Weymouth's seafood champions at this year's Dorset Seafood Festival
PUBLISHED: 12:57 06 July 2016 | UPDATED: 13:04 06 July 2016
PICTURE BY: DORSET MEDIA SERVICE
Whether it's champagne and oysters or fish and chips there are some truly delicious fishy partnerships, and that also extends to the amazing range of people involved in this year's award-winning Dorset Seafood Festival
John Wright, Wild Food Forager & Steve Titman, Executive Head Chef, Summer Lodge
John Wright and Steve Titman have been happily working together for seven years. “It all started with Foraging and Dining experiences at Summer Lodge,” says Steve, who is Executive Head Chef there. “John led a couple of forays and we created a tasting menu incorporating the foraged ingredients.” John chips in: “I give Steve weird stuff I have found and he thinks of brilliant ways to cook it!”
John, who is author of a number of foraging books including the River Cottage Handbook: The Edible Seashore, has been fascinated by nature’s free larder since he was a teenager. “Just when I should have started chasing girls I discovered fungi,” he chuckles. “Once I knew what was what, I started eating the odd wild mushroom, then plants and then seaweeds.
“You can find lots of wild ingredients in Dorset’s ancient hedgerows and farmland as well as on the vegetated pebble beach at Chesil, the rocky shore of Portland, the sandy estuary of Portland harbour and the mudflats of Poole Harbour.”
Like John, Steve is passionate about sourcing locally. “At Summer Lodge we actively support the local fishermen by paying a fair price for their catch which is delivered straight to my door.”
Meanwhile on the shoreline John is seeking out cockles, clams and the occasional oyster. “My favourite seashore treasure is seaweed,” John confesses. “I collect about 15 kilos a year for my own consumption.”
Both John and Steve have been involved with the Pommery Dorset Seafood Festival for many years. “It’s a really good collaboration of local chefs and fishermen,” says Steve. “For me it feels like home,” adds John. “I love the exquisite harbour when its lined with stalls selling interesting and unusual food.”
Steve says working with John has introduced him to an exciting new larder of wild ingredients. John is equally delighted, but confesses he is somewhat envious. “I might give Steve some seaweed, mushrooms or hedgerow fruit and he always comes up with some award-winning masterpiece with apparently zero effort.”
Michelle Hind, Owner of No.4 Restaurant & Avonia Hovard, Head Chef, No.4 Restaurant
Michelle Hind is the owner of No 4, a waterside restaurant on Weymouth’s historic harbour side.
“When the opportunity arose to own a seafood restaurant on the harbour it was a dream realised,” says Michelle, who is also a solicitor and President of the Chamber of Commerce in Weymouth.
Partnering Michelle in this venture is Head Chef, Avonia Hovard – known as Vonnie – who creates No 4s contemporary artisan seafood menu.
“All our seafood is sourced from within Dorset and our lobster and crab come straight from Weymouth harbour, on our doorstep,” says Vonnie, who has always lived in Weymouth.
“Our signature dish - ‘fruit de mer’ - features lobster, crab, oysters, clams, mussels, crevettes, langoustines and scallops all caught locally.”
Both Michelle and Vonnie are huge fans of the Pommery Dorset Seafood Festival. “We get to showcase our wonderful dishes and sample some of Dorset’s finest seafood!” says Vonnie.
As the President of the Chamber of Commerce, Michelle also sees the huge economic benefit it brings to the town. “It is a wonderful tourist attraction and a great opportunity for our local businesses. I LOVE this weekend, the atmosphere is fantastic.”
Matt Budden, Executive Chef, Hilton Hotel Bournemouth and Schpoons and Forx Restaurant & Sarah Watson, Sustainable Food City Partnership
In 2015 Bournemouth and Poole became the world’s first Sustainable Fish City. Spearheading that initiative was Sarah Watson of Sustainable Food City Partnership and Matt Budden, Executive Chef at Hilton Hotel Bournemouth and Schpoons and Forx Restaurant.
“The scheme is all about pledging to use sustainably caught fish on your menu, whether you’re a school canteen or a fine dining restaurant,” says Matt.
“Altogether this has impacted upon nearly 4 million fish meals served every year,” says Sarah, who adds that Dorset has plenty of sustainably caught fish to choose from.
“There’s crab, mussels, scallops, lobster as well as sole and plaice caught by fixed-nets. Lesser-known options include whelks, sprats, whiting, cockles, cuttlefish and brill caught by fixed-nets.”
The Pommery Dorset Seafood Festival is one of the highlights of Sarah’s year. “Their focus on sustainable fish is really inspiring, from clam popcorn to local mackerel and sea bream. They really celebrate it.”
Matt has been involved with the Festival for the last three years, hosting live cooking demos and judging the annual sustainability awards.
“It really is a festival that is true to its ethics of being local and sustainable.”
