Chef Rick Moonen, Las Vegas, NV, Nevada, RM Seafood, Mandalay Bay, Mandalay Place, Where to eat in Las Vegas, Bravo’s Top Chef Masters




Q & A with Chef Rick Moonen

Q. Tell us about Rick Moonen's RM Seafood:

A. It’s a shrine to sustainable seafood! We’re not trying to cram it down anyone’s throat, but on my card it does say State of the Art Sustainable Seafood. It’s all part of my core value and mission statement in life, living in a world that is more symbiotic and respectful.

Q. Do you find that people are actually really finally starting to pay attention to sustainability and what do you recommend as a good resource?

A. Yes, I think more so now, than ever. I believe in Seafood Watch as my primary source for giving simple direction to a very, very complicated concern. They do it better than anyone and they make it clear and they are always upgrading and updating. They have an app for the phone, you can carry a card in your wallet or your pocket and if everyone followed it, we would really eliminate most of the problems.

Q. Help us to understand some of the basic problems facing sustainability:

A. There are five areas of concern.

1) Overfishing: the targeted species can’t keep up with the hunt.

2) Un-targeted species: they get inadvertently caught, known as by-catch, which is incredibly wasteful. A really graphic example is 5 to 15 pounds of live ocean creatures come up with every pound of shrimp that is taken out of the ocean.

3) Habitat destruction: painting populations into a corner. We are finding the best places by looking for where they are, and then we are destroying where they live and they have to relocate or they die. It’s like clear cutting a forest to get deer for dinner.

3) Irresponsible aquaculture: we pop down these farms in the center of a very happy area of the world and we start to destroy it with open net pens. They are smorgasbords for predators. All those fish get out, millions escape annually and where are they escaping? Oh, just in the area where wild salmon live and breed and are normally happy, except now they’ve got a large population competing for the same food that they eat to survive.

5) By-product: you are certainly stressing the environment, it wasn’t designed to have this much biomass concentrated in this area and these nets, these pens. Effluences and their equal parts fish poop, uneaten food, and dead fish, and that just becomes a suffocating blanket of death to anything that would possibly live on the bottom of the ocean floor.

Q. What do you see as a viable solution?

A. In my perspective, closed containment systems. We also need to have a mentality of eating lower on the food chain. We’re at the top of the food chain, we eat the big fish-- the tunas and the swordfish are riddled with mercury and PCBs. The little fish eat it, and the big fish eat the little fish and eventually it’s in there.

Advice / Tips

Q. What fish would you recommend as better alternatives to unsustainable ones?

A. Instead of salmon, I would recommend Arctic char. It’s farmed in recirculating systems, so it doesn’t have the environmental impact. And it’s a relative of salmon, more closely related to trout. It’s delicious, I call it salmon light. It’s clean. 

If you are a red snapper addict, and red snapper is on the red list, go for barramundi perhaps.

Instead of Chilean sea bass, sablefish (black cod) is a great fatty, flaky fish. Alaska has a good conservation system in place, so that it can become the methadone program for the Chilean sea bass addicts.

A good alternative to shrimp that is considered a no-no are spot prawns.

Q. What are some delicious fish choices that might not be on people’s radars?

A. Tautog - it’s a blackfish. The flesh is flaky like snapper, but it’s got more of a crustacean flavor to it. They eat shrimp, they hang around rocks, which makes them difficult to be targeted. They are a by-product of lobster traps. They end up going in to eat there to eat what’s in the lobster traps.

Cobia is a great fish being farmed and very few people know what Cobia is. It’s the veal of the ocean, it’s delicious. The texture of it, the flavor of it, you can grill, saute, broil, fry it, whatever you want. It’s very hard to screw it up.

Porgies, local porgies. Great fish, they are delicious.

On Being On Top Chef

Q. When you were on Top Chef and Top Chef Masters, how different was it being a contestant versus being a judge?

A. Being a judge is easy, but I’m actually more uncomfortable, personally, being a judge. Though, competing is a lot more pressure.

Q. How do you react to the pressure, do you forget the stuff you know or does it come second nature?

A. Your mind immediately goes blank and you are basically ‘holy shit!’ But once you put food in front of you, you start working with it and your instincts come out.

Q. It appears like the Master Chef contestants play nice with each other.

A. Not everybody plays nice, there is a little bit of espionage, there’s a little bit of sabotage.

Q. Who sabotaged?

A. (Pauses) People... chefs. You know you go ‘hey, where’s the nutmeg?’ ‘Hey, it’s right here’ and they take an entire pound of nutmeg and hide it under their station. And some of the cry babies who do that, who are that competitive, actually win the show! I’ll just say that.



Q. Are there any specific tools that you like for cooking fish other than a flat spatula?

A. A Microplane - I’m a big Microplane addict. I very rarely cook fish without a Microplane on the counter to zest some kind of citrus, lemon, orange, grapefruit, and lime.

A Vita Prep blender - I love my little blender, my varied-speed blender.  It’s got buttons that determine the revolution of the blade, you can go slow, slow, slow, if you don’t want to incorporate air into something.

