Stelios: Hey, everyone. Welcome to Episode 32 of the Ceres Podcast.
In this episode, I visit and talk to Mitch Tonks. If I sound a bit rough, this is because over the last couple of weeks I’ve done over just shy of 2000 miles between demonstrations, development and podcasting. It’s been a long, boring drive on the motorway, but it’s pretty much all worth it. On my travels, I’ve really been thinking of how to describe Mitch and I was thinking of the Greek word Thalassophile, someone who really loves the sea. I really think Mitch not only loves the sea, but has made his living promoting sustainable seafood, but also sustainable fishing. For those that don’t know, Mitch Tonks is an absolute seafood legend when it comes to fish and seafood. He’s been a champion of sustainability for longer than it’s even been popular. Mitch is the founder of The Rockfish Group and the co-owner of the Seahorse in Dartmouth. Mitch was really generous with his time, especially as he and his team were ramping up and preparing for Dartmouth Food Festival. I’m not a sensationalist. I don’t want to overdraw dramatise a story, but I really do have a lot of respect for Mitch for sharing a story of him in his father’s last moments.
He didn’t have to. It was just something I read about in an article and Mitch elaborated on it.
When I was putting my ideas down for the Ceres Podcast in the early days, I really wanted to inspire and educate people in the hospitality industry to do better. But we should never forget about the human side of the hard work that we put in.
As always, if you can remember to subscribe to get regular updates and if you could give us a review and a rating in Apple Podcasts, I’ll respect you forever. Thank you very much for your support and I hope you enjoy this episode.
Stelios Mitch, welcome to the podcast. can you hear me?
Mitch: I can hear you. Sorry, sorry, sorry. Yeah, sorry. I was waiting for you. I thought you were running on. It was I didn’t realize. That’s my cue.
Stelios: This is going to be a funny one. Welcome to the Ceres Podcast. For those that don’t know you I will run into a little introduction but I don’t think there is many of them. You’re not only a massive proponent of seafood, but you are the MSC ambassador. And for those that don’t know MSC, that’s Marine Stewardship Council. You were the founder of FishWorks way back when, but you’ve moved on since and it’s not around like it used to be. You are now the founder of Rockfish Group and the proprietor of the Seahorse in Dartmouth. You were also a celebrated cookbook author and you’ve also done a fair bit of television. Thank you for your time today.
Mitch: Absolute pleasure Stelios.
Stelios: I know this is the beginning of a busy weekend because you got the Dartmouth Food Festival on. So tell us a little bit about what you’ve got planned.
Mitch: Dartmouth Food Festival is our big event of the year really in the town and we’re 13 years in and the town really, really gets behind its festival run by volunteers and the seahorse. We really go to town on it. So we have all of our mates coming down to cook with us and host various dinners. So this evening we kick off with Richard Bertinet, the Bretton Baker, who is just an incredible cook. And he does this really like it does amazing Bretton dinner, But one of his big features is this kind of lovely baked camembert in brioche with truffles and all sorts of amazing things that we haven’t done with that tonight. Then Friday night, Angela Hartnett (Murano) and Neil Borthwick (The French House) do dinner, which is wonderful. And we set up a lovely little tent in the street where we start boiling octopus. And we also have a sardine grill. So fire roasting sardines on skewers outside, which is truly wonderful. And then on Saturday at lunchtime, we have Nieves Barragán and her team from Sabor in Mayfair, one of the iconic Spanish restaurants in London. So she’s cooking at lunchtime and doing the octopus in the street Saturday night. As ever, Mark Hix (Hix Restaurants) always comes back to the festival. Great pal of mine. We might make wine together and enjoy a lot of fun. So he’s cooking Saturday night and then my sort of, you know, personal favourite chef, Henry Harris is cooking on Sunday. So the private dining room is full of restaurants full. The street is full. And we’re probably 70 or 80 people over lunch, poached veal loin, foie gras, all that kind of thing and have some nice wine. So the whole thing is just a great, great party, a great celebration.
Stelios: It sounds like a great event. And everyone I take that. Lots of restaurants. We’re doing something around here.
Mitch: Yeah. I mean, you know, we don’t we have the angel next door. They do some really, really good stuff as well, which is fantastic. And but we’re kind of bereft of restaurants like Dartmouth used to be full of restaurants, really. And now we don’t have as many as we used to. But the ones here are very, very good indeed. And you’re right, they all get involved and all that, you know, all around the town. There are marquees put up. There are people selling. Things are demonstrations going on. There are food stalls. I mean, it’s an amazing event.
Stelios: you said it’s about octopus that you’ve got a bit of octopus and absolutely love octopus. The brits don’t really enjoy it as much do they?
Mitch: That is what they do. I mean, you know, Spanish restaurants are really kind of octopus on the map. And I think that when you have eaten Nieves octopus, you realize the octopus is something truly and utterly amazing when it’s done. Well, she brings huge copper pot down and we put them in the street in the octopus, get poached very, very slowly. And she’s very particular about where she sources the octopus from. The texture is amazing. oil and pimento on top.
Stelios: Not sous vide then?
Mitch: Oh, goodness, no. I mean, no, no. None of my chefs would even dream of putting anything sous vide. So this is real. We’re kind of. Yeah, we cook in a different way. I think there are you know, those things undoubtedly have a place, but nobody that’s close to me has one in their kitchen.
Stelios: So if I go fishing around here, I wouldn’t see anything in your kitchens that resembles anything like sous vide
Mitch: We’re very traditional. I mean, the seahorse kitchen, we cook over an open fire. We’re probably one of the few people, you know, nowadays it’s de rigueur to cook over an open fire. But eleven years ago when we opened, remember standing there with a fire officer saying that having a fire here and he looked to me as if I was completely bonkers. And so we’ve been cooking with open fire for just say eleven years and, you know, it’s great. And pasta boilers. And that’s one of the things.
Stelios: There is an element of being bonkers, though, in this business. Like you wouldn’t have done half of what you did if you were sane, let’s be honest.
Mitch: It is true, I mean, the journey for me was like, you know, when I was 27 when I kind of started it all slightly frustrated with life, two wonderful kids and was just kind of wanting change. And so I changed my career from accountancy and set up a fish shop in Bath. And It was one of those moments in life that the moment I decided to give up what I was doing and do something I really wanted to do? It’s incredibly empowering. I mean, you know, once you’ve I think I look back and think, you know, once you’ve made a decision and there is no going back and there’s nothing inside of you that questions that, then you’re totally free.
Stelios: Do you think to some degree it’s then because you’re obviously clearly content to some degree as an accountant. But do you think to some degree it was the challenge you were having in life?
Mitch: I was a 27 year old with a mind racing everywhere wondering where life was gonna take me. And I think that you know, it’s taken me a long time to find true contentment. But at that point in life, I was still really trying to carve out who I was and what I wanted to do with it. And fish was something that, you know, I grew up with my grandmother, who was just the most wonderful cook. And we used to go to the local fishmongers and buy crab and gurnards, brown shrimps and eels will be swimming around in the sink and she’d make jellies eels and so I was always fascinated by the kitchen. But of course, I left school very early to go into the wide world. I couldn’t wait to get my own cash and, you know, drink beer and do all the things that kids do. So I never really put any time into education. So I never really believed I could be anything but this kind of lost soul. And so when I found cooking, It was because I loved it.
