Bigger fish to fry – learning about sustainable seafood from the pros at The Chef’s Forum…

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Nick Marshall gets up to some fishy business at The Chef’s Forum at Schpoons & Forx, Hilton Bournemouth…

The Chef’s Forum rolled into Bournemouth on October 24 as Matt Budden, Executive Chef at Schpoons & Forx at the Hilton, hosted 40 professional chefs and 30 students from the Bournemouth & Poole Specialised Chef’s Academy. The theme of the day: sustainable fish.

The Hilton recently became the first hotel chain to be certified by the Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) for the use of sustainable fish on its menus. While The Chef’s Forum has a primarily networking purpose, this was also an opportunity for attendees to learn about the challenges facing UK fisheries, along with some expert tips on preparing seafood.

First stop was a chat with Tom Allerton from Kingfisher in Brixham, Devon, a supplier of quality seafood to the South West. Their website  has plenty of current information about which species are endangered and what methods are acceptable. Ultimately, suppliers and chefs have to drive customers to step outside the familiar. Tom points out that cod, mackerel and even anchovies are not as abundant as people think, whereas wild bass and wild halibut are in real danger. Today, Kingfisher have brought a selection of fish to display, including gurnard, hake and plaice. Because we’re normally accustomed to seeing neatly packaged fillets in supermarkets, it’s interesting to see these species as nature intended.

One of the day’s highlights is a fish filleting demo by Kingfisher in which they effortlessly trim a plaice, gurnard and then hake. The key, it turns out, is a sharp knife and minimal pressure. In the case of the hake, staying away from the sharp teeth is also prudent, as they contain an anticoagulant which no amount of blue tape will staunch.

The day started, however, with a welcoming speech by Matt Budden, one of the founding chefs from Bournemouth for The Chef’s Forum. Matt admitted to starting relatively late in the industry at 21, but spoke of being a chef as “a great leveller, a great skillset to have.” In particular, he pointed to the international aspect of the career, with chains such as the Hilton having locations across the world.

This was a view supported by Catherine Farinha of The Chef’s Forum. “It’s an international career,” she said, “but we need to encourage more people aged 14-16 to join.”

Unfortunately, celebrity chef Matt Tebbutt was forced to pull out of attending, but guests were treated to their own master chef presentation from Matt Budden. The focus was on using the restaurant’s signature tandoor oven, which runs at 500 degrees. Matt made it clear that the tandoor oven is not just for Indian cuisine. In fact, the most popular dish it’s used for at Schpoons & Forx is ribeye steak.

In front of a live audience, Matt prepared tandoor-roasted monkfish in an osso bucco style, with saffron risotto and salsa verde. The key here was to secure the monkfish steaks with a half lemon on the skewer. Next up was tandoor-roasted Chesil beach mackerel with a chermoula dressing. The mackerel were seasoned first with a fennel, salt and coriander rub. While the monkfish charred pleasantly in the oven, the mackerel’s oiliness allowed the skin to blister while the flesh remained moist. The demonstration rounded off with charred Guinea fowl with a pomegranate, basil and mint salad, the fowl broken and down and slid onto the skewer to cook evenly.

Attendees were invited to sample the dishes afterwards, a pleasant surprise. “We’re going back to natural flavour and presentation,” Matt confirmed.

Overall, this was an illuminating day that clearly inspired the students. “I hope the students and chefs now have a better idea about sustainable fish and conserving our environment. More than 30% of our oceans are over-fished and we can all play a part in tackling this issue through supporting more sustainable fishing methods,” said Matt.    

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Matt Budden is the Executive Chef at Schpoons & Forx and was one of the founding chefs for The Chef’s Forum in this region.

Fish filleting tips

Tom Allerton of Kingfisher shares some of his seafood expertise…
1. Hold your fish up to test its freshness. A fresh fish will stay horizontal, whereas an older specimen will sag. Look also for a dark colour with no signs of milkiness.
2. For flatfish, trim the bones along the skirt first as these can burn and leave a bitter taste.
3. Remove the head below the gills and scrape out the bloodline.
4. Cut down the backbone and flick the blade towards the edge beneath the fillet. Fish such as hake have a tendency to harbour worms, so these need to flicked away.
5. Avoid any fish that have roe. Not only does this indicate they’re being fished out their season, but the flesh will also be limper as the fish puts its energy into nourishing the eggs during this period.
6. For mackerel, remove the bones by cutting a v-section along the backbone, rather than fiddling around with tweezers, which are ineffective against the hook-shaped bones.

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