Robert Ruiz has been at the cutting edge of seafood sustainability education for a while. As chef of Harney Sushi, a two-unit chain in Southern California, he printed QR codes with edible ink on rice paper to guide guests to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s FishWatch website.

Now, as executive chef of The Land & Water Co. in Carlsbad, Calif., he is continuing his mission of using sustainably produced food and being transparent about where it comes from.

Leading a team of San Diego area kitchen veterans, including Brandon Nichols, Keola Liu, Chad Seki, Jeromy Kuschel, Kyle Walker, Francisco Garcia and Tiffani Tincher, he has refurbished a 130-year-old house to create a 258-seat hot spot that opened in March.

Ruiz discussed his current projects with Nation’s Restaurant News at the recent Food & Wine Classic in Aspen, where he was working on a fundraiser.

Tell me about the new restaurant.

It’s the very best of everything from land and water. It’s a beautiful location, right on the coastal highway in a beautiful home that was built in 1887. The chefs ourselves built the tables, did the floors. The walls are lined with our own cookbooks. We bake our own bread. We serve the Carlsbad alkaline water at the table for free. We’re working with a new farm out of Temecula Valley wine country that’s giving us pork and chicken and beef. All of our proteins are coming from within California, and all of our produce comes from within a 100-mile radius. We’re composting all of our organic waste, recycling everything. We have a super-low carbon footprint, but we’re doing cuisine that’s already been recognized nationally for the quality of what we’re doing.

We are a group of young chefs who have gained some attention and acclaim and the ability to work this hard to do things the way that we want. Everything’s GMO-free; all of our sauces are gluten-free. We’ve tailored the menu for the current dining world so people can come in and eat everything on the menu without a worry, knowing that it’s sustainable, it’s traceable, that it’s organic. They don’t have to worry about anything. They can eat everything.

So if I want to know where my halibut’s from…

I can give you the latitude and the longitude, I can give you the name of the boat and the captain of the boat that caught it.

Are you still working with QR codes?

Absolutely, and we’ve taken it from going to fishwatch.gov, to species-specific codes, and now we’re designating them for any purpose that we deem meritable.

So during this fundraiser in Aspen for CORE, Children of Restaurant Employees — it’s like a Make-a-Wish Foundation, but for restaurant employees — we have a CORE QR Code.

So I can scan the code and learn all about CORE?

Exactly.

What other sustainability initiatives are you working on?

I’ve been working in San Diego with the Southwest Fisheries Science Center on a three-year project on saving the vaquita porpoise, a critically endangered porpoise — there are just 200 of them left in the world — in the Gulf of California. Working through NOAA and the Scripps Institution of Oceanography and the Mexican and American governments and the World Wildlife Fund we had a fundraising dinner to provide new vaquita-safe tackle for the fishermen of the northern Gulf [of California] fishermen to use to catch fish and shrimp.

What other plans do you have for The Land & Water Co.?

We’re still building it out in stages. There’s an outdoor area that I’m turning into a beer-cigar grotto, and downstairs there’s an original speakeasy from the ’20s that I’m redoing so it can be used again.

Contact Bret Thorn at bret.thorn@penton.com.
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