Stelios: But it was not an easy career to go into like that many, you know. It’s you know, in some respects you left what was probably comfortable accountancy. That’s what I meant earlier. And you probably got into something that needed a lot of adversity. It was a challenge in some respects that cooking wasn’t an easy career either.
Mitch: Well, the thing was, it started off sort of two years as running a fish shop before I cooked. And, you know, at the time I also left my wife and moved into this fish shop with seven and a half thousand quid. It was all I had in the world and set this thing up and realised I loved it. I slept on a sofa upstairs for a number of years. And then I met my now wife Pen, who’s also my best pal and she’s kind of been through the whole journey with me. And that was it was very, very humble beginnings. But I had a lot of help from people in Cornwall who were teaching me about seafood. I was on a journey. And then people were coming into the shop and they were asking where they could go and get cooked in a restaurant. And of course, in Bath at the time, there was a couple of great restaurants, but not dedicated to seafood. So I was going home and I was going, you know, cooking Elizabeth David, recipes, you know, steamed cockles, red mullet with olive oil and rosemary and very simple. And I was enjoying those pleasures. And you couldn’t eat them anywhere. So I decided to have a go and put a kitchen upstairs and some tables and chairs painted it one weekend with a few mates. Yeah, everyone told me it wouldn’t work. You know, fish restaurant, the other smelly fish shop and meet people in your life as you do. Yeah. I mean, but, you know, there was always nothing else I could do. And it took two years for that restaurant to really get going. And week by week, I’d wonder whether or not I can actually keep it going. Yeah, it was really, really tough times. Can’t tell you how tough it was. And I look back with real fondness because at that time, when you when the chips are down or you really can do is just dig in and do your best. And I know we had an amazing review in the paper and the restaurant filled and we became successful. And then we opened another one and then we opened in London, then opened in Marylebone High Street.
Stelios: This was the precursor to what became fishworks?
Mitch: Yes. So open opened open five restaurants. We called them fishworks. So I really kind of liked that name. And the idea was to have a restaurant and the fishmongers integrated. It’s got a complicated model. You know, you could buy the fish out, have it weighed, have it grilled and we opened in Marylebone High Street, which is phenomenal. And we made a lot of money there, which was great. And somebody persuaded me to, you know, why don’t you have 10 Marylebone High Streets, you know, make a fortune and raise some capital on the stock market. So that’s what we did. And we were a public company from 2005 to 2009. And, you know, it’s a rocky ride. I mean, we opened a restaurant, the fifth floor of Harvey Nichols on the day of the July 7 bombings. So that was ultimately a failure. And from then on, it just had a knock-on effect. And I, in the end, some other people bought into the company. Luke Johnson was one of them. And they put a management team in who I just didn’t agree with. You know, I had a vision for the company that was not the same vision as theirs. And I was kind of lost, really. I’d spent a couple of years dealing with investors and expectations. And what I wasn’t doing was running restaurants.
Mitch: So we and we were opening restaurants far too quickly. And it was the motivation was wrong. So I left and came here and set up shop here and that was it. I was already living here because part of the float was to buy a fish business. So I bought a fish company called Channel Fisheries and they supplied or we supply our own fish to our own restaurants, which made it quite unique, which is something we’re doing again. Yeah.
Stelios: So that’s sort of that treadmill type thing. Just doesn’t appeal to you any more, like that, just constant churning out restaurants?
Mitch: You know, I think I think I think the motivation in those days was let’s make money. Yeah. And, you know, we were opening a restaurant every six weeks to try and keep up with what we told the city and keep up with the profit forecast we put out there. And it was a disaster.
Stelios: Do you not see a lot of people doing that today, though, obviously.
Mitch: And that’s what’s happening. Yeah. I mean, it’s been a very, very heady cocktail over the last few years where you’ve got, you know, lots of money from private equity firms. You got lots of city centre’s being developed. You’ve got a brand, you put them all together. It becomes it, it becomes mad. And in the early days, it seems great. But I think consumers are fairly savvy. You know, if they go to a. If they go to a restaurant, they’re spending hard-earned cash and they want to know there’s some integrity behind it. And, you know, we were the same as the other guys are doing it today and that there’s no way that you can do anything with incredible integrity when you’re opening them every six weeks. And it’s just impossible. They just become stage sets and they’re not real and people see through it. And ultimately, when turnover drops you, you have a failure.
Mitch: And that’s just the way restaurants are.
Stelios: It’s also very difficult to keep the food and experience at the top level, at least at a respectable level. If you’re just churning these things out.
Mitch: It’s impossible to do.
Mitch: I mean, even after ten years, I know the Seahorse has a rhythm of its own. Everybody comes in here and it’s rather like a little Honda engine at the door. You know, the engine goes on and everybody knows what happened. What happens during the day. And it just works. And we re-establish that rhythm in all of our restaurants. Those daily habits and routines are so important in the kitchen, front of house, everywhere. And that’s the key to creating a great restaurant.
Stelios: How did rockfish come about?
Mitch: So rockfish came about that we were sitting in the restaurant with my partner Matt Prowse, who is my best pal and has worked for me ever since the very beginning. Incredible chef. And this picks up various roles as we’ve grown and we’re both in the kitchen cooking. So do you need to make some more money? Why don’t we open up something that is very mid-market for seafood. Nobody’s ever done it before. We didn’t do it with building lots of restaurants in mind. We just did it because we thought we could fill the gap between a traditional chip shop and the seahorse. We both got lots of kids. We got nine kids between us and we were kind of reflecting on where can we go and eat seafood? That’s like really good. The answer was nowhere. So we actually started off, you know, with a range frying fish and chips. It was something we didn’t really know anything about. And we thought we could do a good job being chefs and how wrong were we. I mean, we made all sorts of mistakes in the beginning. And gradually Rockfish has evolved into a seafood restaurant. We do fish and chips. We do. We like to think we do them incredibly well. Everything we do, we do with great integrity. And now we like to think as rockfish, as a seafood restaurant. It really does fill that gap between a chippy and a high-end fish restaurants.
Stelios: There’s no reason why they both shouldn’t stay on the same menus.
Mitch: Absolutely. It’s the heart of what we do. People love to come along and eat seafood and chips. It doesn’t need to be anything else. But I think we realised in the beginning, I certainly realized that nobody was going to come and eat fish and chips three times a week. However, if we started our grilling, using punches go a little bit more skilled than we could attract chefs, what would be great? Because when you’re just frying fish is not really what chefs want to do. And also people could you could widen the experience, which is one of the things we did over a period of time. And now rockfish is, you know, a rockfish that evolved through a series of failures. I always say to people that, you know, things that we tried a million things and some are stuck and some haven’t. But the genius thing that stuck was we had a menu made up of, you know, of an MSC frozen cod, haddock and all the kind of species, the usual suspects that people buy. We wanted to sell local fish and we would have lemon soles, dover soles, all of those kinds of things on the menu. But the problem was they weren’t always available. So you’re always going up to people who say, look I’ve got no scallops today and I’ve got no lemon sole today, but I have got this and that was a problem. So we evolved into the tablecloths. We’re now in Rockfish everyone writes on the tablecloths, we buy from the market every day, a little description to help people buy. And we sell all sorts of species in there from Dogfish to John Dory to Turbot to Dover sole and gurnards. It’s small dabs and we’re able to sell people all of those great species which really, really works for us.
