I’m lucky that being a foodie, I know a few chefs. I’ve met and eaten with some incredible talent over the years, but having a good mate with a reputation in the Suffolk dining scene that goes unsurpassed, is incredibly fortunate. Even more so, when the gift of preparing locally-sourced ingredients and developing them into the most delicious fare, with a deft flick of his culinary wand, combines with an entrepreneurial and incredibly forward thinking flair.
I’ve been dining with David Grimwood for the best part of 30 years. Weaving his way across East Suffolk, he’s consistently transformed the lowliest of beer-only venues, into gastronomic icons with a skill and Epicureanism that never fails to impress. Not just a cook, but a thinker, David has the ability to take a spark of an idea, run it through his meticulously built up knowledge and experience bank, craft it into a concept and finally polish it and present it in a way that few can match. So with this all in mind, when I approached him earlier in the year, with a tiny spark of my own for him to kindle, I knew that it was as good as done.
Whilst my writing portrays literally, my enthusiasm for seafood and all that its production entails, I was struck by the notion that this passion could be infused to an audience in other ways. I sensed that a combination of tasting and talking about a well chosen, seasonal selection of fish and shellfish in the company of those keen to learn more of its provenance, might be an idea worth running with, the obvious delivery partner being Mr G and the venue, his beautifully appointed home and hostelry, The Froize Inn at Chillesford, in coastal Suffolk and a stones throw from the ancient port and castle town of Orford
Tentatively broaching the subject with him over a coffee, in the bar, one Spring morning, his eyes sparkled and his face took on its customary broad and knowing beam, as the flame of my proposal ignited. “Mmmmm,” he pondered, his thoughts already zipping around the kitchen of his mind in a frenzy of possibilities. “I think that might just work”.
And so “Serious About Seafood” – a summer’s evening of showcasing a selection of the finest fish on offer from around our shores, was born. A chance for me to develop my desire to enthuse, inspire and inform on a subject so dear to my heart and hopefully convey a flavour of the harsh reality of our fishing industry, to those who enjoy the fruits of its labours and who are perhaps unwittingly unaware of the colossal effort and sheer determination that’s required to deliver from deck to plate, under the most challenging of conditions, both physically and economically.
Idea set, now followed the hard work, although inspiration is never hard to come by when similarly food-inspired minds are gelled. Within hours, an eclectic and workable menu had been derived, drawing on not necessarily and comprehensively local elements, but ingredients from around our shores that reflected, in my mind, sustainability, responsibility, traceability and seasonality. The tenets by which I believe, consumers should abide, when sourcing their supply.
Lobsters, locally caught (at my insistence) would afford me the chance to wax lyrical on their abundance, versatility and provenance. Landed only hours before the event at Felixstowe Ferry and transported live and seaweed-wrapped to the Froize kitchens, they would be crafted into a stunning and delicious bisque, to open the batting and impress on our diners the fact that although often viewed as a luxury, a little lobster can go a long way, the whole fish being used, with the shells providing the base stock and the meat adorning the soup with that unmaskable and unmistakeable lobster flavour.
Next up would be the delicate and deliciously sweet tones of the last of the season Cornish Spider crab, brought to life in the kitchens of the Froize in a deep fried oriental-style crab cake accompanied by a suitably tangy Asian slaw. The Spider crab in my opinion being one of those short season missed opportunities in the UK. Coming close inshore from May to July, the harvesting of the cock or male crabs thence harvested in abundance, mostly find their way in live transport “vivier tanks”to the gastronomes of France and Spain, where they are feasted upon and rightly so.
For the main event I chose the ubiquitous and now-trending hake, with its economical and delectable flesh fast-becoming a hugely popular white fish alternative to the staples of cod and haddock. Roasted, pan-fried, grilled or battered, the hake is proving that the power of social media is fast affording it the status and culinary recognition that befits a species that until only relatively recently lay mostly unrecognised, across the slabs of the country’s fishmongers.
Following the hake and proffering a hugely sustainable version of fish and chips we elected the Megrim, the again surprisingly unknown left-handed, flatfish cousin to the Dover, the tender and succulent slices of which would prove the hit of the night, with many diners enthusing as to how again, such an undiscovered species was readily obtainable and that going slightly “off-piste” and tasting something different, could prove enlightening to those die-hard fans of plaice and lemon sole.
Of course, sourcing this Smorgasbord of sea-fare was made undeniable easier by enlisting the resources and knowledge of artisan fishmonger and friend Chris Wightman, who’s knowledge of fish, comes straight from the boat, having worked out of Lowestoft on his family’s vessels for over 20 years, amassing in that time a detailed and profound understanding of seafood and the fishing industry. With contacts all around the British Isles, Chris is able to procure to order, almost every commercial species that our vessels land and bring to market. For our event, and the lobsters already spoken for, the three remaining species would be arriving from Scotland and the West Country, from sustainable sources who pride themselves in not only quality, but reliability and continuity. Spider crabs then from the Dreckly fishermen of Newlyn and Megrims too from those waters, being landed into the exclusively day boat harbour of Looe. Hake, although very much also an important symbol of the Cornish catch, would come from the North Sea population of that species, trawl-caught and landed into Peterhead, bought with the discerning eye of merchant Will Clark, whose reputation for white fish of exceptional status is renowned.
