Is it the year of the snake? No it’s the year of the eel

Results of the Bocuse D’Or, Lyon

  • 1st France
  • 2nd Denmark
  • 3rd Japan
  • 4th Great Britain
  • Best Fish Dish: Norway
  • Best Meat Dish: Great Britain
  • Best Poster: Hungary
  • Best Commis: Kristian Curtis (Team GB)

Didn’t we do well in the Bocuse D’or last week? Special congratulations to Adam Bennett for coming 4th and winning the best meat dish. It’s most unusual for a country to win more than one prize but his assistant Kristian Curtis winning “Best Commis Chef” was a great achievement. There was also an amazing turnout of between 50 to 100 team GB supporters who kept the boys going throughout the whole day of the competition, plus a healthy contingent of Britain’s competition brass band who were able, for the first time since the competitions inception in 1987, drown out the Swiss supporters with their cow bells and horns, with such sweet melodies as Rule Britannia and Swing Low Sweet Chariot they certainly let the hall know the Brits were in town.

To put in perspective how difficult winning this competition is, France have won it 7 times out of 14, and Norway have won it in 4 of the other years. In fact 1 or more Scandinavian countries have finished in the first 3 since 1991. This was our best result since the competition began and special mention should go to Antonio Andreas of Simpsons Restaurant in Birmingham who employs both Adam and Kristian and has given them the time off to practice and perfect their dishes, a truly memorable performance.

The 10th February marks the start on the Chinese New Year, The year of the dragon comes to an end, and the year of the snake begins. The Chinese New Year is also linked to one of the five elements of astrology Wood, Fire, Earth, Metal and Water and this year it’s the turn of water. Water, Snakes? It must surely mean it’s the year of The Eel.

This leads me nicely on to the elver fishing season which starts on the 15th February and runs ‘till the 25th May. The Environment Agency once again who pluck these dates out of thin air should really be consulting the lunar calendar or looking at their tide tables. Elver fishing is only possible on a falling spring tide so why not start the season when there is an opportunity to fish which will be about the 27th February. The 25th May, the last day of the season, is the start of that month’s big spring tide, just the moment when you want to fish, so why not finish the season at the end of May? The environment Agency could learn a lot from the Chinese, the date of their New Year changes each year dependant on the position of the moon, or even better why don’t they consult the elver fishermen.

Since joining the ‘Sustainable Eel Group’ at its inception some 3 or 4 years ago we have seen some highs and lows. Elver catches have seen double digit growth year on year, in fact this year the fishing was so good in France they reached their fishing quota halfway through the season. We have seen our Tanks in Schools project expand from 2 schools to a situation where we have over 75 schools this year who want to sign up to the scheme. We have seen the SEG establish a standard and accreditation for the industry which has taken a lot of hard work to achieve. So it was very disappointing (in fact it was far more than that) to discover this week that all this hard work is being jeopardized by a supplier purporting to supply ‘Sustainable Eel Standard’ eel, but actually supplying processed adult WILD eel. As there are no approved WILD eel fisheries its evidence that already in its early days this standard (like so many others) needs some rigorous policing. It’s very dispiriting when we have put so much effort into this standard to see it being abused in this way. There are some people who just want to pay lip service to conservation and wrap themselves up in green credentials and there are those that are passionate and proactive about preserving the species, the history and heritage that surround this fishery, and we will probably have to evaluate whether SEG continues to need our support.

On a lighter note if you are a frequent international traveller then I would recommend you snap up Joe Warwick’s recent guide Where Chefs Eat, Phaidon Press. It’s a weighty little tome with recommendations from over 400 of the world’s leading chefs, featuring affordable locals to Michelin stared eateries. Available at most good book stores, in fact it’s so good I don’t think it will reach the charity shops for at least 10 years.

More News soon.

Dai Francis
Ambassador without Portfolio