Stelios: And in fact, people are quite adventurous when they see it like that. Just scribbled on a piece of paper
Mitch: Yeah. You know, people want to eat seafood. I mean, it’s something you know, our customers are older people tend to be generally older people or the young crab come for oysters and shellfish. But people want to eat seafood. And I think when they trust somewhere that it’s fresh, then they’re happy to take a lead.
Stelios: Definitely. And its 8 sites is it now?
Mitch: Yeah. Well, we’re actually eight sites. One under construction will be nine, 10 by the end of next year.
Stelios: And where do you sort of see within five years and see what more or my vision is that.
Mitch: Yeah. Well, we’ll probably grow. We think we can run 15 to 20 sites very well with the way we set up a fabulous operations team, fabulous board. We’re very, very focused on integrity at scale. That’s our big mantra and the vision I have is that we will have these restaurants and we’ve got our own fishing boat now that will probably have another fishing boat will be invested in mussel farming, oyster farming. We have our own fish premises. All the fish comes to this processed and sent to the restaurants. So the whole experience of coming to rockfish is a lot more than just go into a restaurant. You sit there and you know that we sustainably sourced it’s been processed by somebody overnight and in the morning ready for the restaurant’s been cooked by a skilled chef.
Stelios: And the whole experience is a very real one rather than extended a growth, a very sort of organic and sustainable thing.
Mitch: Yeah, I think I think the thing is we don’t feel we can open more than two restaurants here. We’re always looking at how we can sort of slightly tweak the model to work in smaller premises. But actually, you know, when I spend a long time working on the property. So I’m literally got guys, you know, a guy that’s on the south coast talking to people all the time, trying to open up deals and, you know, we should call a new deal yesterday, which can’t say where, but very exciting. That’s something I’ve been working on for three years.
Stelios: And locations are all pretty beautiful, really. You know, the views that always really nice. And like, you won’t just take. , you know, if there was a location you wanted to I’m guessing you just wouldn’t go there if the view or the scenery wasn’t nice.
Mitch: Now, the big ingredient from for me is that seafood by the coast tastes better than eating in a city. And so, therefore, it’s very important to the restaurants are near water, overlooking water preferably, and near fishing activity, because we want to support the local fishing community.
Stelios: So then you cant see yourself somewhere like London?
Mitch: Absolutely not. I mean, it’s would just be a complete, No, no, no. You know, there’s that thing that I have. I’m driving up the M4 to London. I’m thinking about Asian food. I’m thinking of steak. I’m thinking all sorts of things. But I’m not thinking about seafood. You know, when I drive down from London to go to the coast, any coast we are going to on holiday. I’m not thinking about meat. I’m thinking about seafood. And I think that’s the that’s just where we are.
Stelios: I can’t remember where it was. I remember reading a chef saying that, you know, in and even normal seafood dishes might have been Nathan Outlaw. I’m not sure that’s a complete guess. But he was saying, you know, when you’re next to the seaside, he can just do a nice little crab salad. And, you know, it’s fresh. It’s nice taste that just, you know, like steamed prawns or whatever it goes. But the minute you go to London, you’ve got to take it up a notch because you haven’t got the sea.
Mitch: Yeah. It was Nathan. I mean Myself and Nathan have had these conversations. And we both believe in this purity and situation. I mean, you go to eat in his restaurants and I find I think Nathan’s the most skilled seafood chef I’ve ever come across. In the sense that he manages to retain incredible simplicity and great technique that just doesn’t overpower anything, any anything he’s doing. I mean, it really is extraordinary stuff. Know, but he’s quite right. I mean, I remember sitting in his restaurant, the cafe I cooked there with him one evening. We did a night dinner. And, you know, it did seem odd taking a plate of cuttlefish and oysters and looking at the Rolls Royces. I mean, it was quite different.
Stelios: I could imagine. So if we look at just the fish and chips for a second, it’s obvious you do partake in that and quite well, I would say. Do you think that the word fish and chips let down the product of fish and chips?
Mitch: No, I think people love fish and chips. And it’s you know, it’s something that’s very dear to us as British people. But unfortunate. I feel like, you know, I think two things. One is that people still feel like fish is very cheap and fish and chips are the cheap meal it should be. And secondly, there are fish and chip shops that have moved out of specialization. So when I think about the guys at the Quayside, the Magpie Café and Colmans and Fred in Bournemouth, to me they are brilliant. Top End fish and chips are the absolute best when I think about the chippys that I walk past that selling saveloy, king ribs, pies and a million other things. And it’s really just takeaway food. That’s where I think fish and chips has got itself kind of mixed up and confused and got itself a sort of bad name because it’s a hard game. I mean, it’s all become take away, and I think when you lump it all in together, somehow people just feel that guy over there doing fish and chips and that’s fish and chips. But you can’t compare the two. You know, Freds fish and chips compared with a kebab shop with selling kebabs and burgers and cheap fish and chips is not the same thing at all.
Mitch: And I think that’s probably in consumers minds, they still feel it’s the reason we don’t market it.
Stelios: Because obviously there’s a story out recently that said about Tom Kerridge. charging £32 for fish and chips. There was no need to read the story, obviously. Yeah, it was turbot for a start. Yeah. You know, anything I think he said in that if that was grilled turbot with pomme frite, you know, just like, you know, it wouldn’t be a problem. Nobody would abide. And I know it was turbo and chips, you know, straight away.
Mitch: Well that’s what happens amidst this sort of headline grabbing fish and chips and that’s it. I mean I’ve served turbot and chips people. And, you know, I think 32 quid was cheap, especially with somebody like Tom cooking it. But, you know, it’s the King of fish and that’s the price of the fish.
Stelios: So I ate a rockfish last night, as you know, and I feasted massively and I still found that it was really good value. You know what? You know what it was, you know. But the fact is that I ate a lot. How do you balance the two? How do you balance value for money and return custom and great quality seafood? Because it is difficult to scale seafood, but you’re juggling it. So. Give us a little insight there.
Mitch: Well, I mean, we still have a rule that we don’t really pitch a main course above 20 quid. Yeah, but starters, as you know, can be up to 10 quid because, you know, having scallops, three scallops on a plate is a tenner, the only fish that will go over the twenty quid mark for Dover Soles and turbots. John dory is that kind of thing we keep under 20. I think it’s just something we really focused on. I think we you know we don’t want Rockfish to be. We want to be premium, a sense that the cooking is our top level. Well, actually, we’ve got to keep it within the sort of affordability, unlimited chips, linen, napkin, free water for people. I mean, all those things kind of add up to the experience being good value.
Stelios: And that’s really how it is a big thing that a lot of people, again, they dont realise that it’s all about the experience. You know, like we were talking to one restaurant a while ago. And, you know, he calculated it’s five thousand pound a year on flowers for the business, you know, and he separates it as something you can’t put money against. It goes in within the business because people like flowers on their table, you know?
Mitch: So, yeah, you got it. You’ve got to set your stall out. I think it’s really you know, we get free tartar sauce and ketchups on the table, that these are things that we have made for us. If not, no, not cheap. But they. But they really work. And, you know, people feel like this works. Yeah.
