Award-winning Miami chef Jeremy Ford has a few rules. 

By Clarissa Buch
Updated June 13, 2019

A couple weeks ago, Jeremy Ford was out to dinner at a local sushi bar in Miami. When his plate of tuna tataki arrived, the fish looked strange. He grabbed a knife, sliced through the middle, and revealed a dark brown center. “I told the server and the manager that either this wasn’t my order, or the fish must be severely old,” Ford says. “This generally happens when seafood has sat out for way too long, days even."

Ford, a former Top Chef winner who runs two highly acclaimed Miami restaurants – Stubborn Seed and Krun-Chi – is actually in the midst of opening his own seafood concept, Afishonado, where he will implement a rigorous fish-handling process.

Ordering seafood
Credit: borchee/Getty Images

“When fish comes in, there should be a system of things that immediately happen,” Ford says. “Before we even allow it into the kitchen, the fish gets thoroughly examined at the door. We check for things like firmness and odor. If it passes, it goes straight into crushed ice. A couple hours later, we go into butchering, cleaning, and short-term storing. We’re always running out of fish, which is good because you never want to be somewhere where the fish is sitting from Thursday to Sunday.”

As a restaurant industry pro who handles, prepares, and eats fish multiple times a week, Ford is sharing four questions he always asks before placing an order for salmon nigiri or a dozen oysters.

1. What kind of restaurant are you inand is it high or low volume?

“If you want fish, go to a place that’s known for it. If I’m having pizza with my kids, I’m not going to order the sashimi. Basically, always eat fish at a higher volume restaurant where you know they’re going through product day in and day out. That gives you a better chance of getting the restaurant’s freshest seafood. If a restaurant gets a fish delivery on Thursday, but they’re not filling orders for it, there’s a good chance that if you order it on Saturday or Sunday, you’re still getting the same delivery. On the other hand, if you’re at a seafood-specific restaurant and you order fish on Sunday, there’s a higher likelihood that it’s fresh because they’re constantly filling orders.”

2. Does the place look clean?

“Restaurant cleanliness is usually one of my first indicators for good fish. If I walk into a restaurant and the restrooms are filthy and servers’ aprons are dirty, all those little things add up to a much dirtier environment. Think about what you can see versus what you can’t, like in the kitchen. Observing the front of house will definitely gauge how the restaurant manages all of the other spaces you can’t easily get to.”

oysters ordering seafood
Credit: Marianna Massey/Getty Images

3. What are you smelling?

“If you order salmon sashimi for the table and it comes out with an off smell or doesn’t look quite right, don’t eat it. If you’re even questioning it, don’t eat it. The second I saw the tuna tataki I ordered, I knew something was wrong. Always check for scent and discoloration. For example, white meat species fish like snapper or cod should almost be translucent. If it’s white, that’s a sign of age. You want it to be as clear as possible. If it smells fishy, that’s not a good sign either. You’re better off turning it away.”

4. Have you asked your server about the fish?

“Don’t be nervous about inquiring where a fish is from. It’s likely your server may not know, but they’ll ask the chef and get you an answer. Remember: More often than not, passionate chefs aren’t going to knowingly serve unsafe seafood."