To create the ambience needed I for the evening and to set the scene, I called on local fishermen mates, Ed and Rob Butters for assistance and with “carte blanche” to plunder their yard for suitable props, I returned to the Froize that afternoon, my truck festooned with dahns, buffs, a lobster pot, anchors, tows and other fishing accoutrements that would lend an air of coastal industry and when arranged in the restaurant, provide a fitting backdrop for delivering my talk.
So with the stage set and by now, a sell out evening ahead of us, the staff at the Froize stepped up a gear and using skills that only chefs know how to, began the tasks of turning the freshest, just-caught ingredients into innovative dishes that would serve to fuel appetites and evoke senses in a delectable tale of marine provenance.
As our guests arrived to a generously donated canapé of Chris’s Coffee Cured Smoked Salmon, and a welcome aperitif provided by Valley Farm Vineyards, also there, showcasing their locally-grown selection of wines, the evening gathered pace. Soon all were assembled and seated in the light and spacious Froize dining room, with David delivering his characteristically ebullient welcome and following a brief, but the warmest of introductions, I took to the little stage and embarked on what I hoped was the first of many thought provoking and hopefully entertaining eulogies, on the numerous processes that come to play in bringing seafood from deck to plate and the dangers, privations and hardships therein and just why, fishermen do what they do, day after day, in an industry where the realities of production, unlike agriculture, remain invisible to the public eye.
As the food and wine flowed and my story unfolded, I got the sense that although the most convivial and light hearted of evenings had been contrived, the more serious message was being appreciated and was ultimately reflected in the feedback and questioning that I received, not just at the end, but throughout the lecture with genuine interest and concern being shown.
A sublime lobster bisque entree followed by delicately battered spider crab cakes ensured a delectable start an as my audience learned of their methods of capture, (I had a 38″ parlour pot on hand to demonstrate) we discussed how although still generally seasonal in their fishery, lobster numbers on most grounds around the UK were pleasingly viable and recounting first hand, my own experiences of lobster fishing both in Suffolk and Cornwall, I was able to report that many juvenile fish were being returned, boding well for the future and certainly bolstered in the South West, by the hugely effective breeding programme run by the National Lobster Hatchery in Padstow.
The Spiders attracted much attention too and having all the fish laid out resplendently “in the raw” gave our guests a real opportunity to get up close and appreciate the natural beauty of these species, first hand and an important chance to relate the catch to the dish.
I went on to discuss the provenance of the hake, a fish viewed by many as not just another exportable commodity, but an affordable and viable alternative to the white fish staples of cod and haddock, especially where its MSC accredited status has been afforded in the South West. This process, I pointed out, didn’t always translate into a better price at auction for those netters toiling away on the Labadie Bank, but did at least ensure a sustainable domestic alternative, for buyers wanting to source this fish closer to home with fewer food miles.
David’s beautifully cooked loin of hake atop a delicious Galician sauce of tomato and chorizo, proved incredibly popular and just one of so many ways of doing this fish justice.
The megrim followed. As I explained its distribution around our shores and why consumers hadn’t perhaps had the opportunity to appreciate its soft and delicate meat before, the Froize staff were busily engaged in attending to our diners, serving up a newspaper wrapped sample, goujoned and Panko-crumbed, accompanied by perfectly cooked chips and the most vibrantly green of just-mushed garden peas. The megrim, I ventured, was eminently sustainable, as although around 3500 tonnes are landed annually, this was predominantly as a by catch species and if targeted commercially, could adequately replace some of the more under-pressure flatfish.
As I strolled amongst the tables, fielding queries and engaging our diners in conversation, I was struck by just how eager to learn more about seafood they were. Some asked about the recipes themselves, others wanting to learn more about fisheries policy with “discards” being a key word for some, in turn fostering a desire to understand more about the Landing Obligation and its impact on fishermen’s livelihoods.
My explanations of our evening’s courses devolved at this point to David who then proceeded to introduce the assembled to the dessert – a tempting and incredibly moreish homemade sea-salted caramel ice cream, with his partner Louise’s own “sea biscuits”, a melt-in-the-mouth shortbread baked using the Cornish Seaweed Company‘s mixed “Sea Greens”, which provided a suitably seashore-styled conclusion to an outstanding and eclectic tasting menu.
As our evening drew lazily to a close and my part of the proceedings concluded, Chris brought his fishmonger skills to the fore, skinning, filleting and enthusing about the prime selection he had displayed. Departing guests bought readily from him, keen perhaps to try out their own version of what they had just tasted.
Happy (and rather satisfied), we retired to the bar to reflect on the evening’s events over a glass of something suitable. The night had been a first. A chance to promote sustainably and responsibly caught seafood, whilst telling its story and at a venue that would provide the fire and enthusiasm to do it justice. As I glanced across the lounge, I caught sight of David still beaming eagerly and engaged in conversation. He looked very pleased, and I must admit, so was I.
I think we might just do it again.