A Fish-X workshop gave chef Umar Nguyen a clearer business direction, and this has led to a dynamic new seafood knowledge resource for the chefs of Australia.
Umar Nguyen is on a mission to elevate consumer awareness and enthusiasm for the great diversity and quality of Australian seafoods.
As her alter ego, The Fish Girl, Umar has built a large social media following, using Instagram in particular to illustrate the tantalising wonders that can come from a seafood kitchen when culinary flare is combined with product knowledge.
But this persona is just the window front for a serious business that has seen Umar travelling Australia for the past three years to engage directly with chefs. Her purpose: to increase their awareness of seafood quality and diversity and the limitless ways in which chefs can imbue the preparation of seafood with their own creativity.
Umar, a qualified chef in her own right, runs Platinum Provedore. She established this business to link fishers with top chefs, acting as an information resource to support chefs’ creative use of seafood products – and consequently to heighten the consumer experience.
Like most people who start a business, Umar did her time in the twilight zone between leaving a job that was going nowhere and trying to crystallise a business plan that would go somewhere.
“I started out as a chef, but was a single mum. The hours were long so eventually I was forced to work in an office, which I hated, until it led to a job in fish sales where I learned about distribution. I was still a bit lost and bored until one of the companies I dealt with invited me to take responsibility for their national fish sales … and that’s how I started my own business.”
On the back of this opportunity, Umar launched Platinum Provedore in 2016 to promote three distinctive products – Cone Bay Barramundi, Yarra Valley caviar (from hand-milked freshwater Salmon, Rainbow Trout and Brook Trout) and Fraser Island Spanner Crabs.
Her mission was to create a personalised link between producers and chefs by providing and articulating the best-quality product along with knowledge that chefs – especially junior and up-and-coming chefs – needed to work with the product.
However, Umar was still finding it hard to establish a clear business identity and it was this that prompted her to join the Fish-X program. She joined a workshop and was puzzled every time her mentors told her that to differentiate her business she needed become its beacon.
“It took a while for me to understand. I thought my business was the product, but finally the penny dropped that my business is me, and that’s when I come up with branding myself as The Fish Girl to create a marketing identity for Platinum Provedore.”
Umar says the Fish-X course opened her eyes to the ‘what’ and the ‘why’ of who she is, which in turn clarified how to progress the business and her future ideas.
“Essentially, the business deliverable is information. I introduce chefs to the products; offer them the knowledge and information they need – with the credibility of being a fellow chef. This allows them to be enthusiastic and creative users of these products,” she says.
“To begin with, I started taking the three main products to chefs in Brisbane. I very soon realised that this direct, person-to-person approach to distribution worked and was the way forward. I also realised that I needed to expand out from Brisbane.”
In 2017, Umar lived in each state for a month at a time, learning about local seafood scenes and building relationships. That exercise was exhaustive and exhausting. But she says as a result people now understand what she does.
“And they know that the ‘why’ comes from me genuinely caring about the product, about the people who produce that product, about the chefs, about how it can support their individual creativity and how it looks on a plate and is enjoyed by customers.”
“So my business plan is about me being immersed in the seafood value chain and, importantly, being seen to be immersed. It’s a network of like-minded people coming together, making a tangible difference to the elements we care about – seafood quality and sustainability.
“I’m a chef and I know chefs, like anyone, can get bored, so it’s information like this that gets people excited.”
Umar has made it a habit at the end of each year to assess what she has learned and adjust her business plan accordingly: “I’m now planning to do more group presentations and develop a strategy to involve the wider community so people better understand that our seafood is a sustainably managed resource of the highest quality,” she says.
“I’ve also been surprised at how many people, in general, are actually afraid to eat fish because they don’t know about fish or about how to prepare or cook fish. So there’s a lot of work to be done to overcome a lack of basic knowledge.”
Also in Umar’s plans is a campaign to increase awareness of underutilised species: Honey Bugs, razorback prawns, white lobster tails and scampi eggs (fast gaining market interest as Wild Scampi Caviar) from Shark Bay in WA, to name a few.
“Again, so much great product has been left underutilised or not utilised at all because of this lack of knowledge. It’s an information gap I am keen to research and fill.”