A fish tale
A picture of eccentricity, dressed in his starched white shirt and horn-rimmed glasses, John Susman is Australia’s preeminent seafood providore.
“I fell in love with fish at age 3,” explains John. “Eating my first Tommy Rough – pan fried in butter and served between two slices of Tip Top white Sliced bread. It’s a 70s thing,” he explains.
“I find fish is so, so easy to eat. It is light and clean and doesn’t leave the body heavy and flat. The diversity of flavours and textures is simply unmatched by terrestrial animals and the culinary possibilities are endless,” John Susman says.
From the finest caviar sourced from Abu Dhabi, to NSW rock oysters, John is a dyed-in-the-wool fish aficionado.
It’s John you have to thank for doing the fancy footwork behind the scenes so seafood turns up on your fork, glistening like a sacred jewel. It’s John who painstakingly travels the world to source the best suppliers to his Pyrmont-based business, Fishtales.
But this heavy responsibility of uncovering the very best from Nemo’s world is not something John takes lightly. When meeting him, we quickly discover he is the living embodiment of the adage ‘you are what you eat’.
This saying has become the gospel truth for John, to such an extent that he’s now suspicious of more land-based species. Like a father with five children at his feet, he finds it very hard to favour just one type of fish in his portfolio. To him, each fish deserves its own stage; it’s own costume if you will.
“I love them all; the new season Kinkawooka “petit bouchot” mussels are especially beautiful. Australia’s Oyster Coast Rock Oysters, when in perfect condition, are sublime. Cloudy Bay Diamond Shell Clams served on the half shell are awesome with a cold beer after work. And the Mount Cook Alpine Salmon sashimi is without peer as a raw ‘red’ fish,” he says.
If pushed, John finally admits it’s his Mount Cook Alpine Salmon from New Zealand that really takes the cake. “The Mount Cook Alpine Salmon served in a range of preparations at Sokyo is amongst one of my favourite preparations of our fish.”
It needs little or no effort to shine due to the way it’s raised. “Mount Cook Alpine Salmon is a Chinook species grown in the glacial melt waters from the Franz Joseph Glacier in the South Island of New Zealand. It is a unique and delicious salmon with a mild, sweet and clean flavour and creamy, butter like texture.
“It’s grown by farmers who are working to replicate how the fish would grow in the wild. It is hand-fed a natural diet which is similar to what it would eat throughout the year. The fish is constantly swimming at approximately 7 knots, which in human terms is a fast jog and therefore it is not fatty and sloppy. It has a creamy texture with a clean, sweet flesh – ideally suited to simple Japanese preparations,” he says.
In Sydney you can find the Mount Cook salmon best handled by chef Chase Kojima, the knife wielding sashimi chef from Sokyo at The Star. It is here on days off that John romances his fish ’til the final mouthful, washing it down with a glass of Chablis Grand Cru.
His obsession with sustainably farmed fish is another contagious part of his eating ethic. A love for provenance and fair fishing of our seas extends to all his meals. He’s even gone as far as to release a book with a few others to encourage the enjoyment of exquisite fish recipes. The book delves into each species and how best to prepare each one.
Billed as the ultimate kitchen companion, The Australian Fish and Seafood Cookbook was created by John Susman with Anthony Huckstep, a restaurant critic; Stephen Hodges, regarded as Australia’s best seafood chef; and Sarah Swan, both a chef and recipe developer who worked for Neil Perry’s Rockpool Group for over 14 years.
What we diagnose here in John is a love of fish that’s so severe he now identifies a part of the fish species.
“I constantly annoy my chums – mainly because I am a wet, cold, smelly, slimy person and am surrounded by lying, cheating, thieving pirates,” he says with a deadpan expression. Which explains why his wife might beat him around the head with large cold salmon from time to time and particularly on Sundays.
So, next time you snavel some raw salmon from a plate, think of John. A man who swims tirelessly up stream to bring you the very finest fish from the world’s wild seas.
Photographs by Hugues Villemain and courtesy of the Sydney Fishmarket.