A cast-iron flat griddle pan with rectangular shaped handles on the end. You season that and you put it underneath your broiler, get rid of that stupid thing that came with your stove, little aluminum looking things with holes in it, rivets, peaks and valleys. Put that flat guy down there and now you are doubling your ability to cook a piece of fish. As soon as the fish hits that cast iron pan, it’s searing and cooking simultaneously from top and bottom. Beautiful, it’s awesome.

[See details.]

Q. Are there markets you love to visit?

A. Ranch 99 - it’s an Asian market that has live crabs, live everything. You are going to get all kinds of stuff that you don’t see too often. Like that fruit that smells like puke and death, durian.

The International Marketplace - it’s got every country in the world represented and it’s like a warehouse. You become a member and you get a discount. I can’t spend less than an hour in there, even if I’m going in to just get lunch.

In New York, right behind Port Authority is the International Grocery. It’s where I learned to make taramosalata and Greek food. They have barrels of spices, real yogurt and halvah. It’s sick. It’s off the charts.

Kalustyan’s - in the olden days you could go in the back and get the greatest falafel in the world. They kind of upgraded, which to me is too bad, but they still have the craziest, delicious spices in bags.

[See details.]


Q. Where do you love to eat in Las Vegas, off the strip?

A. In Chinatown, China Mama. It’s the real deal. It’s BYOB, they don’t have a liquor license. It’s not pomp and circumstance... let me tell you, it’s linoleum and cheap and ‘am I in the right place?’ Yeah, you are. Now sit down, shut up and order some food!

The Honey Pig has really delicious Korean barbecue.

Lotus of Siam for great Thai food and off the beaten path.

Monta - It’s my fast-food place. You go there, sit down, they only have 3 ramens. Put a dollop of pureed garlic, some sesame seeds, some togarashi, and order an Asahi. You pay the bill and you’re out of there in half an hour.

Some more obscure places that are really cool are:

Roma Deli - it’s really good if you crave that like Philadelphia, New York, Italian deli-taste. You want a meatball parmesan hero, you want eggplant parmesan, go here. It’s like a little grocery store with all of the authentic tomatoes from Italy.

Hot N Juicy Crawfish - so good, it’s delicious. It’s plastic, red-checkered tablecloths and a bib. You get crawfish, you pick how much you want, how you want it cooked, how spicy, and they basically boil it in a bag and give it to you and you just go to town on it.

Go Raw Cafe - I go here when I feel like getting something healthy, cleansing, they have delicious wheat grass and all of that.

Bachi Burger - they make burgers with an Asian influence.

[See details.]

Q. How about places on the strip?

A. Atelier du Robuchon - there is a lot of pomp and circumstance to the place and it’s delicious, but it’s not going to be cheap.

Sage - I think chef Shawn McClain is doing a great job. He’s very innovative. It’s very flavorful. You can have veal cheeks, and he also makes a foie gras brulee served with a brioche.

First Food Bar - chef Sam DeMarco is a buddy of mine from New York. It’s good food, there’s no rhyme or reason to it, it’s everything from a Cuban sandwich to something crazier. But it’s a good environment and you meet a lot of people in the industry.

[See details.]

Q. How about in your old stomping grounds of New York City? When you come back to New York, are there any places that you love?

A. Momofuko is great.

Barbuto is good, I just think that Jonathan Waxman is the greatest guy in the world.

Daniel and certainly Marea are great. That’s very exciting cuisine.

Colicchio and Sons is great. I’ve had some really good meals there. Certainly had a great meal at Eleven Madison Park.

[See details.]


Q. In Las Vegas, what is your favorite watering hole?

A. Let’s break it down, what do you want? Do you want cocktails?

If you want a great Manhattan, go to Andre’s. They’ve got Blanton’s, and not everybody carries Blanton’s.

You can go to Herbs and Rye, which is a local shrine to the cocktail.

The original Nora’s. The bartenders there know how to mix a delicious craft cocktail, like a Negroni. Even though a Negroni only has a few ingredients, you can screw it up 150 different ways, and most people do. But here, you are going to get it done right.

Do like beer? Oh baby, you got to meet me at the Frog, The Freakin’ Frog. It’s right across from UNLV and it’s got 200 beers on the list. Walk up the stairs and it’s the Whisky Attic. It’s got all the brown spirits in the world.

[See details.]



Details of Rick Moonen’s recommendations for restaurants, bars, and markets in Las Vegas and New York as well as resource and kitchen tools.


- New England Steamed Dinner

- Horseradish Cream

- Shrimp Fra Diavolo



Fish Without A Doubt: The Cook's Essential Companion (buy it)


Rick Moonen’s recommendations for restaurants, bars, and markets in Las Vegas and New York as well as resource and kitchen tools.

Photo courtesy of Rick Moonen

Q & A
Fish Without A Doubt

Purchase at:



RM Seafood

Las Vegas Strip


Mandalay Bay Resort

3930 Las Vegas Boulevard South

Las Vegas, NV 89119 (view map)

T: 702.632.9300 (make a reservation)



RM Downstairs

Daily: 11:30am - 11pm

RM Upstairs

Tue - Sat: 5:30pm - 10:30pm