Stelios: And it wouldn’t be the same if it wasn’t there.
Mitch: Yeah. But also, I think that you’ve been you kind of you know, it’s very easy to kind of set up a business to make money. I would take the sauce and off we charge for that. We don’t do unlimited chips. We do all that. You know, for one, we can make loads of money, but then nobody comes back. Yeah. And I think that what we forget is that, you know, there is a work called hospitality, which a lot of restaurateurs and a lot of restaurants forget. Yeah. That we’re in we’re in the business of taking care of people. And we’re in the business of giving people a great time. Bringing somebody a plate of food and clearing a table is service. Hospitality is another level. Yeah. And it’s where you do something different. It’s where you do generous things. It’s where you pour a glass of prosecco for your regular guest is it’s where you drop an ice cream on the table for that young is crying over there. It’s all the little stuff. You know, our kids packs, which we spend huge amounts of money on. But I genuinely believe that when kids were in a restaurant, they’re semi bored and, you know, coloring in is just like a cop out. So let’s learn some stuff. Let’s give them some stuff about seafood. Let’s get them educated about sustainability. Let’s get them eating fish so that when they grow up, there is there is a future not only for our business, but for seafood, too.
Stelios: Yeah. So do you see this as a future of, let’s say, hospitality, takeaway restaurants do you see it being more restaurant led than takeaway? Because obviously you can add the element of hospitality.
Mitch: I do. I think I mean, we’ve evolved the takeaway model in bricks and we started having beers and wines and we’ve it’s under wraps for now. But we’ve we are looking at a couple of sites for a smaller kind of rockfish. And we’re going to that’s going to kind of reinvent the takeaway element of the business. But I think the takeaways have their place when they’re situational. So for me, it’s amazing the difference in the north and the south on a Friday evening, I could imagine Fred’s takeaway while I’ve been there on Friday was absolutely packed and people are going home to eat their fish and chips. Very, very traditional in places like Dartmouth that sort of doesn’t really happen in such a big supported way. What happens is people just want to come down and eat fish and chips at the boats. So we try and encourage people not to take our fish and chips home. Okay. And we try and say, look, just come down, buy some fish chips, sucking some amazing air and look over the fishing boats and enjoy an amazing experience. And for me, that’s the takeaways need to be in somewhere where you can experience that or in a community that’s more open north where people rely on that for their kind of Friday night treat.
Stelios: So you mentioned before with Fish Works that the funding that came was, you know, venture capital when city money this time round, it’s different. You know, give us an example of how it’s different.
Mitch: Well, when you float a company, you’re taking investment from pension funds and fund managers. And when you tell these guys that you’re gonna make X amount profit year, they expect you to make X amount of profit year. And if you’re 10 per cent off for whatever reason, don’t make any odds. You can be late opening a restaurant. You could have you know, a restaurant could’ve burnt down. It could be enough that something outside of your control. You then enter into profit warning. They call it a profit warning. And you know, that is fairly catastrophic for business. Share price is volatile. I mean, you know, it takes every bit of energy. You’ve got to kind of manage that situation as a private company, as we all know with we’re all invested in it and we have some private investors. We can make our own decisions if we decide to open a site a month after when we originally thought we can. If we decide to buy a site now, lock it up to that location and open in six month’s time, we can.
Mitch: And it just gives you a lot more flexibility to get to grow the business, grind it and make sensible business decisions for the business and for the people not necessarily related to. Yes, but it’s going to hit profit this year. That’s fine with me. We’re not too worried. We profit is oxygen. Money is something we need as a company. But that money just gives us the ability to invest in a better workforce, invest in better premises, invest in new equipment, all of these things. And that’s what we want to do.
Stelios: That’s the key thing, isn’t it? Says that there’s no rush, you know, and actually. I do wonder sometimes, and businesses open that they try and rush to sort of like profit as fast as possible as opposed to sustainability. I think then, you know, I think that that you just need time to breathe. Then you’ve got that with yourself, investors and your friends and so on. And people really both in this instance and I say I just think that if your opening, you’re rushing because you had to make money straight away on that on that you might make a few wrong decisions.
Mitch: Well, we’re very lucky. I mean, all of our restaurants have all been profitable from day one. we never worry about once. Want to make a decision to open the restaurants, work in the very profitable. And that’s you know, you got to do that little bit of hard work before you get to that stage. You know, I’ve never opened up something that I thought didn’t think we would work. But I think it’s more the kind of longer-term strategic decision. So investing in a fishing boat, mussel farms, all those kind of things that we want to do and are doing and investing in our people. You know, buying chef’s knives, baseball caps, clothing for people, making people feel like this is the best company I’ve ever worked for. This is like incredibly caring spending time. We recently did a listening project where we asked various questions to our staff and we took all of that information and distilled it into creating this strategy for people over the next few years. You have time to get to do those kinds of things. And that’s as important. Getting those building blocks in place.
Stelios: So let’s move away from your staff and look at the wider community.
Stelios: One thing I mentioned to you is that when we’re setting up is that, you see a lot of negativity around people like Rick Stein in Padstow, for example, who probably don’t have a cause really in some respects over then elevated property prices. But, you know, he’s done so much good to the area, but people still don’t like it. Have you ever had any of that backlash?
Mitch: I haven’t.
Mitch: And I think, you know, it’s unfair on Rick. I think, you know, he’s single-handedly turned Padstow, you know, into this wonderful attraction. Other people who followed him, other people set brilliant things up. And, you know, I mean, there’s always going to be that little bit of green. I mean, anything you do and yeah, I’ve had that, you know, people. Mitch Tonks. Yes. Or Mitch Tonks that. I’ve kind of learned over the years that I’m immune to it. I think we’ve got a very thick skin. I’m incredibly content. And I just take it on the chin, really. And I kind of have this feeling. As you know, Rick’s record is doing the right thing and I’m only doing the right thing. So, therefore, it can’t be wrong.
Stelios: Yeah, and you do do a lot locally
Stelios: You know, you mentioned fishing boats, but, there are so many things that you do that that many industries don’t like always.
Mitch: Right. You know, some people we pick at 400 staff will be 500, 550 next year. It’s a lot of people. They’re all local jobs in it’s all local Brixham, it’s all local people. It’s a great opportunity for everyone. And we’ve just won an Employer of the Year award, which is a real testament to the work that everyone’s put in, you know, delighted to for the business to receive that.
Stelios: With the group. Was it always the intention to make it a group?
