They say it’s better to be born lucky than rich and that’s how we felt on Friday 26th September when the sun shone and on a beautiful Autumnal day at our ‘end of year’ celebratory eel release at Llangorse Lake in the Brecon mountains. In conjunction with UK Glass Eels, our partners in this restocking project, the principal aim is to restock the lake with the balance of eels that are left over from our Tanks in Schools Scheme. With a coach load of boys from The Grange at Monmouth School and several boats the morning was spent releasing eels around various locations in the lake. We released between 25,000-30,000 small eels during the day. In the last 5 years we estimate we have released close to 200.000 eels at Llangorse. Now is the time that we need to action some data collection as it is over the next few years that we will be able to monitor the eel escapement and ultimate success of this programme.
The other and most important feature of these releases is to demonstrate to children that by managing eel in a sustainable manner we can access a valuable food resource and tasting eel becomes an important part of the day. As in the past we set up a BBQ for a lunch where we do eel kedgeree, BBQ smoked eel speets but this year as an added attraction we invited Yoshinori Ishii, executive head chef from Mayfair’s Michelin starred UMU restaurant to prepare something just a little different, and in a Japanese style. With the help of his head chef Massato they demonstrated the skill and knife dexterity that only the Japanese have to fillet and prepare eel ready for BBQing. While they got on with preparing their feast we continued with the releases but on returning for our lunch we were amazed with the visual eel and salmon display they had produced in such a short time, which would be complemented with an amazing eating experience to follow.
We have been providing Yoshi with wild fish during the salmon season and were keen to introduce him to some of the coracle fishermen we had invited from West Wales who will supply us with sea trout next year. Yoshi has been working with day boat fishermen in Cornwall and teaching them the Japanese Ikejime method of killing fish and was keen to demonstrate this method and see if the West Wales fishermen would give it a try. The method involves using a wire to cut the central nervous system and has the effect of keeping the fish in perfect condition for more than several days longer than conventionally caught fish. This method works exceptionally well with sea trout, salmon and sea bass. Alain Ducasse has already indicated to Yoshi that he would like to be able to have access to fish caught using this method. If we can create enough demand we can start influencing other fishermen to get involved. Chefs interested, do not hesitate to call, we shall have some fun in West Wales next year!
Johnny Rees, one of the coracle fishermen and one of the last coracle boat makers, had bought one of his boats along to give a quick demo. These boats are the shape of a bowl with a board across the middle to sit on, not much larger than an armchair and manoeuvred with a short oar in one hand. The moment you dip the oar in the water the coracle wants to spin, seeing how these fishermen manoeuvre backwards and forwards and in a straight line is amazing. After Johnny had given a quick demo there was an invitation for anyone interested in having a go. As I advanced towards the boat Johnny starred at me and said “I don’t think so Dai, maybe if you had a change of clothes.’’ I took that as a red card and withdrew. There were no accidents and some did a pretty good job but I will be making sure I’ve got a spare set of clothing when I visit Johnny next year.
Thanks to everybody who helped to make this a special and wonderful day - working on ideas for next year already.
For local or frequent visitors to the Smokery you will have seen in the local paper, and on the notice board outside the shop, plans for a new shop and restaurant café. We have, to the side of the Smokery, a wonderful ancient old stone barn which is crying out for restoration. The shop/café that opened 13 years ago, and we wondered if anybody would come, has served us well. It’s now time for a radical rethink and we think we can improve the customer experience with the plans that have been submitted for approval. The plans at the moment are for a café around the ground floor entrance which will lead on to a retail area where we will have our extensive offering of fresh fish but with a much improved space for showcasing other great food and drink producers of the South West. On the first floor we have planned a restaurant that will seat up to 60 in comfortable yet informal surroundings. We also plan to use part of this 1st floor space for demonstrations and teaching. It’s a wonderful opportunity to do some event promotions with some of the restaurants' chefs and food suppliers that we are closely associated with. Next year lots exciting things happening.
Our talented filleters that many of our counter customers rely on for expert tips and advice entered The National Federation of Fishmongers Skills Championship held in Cleethorpes over the August Bank Holiday. Our talented youngster Dave Preest came a creditable overall 5th. Our friends and supporters E Ashton fishmongers in Cardiff picked up most of the prizes with Kevin Todd being crowned 2014 champion. Our senior contestant Clive Rowlands who entered one class as something to do won first prize in the M & J MSC Championship. One wonders what would have happened if he’d entered more classes.
More news soon.