Boston native Benjamin Franklin once said that fish and visitors stink after three days. Boston native Bill Ryan agrees. "There's no 'fishy' smell at Clean Catch. That only happens when the fish starts to break down, and our fish is always fresh." A lifelong foodie, Ryan made the Queen City his home five years ago, and was making his living in the wine industry. After noticing that Charlotte lacked a niche for fresh fish, he dreamed of opening the type of market that established a relationship with clients looking for fresh, sustainable seafood. And so the Clean Catch Fish Market was born. New England transplants flock to the place, but its appeal has also reached those raised below the Mason-Dixon. "I love my customers," says Ryan. "Their enthusiasm only adds to mine."
Creative Loafing: Your slogan claims to turn seafood lovers into "fishionados" every day. How do you reach out to people who don't normally eat seafood?
Bill Ryan: Our concept is having people come in, see fresh fish, and learn all about the fish — where it's from, how it was cooked, how to prep it, how to cook it. When someone tells me they don't like fish, I think it's just that they haven't had good fish. I try to steer them toward simple, clean tasting fish, something not very oily, easy to cook.
What do you attribute your love of seafood to?
Growing up in Boston, being near the water, gave me a lot of access to great seafood. My dad was a huge cook, and even though he was always working in the corporate world and never as a chef, he had the same passion for food that I do. I still cook at home six nights out of the week; I never get tired of it. Beyond seafood, I love exotic meats like venison and duck. When I do cook seafood, I like to try my own product. My favorite right now is Hawaiian swordfish; it's got a clean flavor to it, a little bit sweet, great for the grill and you can add a lot of different flavors to it, like garlic butter or mango and pineapple. You uncork a bottle of white and it's just great. Since I consume what I'm selling, I can feel more comfortable talking to my clients and telling them, "Hey, try the swordfish, because I had it last night and it was absolutely phenomenal, and this is how I cooked it."
You mentioned that you sometimes pitch your own recipes to your customers. Have you ever had one of your culinary experiments go sour?
I've definitely done some creative cooking which hasn't been a culinary success. I think the worst was the first time that I tried to poach fish in olive oil. I've done it again since then and it's been fine, but that first time ... well, it didn't turn out very well at all.