, but when I took the live scallop to Peter, he opened it and looked at the frill with more excitement.
“Whenever a product is put in front of Peter, he will get 5-6 chefs to prepare it in a different way, poached, steamed, pan-fried, sous vide in clarified butter, then together with the team, we will taste each variation.
“They are never afraid of trying anything, and I never feel foolish for taking something left of centre; if it comes from the ocean and I can get the volume, they are always interested. Sometimes it flies, and sometimes it sinks, but when it flies, it’s always very exciting.”
Wayne, Jules and the rest of the team seem to get a kick out of supplying such a unique product, but as can be appreciated once you get to know the industry, demand is their toughest task.
Most chefs understand this, and the JOTO brand has made an effort to maintain constant communication with their customers and always offer an alternative.
When large kitchens like Bennelong change their menu, they will always discuss a Plan B and C in case the supply suddenly stops.
I asked both Jules and Wayne what the challenges are working with high-end chefs, as we all know that the expectations are so high.
They booth laughed at my question and Wayne very poetically expressed:
“When I look at quality chefs out there, and what they are putting on the plate, it looks like a work of art, it looks like a painting.
“I look at “my” chefs, and I think to myself, ‘I’m really dealing with artists here, we are supplying the paints, and they are creating this beautiful artwork’.
“I don’t think I have ever met an artist that wasn’t difficult to work with, but yet, I am so grateful and happy when we can pull it off and please them. To me, I get great joy out of having something that is so amazing, because I know that the artist in that chef is just going to blossom with that product and it’s going to make both them and us shine”.
It’s clear that this mutual passion that the whole team at JOTO Fresh share for fresh seafood and top end produce is what makes them such a reliable and respected supplier. Their inquisitiveness and combined effort to supply our chefs with a product that we might not find elsewhere and help support our fishermen in and around Australia is encouraging and exciting to see.
Written by: Kristin Jonasson
Images of fish; JOTO Fresh Fish Twitter