Sea of Surprises
Sunh Fish hooks pros, home cooks alike
By Gabrielle Myers
Gabrielle Myers joins Inside Sacramento this month as our new Farm to Fork columnist. Read more about Myers here.
The cuttlefish’s pale broad body with its thick bone holds itself to the board as I grip the head and pull the knife away, lifting bone from body, releasing the black ink sack. Ink on my knife, ink on my hands, ink staining my mind with its ocean impression.
An hour later cuttlefish pieces dance in a hot pan with fresh Aleppo pepper, black cherry tomato and Costata Romanesco zucchini just harvested from the garden. The curling edges sputter, spin against stainless steel, and lift and bend into hot, fragrant oil.
Almost every Friday morning for the last six months, I’ve made a pilgrimage to Sunh Fish, 1313 Broadway, drawn by succulent oysters, firm Hamachi and halibut glistening and opalescent from its recent ocean swim.
Most days the octopus arms, smoked wild salmon, Hawaiian opah, fat scallops and yellowfin lure me with freshness. Yet cooking or simply slicing Sunh Fish’s more unusual fish and shellfish stand out as the most electrifying culinary experiences I’ve had in Sacramento.
In my 14 years as a cook and chef in Bay Area restaurants and catering companies, only once did I get to cook a cuttlefish, only five times did we get fresh octopus, only twice did we procure firm, undyed and marbled wild bluefin. As a retail consumer, at Sunh Fish I’ve savored these delicacies and more.
Each culinary adventure with this fishmonger expands my conception of what’s possible for the home cook and food lover in this farm-to-fork capital.
In any occupation, there are people who do the job to do the job and those for whom the job is a way of life, a passion that drives them into uncharted realms and new heights. Nguyen Pham, or Winn as he prefers, seems grounded and propelled to bold new spaces as owner and manager of Sunh Fish.
Winn grew up helping his parents Nho Pham and Suong Nguyen as they sold fish and shellfish in housing projects where they lived along Richards Boulevard. In 1989, they bought a 20-acre vegetable farm on Bruceville Road. To subsidize the farm, they opened Sunh Fish in the back of an Asian market on Broadway.
Three gut engines move Winn forward: his father’s mentorship and love, his commitment to sustainability, and his ties to local restaurants.
Winn grew up working alongside his father, whom he refers to as his “best friend” and “hero.” Nho Pham died from cancer a few months ago, but his impact will never leave his son.
Winn’s dad taught him how to break down fish and not leave flesh on bones, how to manage and process accounts, how to build relationships. His dad never wanted Winn to be a fishmonger, but when Winn’s passion and talents became set, father invited son in as a partner.
Even after Winn owned the company for 20 years, his dad still came into Sunh Fish, sat at the desk next to him, and offered advice and companionship. His father was the “smartest person” Winn ever met.
Sunh Fish’s main revenue comes from its relationships with the local restaurant community. It supplies more than 400 chefs. Almost every top restaurant in town gets fish and shellfish from Sunh Fish, from grilled or poached octopus at Localis, Beast + Bounty and Allora, to Hamachi carpaccio at Ella, to poached shellfish at The Waterboy and grilled albacore at Kru.
Winn has worked with these restaurants throughout the pandemic. His flexibility and commitment nourished his business into its “biggest year yet” in 2021.
Sustainability, or its lack as we have almost overfished our oceans, is the elephant in the room for most fishmongers. Winn takes an active role to help preserve ocean health. Most of his seafood sources have the Best Aquaculture Practices label or are achieving certification. He believes the only way toward sustainability is through responsible, ecofriendly farming.
New heights of culinary excellence, community ties and sustainability drive Winn and inspire local chefs and home cooks. On a recent tour of Sunh Fish, we pass a 65-pound shiny and glimmering tombo tuna with characteristic blue razor lines, stacks of whole, clear-eyed coho salmon and a huge bluefin cut clean down its side.
I can’t help but feel awe at what might be possible for this farm-to-fork town with the partnership model inspired by Sunh Fish.
Gabrielle Myers can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram: @insidesacramento.