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How to fall in love with Sardines once again? Let me tell you a little Cornish Story. Imagine it is a hundred years ago; 5 o’clock in the morning in the little fishing village of Mevagissey. Mevagissey is a nice sleepy village about 5-10 miles from here everyone is in bed. Suddenly the night watchman or hewer (the person responsible for spotting shoals of sardines) sees a shoal of shiny “silver darlings” in the shallow waters of the sea and he is excited! He shouts Hevva! Hevva! And everyone who was in bed; involved in working on the land, or in the mines just gets up and runs towards the bay. Within an hour or two the whole bay has turned into a neat tiny social enterprise. What’s happening is in those days we didn’t have any radar or sophisticated equipment. The Heuer was an actual person who was responsible for “sardine spotting”. The village community was responsible to collectively catch the fish, pack the fish and send them all the way to Genoa, Jamaica or France who knows where! By the way sardines in Cornwall are called by a very romantic name of pilchards. Now what is the difference between a pilchard and a sardine? Pilchard is a slightly grown Sardine. I asked someone and they said “When does a boy turn into a man! When does a pilchard turn into a sardine?” Sadly the last sardine or pilchard processing factory closes in 1985. Why was that? One of the major reasons for that was the lack of fashion, lack of information. By then there was a lot of super information coming the consumers way by then sardines had become “the not so famous fish”. People started hating everything about it. Possibly it was too oily or possibly it had too many bones. Possibly they didn’t to fiddle with too much fish preparation they wanted a convenience food. In common with the other talks there was a lack of information, lack of presentation, lack of status. Food has become too convenient. So five years back when I moved down to Cornwall - I come from humble Indian origins and people call me the first and only living Indian Cornishman in Cornwall. So I came here to this beautiful part of the country as a chef and there was nothing stopping me from writing my own menu. Then suddenly I thought there is a gap in the market, everyone is talking about the big fish the cod, the monk fish, the hake the sea bass. Then I realized why we do. I had problems with language in the earlier part of my career. I was working in Saudi Arabia a staunchly Muslim country to cook Italian food as an Indian and didn’t understand the language! Anyway coming to England was easy as I could speak the language as everyone else - Shakespearian English and I could get along with this. I won’t say that fish and chips is the National Dish because curry is the national dish in Britain. If you have some alcohol on a Friday and you need something to kill it curry is the best. Second most popular is no longer the roast but Fish and Chips and it is very easy when you are confused or in the middle of a conversation to say cod C.O.D. That is why we the consumers have a lot of power making cod endangered. My concern about the politics of food, we have a term for people who talk about the provenance of food but do not know and we call it a career with nothing look at Michael Pollen they just push the problem towards you. They write many books. The solution lies in the hands of this humble cook and many others like me. I finally got to write the menu. So Ok let’s put pilchards back on the menu – how about that? I had sardines on as they would have cooked 100 years back Scowl – that’s a Cornish term. You just barbeque them. You just put some sea salt on top of the sardine bang it onto the grill and eat it between two slices of bread. The best fast food you can have while enjoying
Cornish sunshine - very rare! Very fast food – that’s a great summer food. However a lot of people don’t like grilled
sardines. How do we turn a traditional food such as sardines into something that is cool and hip? Earlier today I saw a kid saying he really fancied a MacDonald How do we turn it into a Mc Donald of today’s food? So I thought OK what is a traditional British food? Something like roast Scotch egg? It has a traditional route in India - Nargisi Kofta - is basically eggs encased in Mincemeat in a curry. Here the Scots brought that idea forward and they covered the eggs with some mincemeat and they deep fried it. They love deep fried food. So if we have scotch eggs – why don’t we turn them into sardine Scotch Eggs? That way we have the nutrients of the fish the oiliness of the fish and it still looks cool. Smoked pilchards – now sardines are very seasonal, working with the cycle of nature. Sardines are best from the end of July to end of October when the waters are warm. They migrate from the Mediterranean to Cornwall we catch it and call it Cornish Sardines. What happens after October, they were cured traditionally? Using imported salt from France salt the fish this year. Pack them in barrels and send