Mitch: No, no, no. It was quite a journey, really. Actually, it was. It was. The idea was that we would have one restaurant and we create something that was institutional and legendary. And I would spend my time cooking until I was 70 with Matt. And it would be great. And of course, we opened up Rockfish. We thought that might just be a bit more money for us both. And I think the interesting thing about being an entrepreneur is that you never rest. Your mind is always dreaming and thinking of what could be. And therefore, it just didn’t make sense to have one, two successful restaurants. I felt we could do more with it. That was beyond restaurants. So that was it really just started as a kind of like, let’s try it. And I mean, it was really great. It was a guy called John Barnes. John ran Harry Ramsdens and is a very, very colourful character, brilliant restaurateur and a great operator. And I’d seen John speak at a conference once. He needed a speech call break into chains when he ran a company called La Tasca. And I made a point of introducing myself to him afterwards. I was fascinated by a story. And lo and behold, it was I think I’m trying to get the year right now. Let’s say six, seven years ago, John was actually dining knows more because rockfish is ten years gone. So John was dining in the seahorse and I told him I was gonna open this rockfish place and I’d really love him to come and have a look at. And he said, yeah, I am retired now. I’ve got grandkids. And, you know, I didn’t really get involved with other restaurants. Okay, great. So I mailed him a year later. Said John, I’ve opened this place and it’s really going well. And I’d really love your help. Could you come and have a look? So he came down and he walks in, he looks. We went, Oh, this is fantastic. This is what I should have done. He said, I’ve already spoken to Pat, my wife, and yes, I’d love to get involved. And yes, I’d be happy to invest. And so John then bought a bunch of mates with him that that invested. I had a bunch of mates that were very supportive. They were ex-owners of youngs seafood and they invested. And I started to bring my board of directors together, which included Henry Dimbleby, who was a brought his family and its investors. And that was the initial finding, people that. Joined Matt and I to be able to kind of build the business, and then six years ago I started working for Hawksmoor a small steak Restaurant in London, run by two guys and Will Beckett and Hugh Gott. They were actually opening when I was opening my last fish works. sensational job they did. And they asked me to consult to them on their seafood, which I did and still do. And I love my involvement with Hawksmoor, with such great business. And I got to say. Well, well, I said to him, look, I’m looking for a chairman. Well, to join the business. You know, anyone. And we were at Coombs head farm on a kind of away day for Hawksmoor, more developing menus. And will said, look, I put my hat in the ring to be chairman. And so Will joined three years ago. And that’s been a game changer. You know, very focused, really helps me to develop my plans and ideas guiding, bring a board together. I mean, what I’ve learned over the last three years about how to build a great business has been phenomenal. And my growth has been phenomenal. Been able to help my people grow in the business as well. And that’s, I believe, is what the success of businesses are, is when people collaborate and work together and have some kind of synergies. Hawksmoor is building restaurants know worldwide with integrity in scale and we’re doing in the UK. So that’s the kind of potted history of how rockfish became.
Stelios: They are running an interesting business at the moment. Where, you know, where. Everyone wants to sort of where possible point the finger at beef for everything. You know, we ask that, you know, everything is blamed on, you know, beef, you know, whether it’s too much CO2 or, you know vegans or whatever. And let’s see, you’re right. They are doing it with integrity. And, you know, they’re willing to put their neck on the line and talk about things, you know, and follow will on Twitter. And he’s very, very, I would say is not emotional at all he is very focused on saying the right things.
Mitch: Yeah, he is. I mean, he’s you know, he’s as he’ll tell you is, you know, restaurants are just you know, he’s a great restaurateur, even though I think he just really enjoys the science of getting an organization to think one way and do something. And he does that incredibly well, which is why they’re successful. But the whole thing with meats is, as we know, we forget the fact that eating rubbish, beef burgers, eating rubbish, processed beef, having cattle farmed by the masses, fed bad food and farmed in a way that is bad is not great. And small-scale farming and small-scale fishing. All those kinds of things are for me still okay. I mean, I get that. It’s just the globalization and mass production of things and the way supermarkets want to drive prices down and sell an experience isn’t quite right.
Mitch: You know, that’s where I think it’s gone wrong because.
Stelios: I think I think from a consumer point of view, it’s on us to choose better. So we should choose better fish, better beef, better chicken. Yeah. And I think that everyone says, oh, we should just go vegan. And I don’t think that’s the answer. Is actually half of the being in food out there is utter crap. You know, I see a lot of food there and it’s just, you know, the word cheese, for example, is just it’s a it’s an amalgamation of chemicals..
Mitch: I think that, you know, I think everybody to their own right.
I mean, I don’t mind what people eat is entirely up to the choice. I think what really annoys me is the whole movement of I’m a vegan and therefore you should be. And the pressure that puts on us as restaurateurs, of course, everybody’s welcome. But, you know, if I went to a restaurant, whether I whether it be allergens or whether it be my own dietary choices, I would expect to be treated slightly differently because I’m not going to get the same experience as anyone else, because I’ve chosen to eliminate these things from my diet and that’s my choice. So you can’t blame them. You can’t. So but, you know, we get you know, well, why haven’t you got a vegan menu? Well, it’s because I’m a seafood restaurant. I mean, I have something suitable for you. But it might not be as exciting because I’ve been the same way as if I went to a vegan restaurant and asked for a dover sole I wouldn’t be satisfied with it. I’d have to go to a fish restaurant. Meat restaurant was kind of odd thing, really. But I respect everyone’s choices and I think a vegan diets must be reasonably healthy. But I’m not sure that it’s the way to save the planet .
Stelios: I just don’t think the blame should be piled onto one thing, though, and I think it’s absolutely, absolutely a blaming on cows issues that are, in my opinion.
Mitch: Well, I think that you’ve got to start with something. And I think that I think one of the big problems is, is that the retailers, the big retailers are the gateway where people buy their food. And when I was in a big supermarket recently, I won’t mention the name. And I was I was a 24 hour supermarket. There’s no one else in there. And I wandered up aisle after aisle after aisle of packaged food made in factories by unhappy people working on production lines. And every single product was pretending to either be really good for me, it was gonna be delicious or it was gonna be amazing, it was gonna be better than the last one. And I just thought, this is so wrong. It’s just so, so wrong. When you cook for your children, you cook for your family. My grandmother used to cook for me. She did it with a smile on her face. I’ve worked in enough food factories and consultants on enough projects that, you know, I’m sure that spirit of factory transfers that, you know, people are happy doing what they’re doing there. It’s just a good living. So I don’t see anything processed. I just don’t allow it.
Stelios: Anything that’s been on a shelf for two weeks in a fridge isn’t gonna be great. You know?
Stelios: I just think that I just think everyone if they just spent a little bit more where possible or cook a little bit more where possible. I think everything would just be better. It just makes sense.
Mitch: You know, I mean, you know, it gets me on a whole thing, really. I mean, I love. I love the social aspect of shopping. But big supermarkets take away that social aspect of shopping. And I really enjoy when I go to Spain and Italy and I want to run a market and have a coffee and a brandy and a sandwich, and I’m able to chat to people and then maybe to pick up the food that I want, I’m able to go home. And that’s living, running round a supermarket, grabbing stuff to fill yourself up with fuel so you can get home and drop the kids off or do whatever is not living. And that’s modern life. It’s just my view of it. I’m a little old fashioned.
Stelios: So if we go back to fish for a moment, your goal is to use all fish from sustainable sources. So that is MSC mostly. Yeah. Give us a little about that. What challenges do you face in that respect?
Mitch: Well, I mean, There are two things that we think about rockfish. One is anything that is harvested in volume, cod, haddock, hake, all of those things. All those species need to have an MSC tag. I need to know that what I’m selling and what I’m taking from the sea is sustainable. The other side of it is working with small scale fisheries. So when I look at our fishing boat that’s under 10 meters and I look at the other 30 or 40 boats official report and 14 or 15 being trawlers, that’s the size of our fleet in Britain. That’s our biggest fishing port in Britain.