Sara Hicks, Director, Pommery Champagne & Pete Miles, Owner of Storm Fish Restaurant, The Cruel Sea & Dorset Oysters
Champagne and oysters is a match made in heaven and a natural partnership for Pommery and the Dorset Seafood Festival. Sara Hicks, a director at Pommery, recalls how it came about. “Brian Cooper, one of the founders of the Dorset Seafood Festival, persuaded me to have lunch in Weymouth,” says Sara.
The Dorset Seafood Festival team then explained how they worked with local fisherman, restaurateurs and artisan food producers and raised funds for the Fisherman’s Mission. “It really was an easy decision to become the Festival’s headline sponsor. And we’ve won awards for our contribution to Dorset’s tourism business.”
Pete Miles started Dorset Oysters in 2009 when he couldn’t source a regular supply of Poole oysters for his restaurant.
With the help of Gary Wordsworth from Othniel Oysters, Pete formed a partnership to not only supply Storm and The Cruel Sea, but also some top London restaurants.
“ I love Dorset oysters bread-crumbed and deep fried or freshly shucked with a touch of lemon juice or spice them up with some soy and wasabi,” says Sara.
“Or with a Pommery Champagne granita,” adds Pete.“Freeze a couple of glasses of Pommery, agitating it before it sets so it becomes granular, then scoop a little on to your oyster.”
“Now that sounds like a really delicious partnership!” declares Sara with a smile.
Pete Murt, Head Chef at Rick Stein, Sandbanks & Jack Stein, Executive Head Chef, Rick Stein Restaurants
Rick Stein Sandbanks on Banks Road opened at possibly one of the best locations in Dorset for a seafood restaurant in November last year.
“My mum Jill had highlighted Sandbanks as an area we should explore a few years ago and we’ve always wanted that sea view in a restaurant,” says Jack Stein, who was made Executive Chef of all Stein restaurants in 2013. Jack, who is the middle son of the celebrated chef, had originally wanted to go into academia, but having started as a kitchen porter aged 12 in the family business in Padstow he couldn’t resist the allure of being a chef, though one suspects there must be something in his DNA too!
Pete Murt, who hails from Padstow, is Head Chef at Rick Stein Sandbanks, and knows a thing or two about sourcing fish. “My uncle would supply Rick with fish when he used to cook at The Seafood Restaurant. So we’ve now moved as a family from catching the fish to cooking it.”
The menu at the Sandbanks venue is devised by Rick, with the addition of some of Jack’s own dishes. “My job is to make sure the style remains true to Rick’s belief in simplicity,” he explains.
Certainly it is a roll call that celebrates locally caught fish and shellfish including scallops, plaice, hake, crab, turbot, mussels and lobster. “Turbot is one of my favourites,” says Pete. “It’s simple to cook and the flavour when it’s cooked on the bone is sensational. I am also a big fan of mackerel which is an amazingly versatile fish.”
Jack attended the Pommery Dorset Seafood Festival last year. “I was very impressed not only by the number of visitors, but also the amount of industry professionals who were there.”
For Pete it will be his first year at the event, and he’s really looking forward to it. “It’s good to work with local fisherman and suppliers because they are passionate about what they do, just like we are.”
Roger Dalton & Brian Cooper, Founders of the Dorset Seafood Festival
The Dorset Seafood Festival is the creation of Roger Dalton, Managing Director of Resort Marketing, and Brian Cooper, who runs his own event management company. They grew the multi-award-winning event out of the Weymouth Oyster Festival.
“Brian and I have worked together for 25 years to develop Weymouth harbourside into a major tourist destination,” explains Roger. “We set up the Harbourside Traders Association securing grants to fund marketing initiatives and a programme of festivals. This evolved into the joint management of the Pommery Dorset Seafood Festival, which we have been closely involved in ever since.”
“Staging the event in a 17th-century harbour is attractive in its own right,” adds Brian, “but as the venue for a seafood festival, its relevance and provenance as a working harbour with its own fishing fleet makes it unique and rather special.”
The first Dorset Seafood Festival was held in July 2008 and from humble beginnings great things were achieved. “Our aim was to showcase the quality and diversity of seafood within the county and raise funds for the Fishermen’s Mission. Over the last eight years we’ve raised over £60,000 for the charity and generated over £12 million in incremental spend in the local economy,” Roger reveals.
No wonder it recently won a special award for Outstanding Contribution to Dorset Tourism, not to mention being voted by CNN as one of the top food festivals in Europe.
“Brian and I do have an incredibly working relationship and it owes much of its success to a shared vision and huge respect for each other’s business acumen,” says Roger, who adds that Brian is a relentless problem solver. Without doubt it’s their mutual determination to celebrate and support Weymouth and its fishermen that has resulted in one of the finest food festivals in the land.
“The festival is a real tribute to the dedication of a talented team, including Weymouth Community Volunteers, who provide many hundreds of man hours to run a complex event that fills every bed space in the resort, raises millions of pounds of incremental spend, brings national recognition to our local seafood industry, is free to enter and entirely self-financing,” says Brian. “And that is something we are both very proud of.”
Pommery Dorset Seafood Festival
• When: 9 - 10 July
• Where: Weymouth Harbour