them to Italy. What a great model of Globalization As a chef I know the significance of putting kilos and kilos of leaves on the plate. In possibly the biggest restaurant in the South West – how many kilos of lettuce has to be sourced locally to go onto that plate for discerning customers who want to have locally sourced elder flower and cider. We don’t have that land mass and technology yet to produce every single vegetable, meat and fish in Cornwall. It is about informing the customer through the menu using local to provide a link between traditional and modern food. That’s the kind of work I am doing. Information brings a very big role in bringing change. What I found was using dishes like the pilchards Scotch egg. I have followed the work that Andrew has done for example on apples that don’t feature on shelves of supermarkets and strange looking plums. Because although we like kids who look different than each other, we don’t like our carrots and bananas to look different. That is a strange Western culture in India everything is wonky mud laden and we still grow and we still have a good immune system and we still multiply in volumes! Looking at some research of Andrew I came across an apple called Cornish Gilliflower. Traditionally I found apple and pork works together in a dish. So why don’t we make it look cool, sound cool using a rare breed pig. If you are having Tamale or a Tortilla and you are making it in the source of origin where maize has come from it is interesting to chase it down to the line of suppliers it has come from. It is called traceability. Sometimes I see a Mc Donald’s van turn up and it says we supplied by 17,000 proud British farmers. I am thinking how many of those farmers’ pigs and beef are in one patty of Mc Donald’s. God help the source of the food this is the problem I have no problem with anyone going to Mc Donald’s or any chain like Subway. Subway has taken over Mc Donald’s in business – that is the business of food that is where changes should come. In Britain we are hosting the biggest eating adventure in a month’s time in many years and that is the Olympics Guess who is the biggest restaurant chain McDonalds who is the biggest sponsor of the Olympics this year in Britain it is Coca Cola and McDonalds. We have to comply with certain monopolistic systems that comply - we wouldn’t have the infrastructure without them. Why don’t we have a statue dedicated to the coca cola bottles saying hey yes it is important that whatever we put inside our body depends on what we put inside our mouth? You can label it contains high fructose syrup – drink diet coke can do you more harm than normal coke. What am I doing about it – by enlightening a few confused customers about local produce – my job is done. It’s about tackling problems one at a time. There was a little story about Mevagissey Bay a boy was throwing stuff back in the sea and there was this business man and he went to the beach and said “What are you doing?” and the boy said I am just throwing some star fish back in the sea. So the man said do you think you could walk down all the beaches and throw back all the star fish and save their lives? The boy said wait a second I will throw this one back and save this one’s life. If you can make change one step at a time and touch one life at a time we will possibly get there some day before the world ends or malnutrition ends. My social enterprise idea is (SOCS)The School of Sardines it will help to teach people to cook fresh, healthy food and live a normal healthy life style. While the money generated by the social enterprise will chronicle the rich tapestry history of Cornish fishing for time to come. It will be a Wikipedia of Cornish fish. Sardines are a quirky Cornish metaphor. You have to respect the small fish before enjoying the big fish. One final thing; remember what you put inside your body today - because some of it will stay inside you for ever!
(School Of Cornish Sardines) Let’s put the oo back into cooking! SOCS is a mobile cookery school, offering low cost, practical cooking lessons to individuals and groups who are keen to improve their cooking skills and learn more about the benefits of healthy eating.SOCS is a social enterprise which encourages people to share their skills for mutual benefit. It takes its inspiration from the vibrant sardine industry which used to be such a feature of Cornish life and which brought whole communities together in a way which is seldom seen today.SOCS aims to spread the inspiration of cooking, engaging the hearts and minds of locally trained chefs and cooks and working with enthusiastic individuals of the community, while making a positive contribution towards the planet. The goodwill and revenue generated by SOCS will be used to create a living, interactive online museum chronic ling the rich fishing heritage of Cornwall.
Listen to my radio interview here: http://www.radioethic.com/les-emissions/art-de-vivre/alimentation---sante/les-sardines-decornouailles.html
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