View from the Harbour
PUBLISHED: 14:21 07 July 2009 | UPDATED: 16:07 20 February 2013
Celebrity chef, restaurateur, fish champion and family man, Mitch Tonks tells us about his life in Brixham.
View from the Harbour
Celebrity chef, restaurateur, fish champion and family man, Mitch Tonks tells us about his life in Brixham .
I've only been living in Devon for three years but I holidayed here every year as a child and had a long association with the fishing community - since opening my first fishmongers in Bath over 14 years ago. I absolutely love it here. I'm always amazed at the ever-changing scenery outside my window here in Brixham.
I moved to Brixham because of my love of fish and the beauty of this seaside town. True, it needs a little work here and there, a few more traders, but they will come... The community here is fabulous and if the plans for the redevelopment of the town go ahead as promised, then it will be the gem of Torbay and probably Devon.
My office in the house looks directly over the water to Brixham's Fish Market. In the early mornings, through the mist or in the first rays of sunshine, I can see the day boats and beam trawlers coming into port to land their catch. Between the market and my house is the marina with its glittering yachts and little wooden boats moored in neat rows, with the gentle rhythmic ringing of the halyards against the masts and the splash of water rising and falling as the swell increases from boats crossing deeper waters.
A day in my life
A typical day runs from 6am-11pm, mainly because fishmongers and restaurateurs work at the opposite ends of the day and I'm both! Up at 6am, I head to Brixham's Fish Market. After donning the essential white coat for being on the market floor, I look round at the boxes of fresh fish landed that morning and find some fabulous large sea bass, a by-catch from one of the boats, and some monkfish tails.
I work with Nigel Ward, an old friend and buyer from Channel Fisheries, who joins the auction process to get me the best price for the fish I'm after. The auctioneers and buyers talk so fast and have so many different signals, that even after 3 years I still haven't much of a clue what is going on. I've still got my L-plates on when it comes to the buying process!
I meet up with my mate Ian Perkes on the market who's grabbed a couple of beautiful soles from his store, so we take them over to the Fishermen's Mission where Christine and her team simply coat them in flour and fry them up. We eat them for breakfast with malt vinegar and salt and huge steaming mugs of tea. This is the freshest fish going. Off the boat, two minutes' walk and into the pan. Delicious!
What's on the menu?
I hop on my moped and head off to Dartmouth for a meeting with Mat, my long-time friend and chef who has worked with me for nearly 10 years. We have menu-planning meetings every day that Seahorse, my Dartmouth restaurant, is open. We put the monkfish tails I bought in the market on the menu, cooked in the Romagna style which we've perfected - marinated in a slurry of breadcrumbs, olive oil, rosemary and lemon juice before grilling slowly over charcoal. We've also found that by closing the vents on the oven we get an amazing smoky-grilled taste.
We like our menu to reflect what comes in off the morning's market each day alongside our locally sourced seasonal veg. Currently the new season's broad beans, crushed with fresh mint and served with ricotta, gives a real taste of the summer. It's a dish I had the other week at Bocca di Lupo in London with Laura, my endlessly patient assistant, who manages my busy life brilliantly. Mat's been sent some UK-farmed tilapia to sample, so we cook up one of the fillets in our wood-burning oven. It tastes good and not too muddy, but we're not sure about making this a regular feature on our menu as we like to promote local seafood over anything else.
At the end of our meeting, Nick Hutchings, a local lobster and crab fisherman who I've worked with ever since getting into the fish business, pops his head around the door with a tray full of fantastic Start Bay crabs and a massive turbot straight off Britannia, his boat.
Being able to react to what comes in off the boat and through my local fishing contacts is a great way to build a menu and never ceases to inspire me!
The rest of the morning is spent prepping in the kitchen ready for the busy lunchtime service. I usually try and get out to chat to customers when I can. I think it's good for the chefs to keep in touch with their customers.
Filming in London
After lunch service I drive over to Totnes and hop on the train to London where I'm booked in to do some filming for Market Kitchen. It's great to see everyone there and I hook up with Tom Parker Bowles, Matthew Fort and the wonderful Allegra McEvedy who started the Leon chain in London. I cook up a nice piece of grilled cod with avocado and caper butter for the cameras. It's a delicious easy summer recipe; you can use the topping for any fish, so it's well worth a try.
I arrive back late into Totnes and drive home where I catch up with my wife, Pen, and daughter, Issy, about their day over a supper of home-smoked herrings with rocket and fresh tomato salad. Then I settle down to catch up on e-mails. I find the late evenings and early mornings are a great time to write and I usually make a note of any recipe ideas I've had in my black book, which rarely leaves my side and has all the ideas for my next book in it!
As the lights in the marina twinkle outside my office windows, I get ready to turn in knowing I'll see those same boats bobbing up and down on the early morning tide when I wake tomorrow.
Have a good month in the sunshine and enjoy your cooking!