The efforts well managed. It’s quite small in comparison to the size of the channel. And so we take fish from there. And when I think that Hastings in all those kind of East Coast fisheries, just tiny little boats. So we buy fish from those places. But we’ve made a pledge at Rockfish that within six months everything on our menu will be MSC certified or ASC certified in which the aquaculture side of things. And it’s probably gonna mean that things like squid, prawns, stuff that we currently have on the menu that we can’t get comfortable with provenance is gonna have to come off the menu.
Yeah, and there our best sellers. So those are the challenges we face. But then I find, you know, an American dogfish product that was fantastic. Find a lovely Pollock product that was great for frying, but not for grilling. I love the Norwegian Cod and Haddock that we get. We buy fresh haddock frozen cod. And we’re very upfront about that with customers. I mean, that’s just the way .
Stelios: how do you relate frozen at sea to customers, because I think that believe it or not, oddly, I think Iceland supermarket do a good job of telling people about frozen at sea fish or at least, you know, IQF and all that. But I think that people when they hear the word frozen fish, they just go into shock. So how do you guys do that?
Mitch: Well, we’re just really open about it. I mean, you know, if you freeze a piece of fish at home is never as good as it’s been professionally for as year, because, of course, the you know, the water crystals freeze more slowly. And at the end of the day, we have to accept compromise. If I get to John Dory from at the water here today and we will eat it today, I’m not going to freeze it. Yeah, but if I bring in fish in from Norway or America or somewhere in the world where there is an amazingly rich, well managed fishery, I have no problem in telling people that I shipped it from Norway to here frozen. Why would I bring it fresh and risk losing product on the way to deterioration, temperature, abuse, all the things that can happen? I often wonder if you took a ton of fresh fish from somewhere and you didn’t freeze it. How much actually gets consumed by the time it gets to the supermarket? The time is wasted in the supermarket. The time he gets the home, sits in the fridge for two days and somebody smells it, says, Oh, I’m not comfortable with it, throws it in the bin. That’s a threat to sustainability in my book. Whereas I think when you’re freezing it, you get to enjoy a hundred percent of the catch. And for frying frozen cod frozen pollock Perfect. Yeah. It really is.
Stelios: So I spoke to Loren at MSC on the podcast a while ago. And one thing I wish I could get my head around is sustainable versus responsible fishing and or sourcing. And it’s obviously responsible and sustainable. But then one argument is that someone said to me, is it responsible to be buying for arguments sake, a mackerel from abroad? You know, even if it is MSC certified, is it responsible to?
Mitch: I think the trouble is there are no perfect. There are no perfect answers, are there no perfect solutions. But for me, I think about the health of the fishery and the oceans. And if it makes sense, like I wouldn’t buy mackerel from the other side of the world at all. But if I didn’t have mackerel here, then I would. So dogfish is one of those fish I particularly enjoy. And I discovered an MSC fishery in America. And I’m happy to say that I’m more than happy to fry that and sell it. I mean, we don’t we don’t have it on our shores. Not in any. And we can’t eat it safely, that’s for sure. So I have no problem with that at all. And I think the responsibility. You know, I’m not I’m not quite sure of the meaning of responsible sourcing. You would kind of hope that anybody that runs a food business. Like, does it well. So I don’t get responsible, really, but yeah, but sustainable sourcing for me is paramount. And if we’re if we’re going to exist in this either take away fish and chip shop or seafood restaurant wherever you are. I think it should be habitual to want to demand an MSC product.
Stelios: I think you’re probably quite right to some degree that the majority of yourself like you can’t have it like you say, well, your cod is frozen at sea. Your haddock is fresh and then all your other bits and bobs are fresh or local where possible. That’s probably a really good mix. I think, you know, there is probably an argument that, you know, if a fish and chip restaurant is having and I think I mentioned this to you last time I get a thought process passed out is that if you’re getting, I don’t know, 10 different species or from around the world, setting your freezer still came from brakes for argument’s sake or sat in your freezer for until they sell. Is that you know, is that the best you know? And I think you mentioned that we’d already see a problem with that, because at least it came from MSC.
Mitch: I think one of the challenges is it’s like, you know, I mean, I have this thing in my mind. I’m sure it’s psychological. But I think you can taste the van when you go to a city and you eat fresh fish in a city. Yeah. You taste that 24 hours between the fishing port, 40 hours, you know. And of course, there’s no guarantee it is 24 hours, there’s something ethereal that you lose that isn’t the same as eating on the coast. And if I did have a fish and chip shop, let’s say, in London or any other city or town, I would have no problem at all. And having 10 species around the world that were frozen and MSC, it wouldn’t bother me at all. Yeah, they’ve got to be a good product to start with. I mean, you know, it’s gonna be great, but I think that’s the future, really.
Stelios: Regarding discards and bycatch. We’ve jumped a few things here, but we’ll go back into it. But while we’re on the top, it discards and bycatch. what’s your thought process on it? You know, obviously there’s still discards happening. What would you say? Ban them or let them bring it to shore?
Mitch: Well, one of the things that this fishing boat has done is to open our eyes up to the real challenges of fishing. So we have a really great skipper on board, Nick, who’s a very progressive young man who wants to make a difference in fishing. So we fish differently from most the other fleet in terms of our tow times and that sort of stuff. One thing that’s going on at the moment I’ve written to DEFRA to enlist people’s help to try and change, and I think that’s a solution, but nobody really wants to go with it is, sea bass. So sea bass has been under pressure for a number of years and stocks have been seriously depleted and they were being trawled there were trawlers that would catch tonnes of this stuff in ongoing and it was at risk. So they banned it. But what that meant was that any sea bass caught my trawler unless you had a licence. And the licence is a very, very small anyway in terms of what can be landed, a trawler catches sea bass, and has got to throw it back. So two weeks go and we have a hundered and thirty kilos of seabass on board and it all had to go back dead. That made no sense at all. Obviously you don’t want to be able to do want fisherman to be targeting sea bass and actually went. You know, Nick says when they are out there they are all on the VHF together, saying Nick, I can see you on the AIS. I caught bass there yesterday get out of the area, you know. Nobody wants to see this happening.
Now. If they were to land that sea bass, let’s say sea bass fishing, 20 pound of kilo on the market, which it is for the big fish. you don’t want to motivate fisherman to go and target it at £20 a kilo so what you say is, ok, lets say the fisherman get £5 a kilo to cover their costs so its not worth them targeting it but they get £5 a kilo The other 15 pound goes into policing fisheries management. Because on a less than 10ft boat we don’t even have to declare that we have thrown fish back. So how on earth can the scientists really get a clear picture of what’s been discarded and what the health of the fishery is? Everyone hides behind the Common Fisheries Policy and all the rest of it. And I actually urge the government and think there’s got to be somebody in there that’s going to get angry enough to say I don’t care about CFP and the law. I am going to do something about this and I’m going to change it even in one fishing port. We’re going we’re gonna do this right. We’re gonna make it happen and, you know, make it make a call on anyone in government to stop this absolute madness. The other thing is, is that most fishermen are incredibly adaptable. You know, I talked to a couple of guys and they Mike Sharpe for one who’s a trawler owner and has been a fisherman all his life. Incredibly intelligent fishermen really know their stuff and I often get information from Mike about net sizes and what they’re catching and all the rest of it, which kind of really helps Peter understand the fishing side of things. But Nick has been catching, you know, small dabs, small mullet, small John Dory. You know, fish that he would normally throw away dead, because it’s no commercial value. We pay him for those fish. We give the boat money for those fish. And we serve small dab small fish. They are bony. Some people like them. Some people hate them. But we’re opening up that market for them. I love to pick through a kind of plate of dabs for breakfast or something. That’s fantastic. You know, it’s nice to see that we’re doing that. Nick, Nick’s able to fish more sustainably knowing that he’s getting the boats, getting more money for fish that ordinarily wouldn’t get money for.
