Fish For Thought provides the freshest seafood to St Michaels. Their obsession with provenance and sustainability fits perfectly with chef Darren’s mantra of fresh, local and honest. We caught up with Fish For Thought founder Paul Trudgian to hear how they’re navigating through the tricky lockdown waters.
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with St Michaels?
We’ve worked with (St Michaels Head Chef) Darren for a long long time. He takes sustainability and provenance as seriously as we do and cares about the quality and origin of his ingredients, we love working closely with chefs in this way. It means that when you’re sitting in Brasserie on the Bay at St Michaels and have a question about the hake, the real story of your food is actually available - right back to the boat that landed it! Increasingly, that’s important to people.
To share the full picture, we often bring chefs like Darren to our unit and to market to understand our perspective and that works really well; we also enjoy discussing menus during the development stage so that we can work together to prepare for big events and the festive season, ensuring the best sustainable seafood is on hand when you need it.
When hotels and restaurants closed, the market dropped overnight and along with many other businesses, our future looked pretty bleak. After that initial shock, we saw demand go through the roof, with our online business growing rapidly as customers new and old started ordering in huge numbers through our website. We have also seen a number of our hospitality customers pivoting and offering meal delivery solutions, often for their local communities. We were concerned that with demand affected and prices very low, boats would have to stop fishing, but I am delighted to say that prices have started recovering and many fishermen continue to land. There is less fish being landed, but there’s still a wide range available. At markets, we’ve gone from being a medium sized player, at best, to being one of the bigger buyers on certain days, which for me is quite remarkable!
It's all about convenience, sustainability, provenance and healthy eating. Right from the beginning, I knew if we took those four basic points seriously, we could be quite different. Even back when we started 13 years ago, everybody claimed to be interested in sustainability but actually when push came to shove, they weren’t necessarily prepared to pay more to support those principals. Increasingly, we’re seeing a change in attitudes.
Fish For Thought started life as two blokes in a portakabin in a carpark, with a mission (we call it a Fishion) to change the way that people enjoy seafood forever! We began just supplying local hotels and restaurants before gradually expanding that geographical area, and we now supply to London and beyond. We always wanted to go online, and back in 2007, we acquired the assets of what was the first online fishmonger in the UK, and possibly the world! We’ve grown our online business ever since.
Yes, and I have never met a skipper that isn’t a character! It must be the nature of the job: they’re so up-close with the sea, their passion for it is palpable. It feels like they couldn’t do anything else, it’s like an addiction. These guys work so hard and are really tough, and when you ask them they couldn't imagine doing anything else. We’ve worked with some incredible people over the years, including Julian Brown, who is one of the original Fisherman’s Friends, and Jonny Murt and his family who work out of Padstow. Many of our suppliers are now mixing modern technology with ancient techniques, so we’re seeing QR codes on crab pots, for example, which is great from a provenance perspective.
We are blessed in Cornwall to have some of the best fish and shellfish in the world landed around our shores. The varied nature of our coastal waters also gives us a broad and unique range of species. It's difficult to pick out a favourite, but you’d be hard-pushed to find better hake, monkfish or lobster anywhere else in the world.
Basically if I can do it, anyone can - it really is easier than you think! We like to encourage customers to be brave and give new dishes a go! A while back we started our own YouTube channel, Fish For Thought TV, where chefs, guests and I demonstrate exactly how easy and quick it is to prepare and cook incredible seafood dishes.
It sounds too good to be true!
Simple fish, cooked really simply, is amazing. And it’s healthy! It’s a food without compromise if you cook it properly. Delicious, really easy to cook AND healthy? There aren’t that many things you can say that about.
I’d have lots of little things: definitely mackerel, filleted, cooked in a pan on the barbecue with some kind of horseradish dressing. Also, you’ve got to have a bit of lobster haven’t you? Just split and warmed through with lemon, pepper, butter drizzled over it, and I’m a massive fan of spider crab too, cooked en papillote with thyme, garlic, white wine and butter. It’s incredible. That’s a lovely way to eat most fish to be honest, just wrap it up!
We take guidance from the Cornwall Good Seafood Guide, Marine Stewardship Council and Marine Conservation Society on sustainability, then we look at what customers want and every item available to us but, hand-on-heart, if we can’t trace the provenance and don’t feel it is sustainable, we now refuse to sell items even where there is demand.
We went on a really interesting journey with Tiger Prawns, which are generally shipped in from South East Asia, and until very recently, were produced under dubious working conditions, poor safety standards and zero sustainability credentials. While that picture is changing, we decided rather than flying in food from far away, we’d rather be selling great local produce like Cornish Lobsters. We also eventually found a British Tiger Prawn supplier, working on agricultural land in Lincolnshire!
Discovering and championing these small producers, and the deep knowledge we gain from the process, is what drives Fish For Thought.
It’s really tough to say at this stage. We may even see the current crisis assisting the recovery of fish stocks.
I hope that we’re able to champion the British fishing industry, and that means changing our habits and celebrating our strengths. Here in the South West, there is a strong foodie foundation because we have so much good stuff on our doorsteps, but we need to share that message more widely. We export 60% of what we land in the UK, and then we import 60% of what we actually eat. How can we stop doing that and find a more sustainable way of living?