Chefs shown fishermen offer more than just cod

Paul Webbe giving a tour of Hastings' fish market/fishermen's beach. 17/5/11
Paul Webbe giving a tour of Hastings' fish market/fishermen's beach. 17/5/11

A DELEGATION of top restaurateurs and seafood chefs visited Hastings to get a taste of some tasty but not trendy fish.

More than 20 cooks came to 1066 Country as part of a project designed at encouraging eatery owners to use less fashionable species on their menus.

The hope is that by increasing the demand for less well-known dishes, struggling fishermen, like those in Hastings and nearby Rye, can better cope with the suffocating quotas imposed on more popular fish.

Paul Webbe, who runs the hugely popular Webbe’s restaurant on Rock-a-Nore, invited the visitors to taste locally-caught food - as long as they did so blindfolded.

Unbeknown to his human taste guinea pigs, he served up a string of normally overlooked species such as sprats, gurnard and cuttlefish. And judging by the reactions of the foodies, the dishes went down well.

The hope is the businesses, which came from across the south east, will now be more open to ordering a broader range of species.

Among the visiting group were representatives from the Mexican restaurant chain Wahaca, which was founded by Masterchef winner Thomasina Miers, and cooperative retailer The People’s Supermarket, which was featured on a Channel 4 TV series of the same name shown earlier this year.

There were also people from a host of leading marine conservation organisations, keen to learn more about the local fleet’s focus on sustainable and environmentally friendly fishing techniques.

Fishermen Mark Woodley and Kevin Bollen explained the workings of the local fleet and outlined the challenges they face – whether tackling the waves at sea or facing up to EU fisheries policies.

Emily Howgate, who helped organise the visit, said: “By providing practical information and events we hope to make it easier for restaurants to improve the sustainability of their seafood – and the health of our seas. Seeing first-hand a best practice fishery like Hastings is a great way to inspire chefs about sustainable seafood on our doorstep.”

The Observer is still running its campaign to secure a fairer deal for local fishermen and earlier this year more than 4,000 cut-out fish coupons were delivered to David Cameron demanding action.

The paper reported earlier this month that the town was in line for a £1.3million grant to help prop up the fishing industry and plans were afoot to build a smoke house and start marketing Hastings Kippers.

Picture: The group on Hastings seafront (CH20013)