Stelios: So on a small scale, then you think that that would be a great solution for discard.
Mitch: I mean, it’s a solution, because when Nick sends me photographs, he’s like, I’m just about to throw these back. I mean, I get so angry at the madness of central government that feels like it can’t deal with those specific issues where, you know, those issues are really important. They might seem tiny, but they’re really important for the future of fisheries. That’s just bonkers. It just makes no sense whatsoever.
Stelios: at least then like you say, they’re bringing it back, they’re not being highly rewarded for it, but at least they’re not losing it?
Mitch: There’s a win everywhere. Yes, more money. They’re raising money to go into fisheries management. The fish is getting eaten and going into the food chain, which is a great thing. There’s total transparency over what’s being landed. And, you know, we’re not going through this madness of wasting fish that, you know, there was one boat that reported a couple of weeks ago, landed a ton, went through, you know, bass on. You can’t see them. They just shoal and, you know up came a net. And, you know, it’s a ton of sea bass. I mean, you know, mostly dead in fact all dead. I mean, they didn’t survive. Once we bought up their swim bladders.
Stelios: Really? Wow.
Mitch: Yes it is horrific.
Stelios: And you’ve had any replies yet? Any traction on that?
Mitch: No. Only people just saying it’s the fisheries policies versus that. You know, there’s a reason, whereas you just sort of want somebody to be proactive and get down here and say, listen, you know, it’s going to cause madness, but I’m going to allow this to happen and do it, you know.
Stelios: So if rockfish, let’s say, your business to some degree, it’s fair to say that the seahorse is your baby. Would you say that’s a fair assessment?
Mitch: The Seahorse is a life’s work. I would say and it originally started because you wanted to create an institution. We wanted to create a restaurant. In 100 year’s time, people still be eating here and it would become part of the community. I’m a great believer in restaurants when you open them. They’re not yours. They belong to the community. The community have to feel it’s their restaurant, their place that they go to socialize, have a conversation, eat food. And that’s what we created here at the seahorse. And you know, the standards that can only ever be one seahorse, the standards here are so incredibly exacting, both in terms of the cooking, the product we supply, the hours people work. And I’m the people that work here make this their life. And I’m very fortunate in the fact that Jake, you know, runs the kitchen, work with Matt and I for 10 years. He’s been here since day one and an incredible cook now. He leads the kitchen. I still work with him on shaping the food. He’s got a great sous chef. That’s it from college who’s been with us six years. And my son Ben, who’s been cooking for 10 years, has decided to come back to the family business last year after working at Savoy in London and travelling Australia and working in our restaurants a long time ago. And my daughter Isabelle, a wonderful man called tommy they’re a young couple and they’re just 18. Tommy took an interest in wines and joined us. And now he’s got great style at working front of house. And Isabelle is you know, she’s just she’s acquired her family’s sort of love of hospitality. And so we’re a family business here. And that, for me, means more than anything. It’s truly wonderful.
Stelios: I went into the dining room last night and it was just electric atmosphere in r not that I did not expect that at all.
Mitch: I know it’s full every day. We’re 40 covers, small bar. We do it 20 quid menus at lunchtime and we’ve always done 20 quid menu. Some people have 20 quid menu and Some people have a full al a carte. But what we feel like is I didn’t want the restaurant to be this expensive place that you went on high days and holidays in the middle of the community. What I wanted is for people to come in and feel like I can. I can just have lunch and a glass of wine here. And it’s not going to break the bank. It’s delicious. And this dining room that you’re in now, the private dining room, we host sort of book clubs in here. We have special interest groups. We have family events, parties. We have a 40 quid menu in here that’s very seasonal, allows the guys to really sort of explore their love of Italian regional cuisine and do stuff in here. And this is for all the time, too. Yeah.
Stelios: So we’re just saying that aside from the seafood being the main cuisine, would you say Italian is the next cuisine?
Mitch: Well, you know, the Mediterranean is a place that’s influenced me most. My most favourite meals in the world have been sat on the on a key side eating a grilled fish or a piece of meat or, you know, I just love the whole way things are done in Europe and around the Mediterranean. And Italy, for me, has always been a food that I’ve loved and I would call the sea horse and Italian restaurant, except that it conjures up, you know, check tablecloths and spaghetti Bolognese and pizza for most people. So we just it’s a seafood restaurant, but it’s very, very Italian influence. So we have lots of pasties on here. We make ravioli every day on your latte, every day, fresh linguine every day. And we’ve had seafood sauces. And we also we cook a lot of offal. I like to. I like to eat offal. So we have tripe and sweetbreads and tongues and that kind of thing.
Stelios: I did see that on your menu, actually, that you do things like that. So is that something that’s quite popular?
Mitch: Very. it kind of mixes the menu up as well. And people love, you know, especially foodies that really want to come along and eat something, you know, they don’t normally get. That’s where they come along with as a dish on the menu at the moment to sort of take two or three days to make. But it’s bollito misto, though, just boiled meat. So we boil veal shin, veal tongue. What else is in there? Cheek, ox cheek and we simmer that, you know, very slowly got lovely broth from it. And then we play around with the broth with a little tomato, something a little bit sweet, sour. And then we have the meat served in it. And I can honestly say it’s one of the most incredible plates of food I’ve eaten texturally, flavour wise depth. I mean, it’s just incredible.
Stelios: So in some ways, the seahorse gives you quite a lot of freedom to play around and do lots of different things, whereas the rockfish is just more seafood. It doesn’t give you that freedom some degree.
Mitch: Well, we did. We do have freedom. It’s a rockfish. I mean, one of the things I like to do it rockfish is I smoked salmon at home. So I got the Great Smoky called and Forest to use my recipe smoked salmon. So it’s produced especially for us. I’ve recently sent a ton of sardines from mounts Bay caught on the day, had it guts drawn out, but bellies left whole frozen sent out to galicia to be canned. So we have our canned sardines coming in. So I play around with product in in rockfish an awful lot. And of course, the menus, I’m still relatively creative with the menus there, but actually I recognize that we’re where we’re very mainstream. So serving herring rose on toast in Rockfish. Wouldn’t be for everyone, but it’s seahorse. It would. But I would say the seahorse is still 99 percent fish. Yeah. Have you have know, grilled beef? One or two. And we have the boiled meats and we have a little bit of offal.
Mitch: The bar is dangerous. Joe’s bar is one of the most fabulous places on earth, named after one of my great friends who very, very sadly died along with his wife a few years ago. And Joe, before we open the bar, I just thought this would be the type of place that Joe would love to have. So I call it Joe’s Bar after him and his picture hangs there. And we kind of fairly brings a little bit of a spirit to it. It’s nice. You know, so little Harry’s bar, you know? That’s what it is.
