Before it was trendy, many people, especially those living on farms in Appalachia and other places across the United States had to live sustainably to get by. It's a story that rings true for Chef William Dissen of Asheville, North Carolina, who according to Gordon Ramsay, is one of America's Most Sustainable Chefs. Owner and Executive Chef of The Market Place Restaurant in Asheville, The Haymaker in Charlotte, and Billy D's Fried Chicken located in the North Carolina Zoo in Asheboro, Chef William Dissen grew up in West Virginia, spending time on his grandparent's farm. Known for his farm-to-table approach to Appalachian cuisine, Dissen shares that living sustainably was practically instilled in him from his forefathers.
The Reason Why Gordon Ramsay Called Chef William Dissen One of the Planet's 'Most Sustainable Chefs'
"Appalachia has been in my roots," Dissen shares with me as we chat on the phone a few days after his television premiere on Gordon Ramsay's National Geographic Show, Uncharted. " My grandparents had a really amazing farm and they were meager folks the lived off the land. And they lived this sustainable lifestyle before it became the Brooklyn-trendy-hipster-DIY trend of the moment"
During the episode, Gordon Ramsay visits the Appalachian mountains where Ramsay challenges Chef William Dissen to a cook-off using local ingredients. During the show, Ramsay hunts for local mushrooms, catches crawfish in the rivers, and makes moonshine using an old-fashioned still. But it's no challenge for Dissen who has been working with Appalachian ingredients since he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, New York, and went on to work under Certified Master Chef Peter Timmins & his renowned culinary apprenticeship program in West Virginia.
Using fantastic farm-fresh ingredients has always been a priority for the chef. "For me, sustainability is a lifestyle. That's how I operate my day-to-day life and operate my businesses." Dissen shares, noting that his path of promoting and living sustainably started with a question.
"Part of the reason I really got interested in sustainable seafood was because I was an inquisitive chef. One year I would order 30 pounds of black grouper and it would be 1 fish. The next year it was three fish, and the year after that it's four fish. And I'm going, somethings wrong here, why are the fish smaller now?"
Sustainability Starts with a Question
Dissen's questioning of the size of the fish pushed him to start focusing more on sustainable food and sourcing, joining Monterey Bay Aquarium's Seafood Watch program as Seafood Watch Ambassador in 2011 and a current Blue Ribbon Task Force Member since 2014. Established at the Monterey Bay Aquarium 20 years ago as a special exhibition, today the program works globally to recommend seafood to consume and avoid according to its sustainability score.
Rainbow trout, which was prepared by Dissen on the show, is categorized as a "Best Choice", due to the fact that farming of rainbow trout causes minimal environmental impacts. On the other end of the spectrum is Black Grouper, the fish Dissen mentioned previously, which is currently on the "Avoid" list due to overfishing in the Gulf of Mexico.
"We want these delicious ingredients but we also want these delicious ingredients for years to come. " Dissen comments.
I ask the best way to get started on sustainable eating and he answers simply: "Be an inquisitive eater. Find out where your food comes from."
Watch Chef William Dissen's episode now on Disney +