Mitch: I mean, as I say this, you know, with all of our restaurants, we spent a lot of time training. But the seahorse, in particular, is, you know, these are highly skilled, dedicated professionals that they absolutely love what they do. And not everyone stays for a long time here. You know, two years is usually two to three years for most front of highest office. Enough because it’s incredibly demanding. Yeah, but kitchen team, you know, it’s long term. They have a great life. Have a glass of wine in hand to drink. Well, we get to cook with some of the best names in the business as our friends. And it’s enjoyable.
Stelios: So how do you cultivate good staff?
Mitch: Well, I mean, it’s the hardest thing in the world, but I think what you’ve got to do is to develop culture. So we have a very, very clear set of rules. So set a framework of rules which are about how we want people to behave in the business. And we display that. So we shake hands. We respect each other. We have. Load of stuff that when people are on board with our company, we talk about that. That’s why we wanted to behave like this. And in summary, it’s just like working hard and being nice to each other, getting nice to people. But that said, it’s not some kind of McDonald’s, a set of kind of rubbish rules. It’s real. Yeah. And then you have to really kind of do the stuff, you know, listen to people and reward people randomly. We have a big celebration every year that cost us tens of thousands just to lay on for our staff. We have magicians we have music. We have marquees. We will turn up with our passports and the next day or they’re driven from the land and they fly off to Venice or they fly off because that got their possible details really is stuff. And we do extraordinary things for them. And we try and make this a company that is different from every other company. I want every one of our staff to be the envy of every other hospitality business.
Stelios: And it looks you want it to mean something on a CV as well. So if it says why did three years mitch tonks? Yeah. Yeah. Yeah, they’ll get it. You want other people to look at that and say, OK, must be good.
Mitch: Yeah, I think we just can’t. We genuinely care about our people and we generally know that, you know, without good people, we have nothing. It’s just four walls. And so we spend an awful lot of time. We have somebody dedicated to staff development lunch clubs that we go on to. Pretty cool restaurants were pretty cool chefs. And we have speakers for managers that, you know, we’ll be we’ll be coming in. We have big involvement. We have staff blending wine every year. So they get their names on the wine. I mean, it’s something that is really it’s real.
Stelios: That sounds like know it sounds like all the right things, but you’re not just doing it for the sake of it. You’re doing it because you want to keep good people and you want to cultivate good people.
Mitch: We can’t grow that business without people. And, you know, the whole point is, I want this to be a job that people come into. And whether it’s a job for life or a job for a period of time, it’s somewhere they love. They feel rewarded. They have enough money, they have enough time. You know, we’re introducing every three years for managers. They’ll get an extra two weeks sabbatical. You know, I want people to have a life. I want people to have to pursue their other loves in life. They feel incredibly fresh when they’re here. And when they’re here, they can be the best version of themselves to think that, you know, the whole staff shortages and everything in the hospitality industry.
You see that changing or do you see it just being harder or do you get out of it?
Mitch: I see it being harder. I think it’s the truth. I think this is not a great not a we’re trying to change the image of the industry. So at the moment, traditionally, people would open a restaurant just. We’ve done it ourselves. You know, you get people any throw him under the bus, they work to death. And in the end, they become completely disillusioned. So we’re sort of redesigning our kitchens rolling 4 day weeks now. We’re redesigning the whole proposition of working in hospitality for people. I think the other issue is, is that generally, you know, people want more work time, more them time rather than work time. So it’s definitely harder. And one of the things that we we’re introducing an apprenticeship scheme later on next year. And I’ve always had this vision on the High Street one somewhere probably in Brixham. And we will build a cookery school. And that cookery school will be about seafood to the public, but it will also be about taking young people and giving them a three-month program. And after those three months, they can be a rockfish chef and getting people to either switch industry or as a mechanic. And now I want to cook. I like it. Or, you know, I left school just like me and I didn’t have any opportunity. And I want to create opportunity for those people. So that that’ll be one of the steps that we take along the way. I mean, well, I mean, you know, people don’t get trained anymore in cooking and it just doesn’t happen. I have an academy at the college here. And gradually over the years, the numbers have dropped. The lecturers that were there have changed. And, you know, you don’t find lecturers going into this kind of into colleges anymore, teaching people in the same way that you used to. So nobody is getting taught classically. I mean, Matt, who is just a brilliant chef, went to Bournemouth College and he was taught in the days by some incredible guys where they work, where he was taught how to cook classically. And apart from Westminster College in London and maybe one or two others, I don’t know where you could possibly go and do that.
Stelios: Yeah, my yes, my nephew went to train as a chef at Birmingham College and he wasn’t that great. He was mostly assembling things. And yeah, you know, he got bored and left. And that’s the problem. He’s not challenging, not learning anything. Then leave.
Mitch: So what I had at my academy was what I noticed at the College of and when I got involved There was that what they were learning in class had no connection whatsoever what was going on in the industry. So making a bechamel sauce or a sun dried tomato linguine is just not what was happening in real world. So I kind of got involved to try and connect that up and get them working in an environment where we would do dinners every quarter, where we would cook for 70 or 80 people and give them an experience of this is what it feels like to be in a great kitchen is what it feels like to take stock and make these things and put it all together and get them to leave with a repertoire. Here’s ten things I can actually physically cook, you know, and sauce and fully understand that it works really well.
Stelios: Do you see an issue with getting more women into the hospitality industry? I read an article, about Heston Blumenthal, and you’re saying that there was a number of reasons why women probably don’t choose to come into this industry and allow people late in time. But The Daily Mail wrote, I think that is a bit of a rip-off piece, to be honest, on that original story. And he was saying, you know, you have to consider the hours if they have kids, you know that, you know, it’s a lot of strain on women, you know. You know, it might, you know, to pursue their career. They might not have kids, you know, said, do you see any of this?
Mitch: I mean, we didn’t have we I I’m trying to think, do we have any female chefs? And we don’t. But we have female managers and lots more females working for the house. Personally, I think women in kitchens are fabulous and think they’re better cooks than men. I think they have a light touch. I think they look incredibly cool. And there isn’t enough of them coming into the industry. But maybe if the industry can change and reshape and build around that, then that can happen.
Stelios: So, if everyone starts up a slightly different approach or just rebuilt the whole hospitality industry to some degree, it would allow for that. Yeah.
Mitch: Yeah. I mean, that’s what we were having to do. I mean, you know, the £10 and hour is coming, we want to be ahead of what we’re working on figures now. So what if we just paid everybody in the company, you know, outside of salary staff temptation and we got rid of zero hour contracts and there’s somebody wanted it. All of the stuff that, you know, is very odorous for an employer. But if managed properly and with the engagement of staff, could we make this work for the good of everyone? And that’s what we’re going through at the moment.
Stelios: Is the only downside is if that employee doesn’t have your best interests at heart, that’s pretty where those changes might hurt you. But that’s you you’re always constantly gonna be working to be to make sure that they do have your best interests at heart anyway.
Mitch: Well, I mean, we wouldn’t let them in. I mean, you know, part of the thing is a zoo, you have a better selection process. And, you know, often when we’ve had staffing problems, we’ve had discussions said, what do we do? Do we still let’s just serve half the amount of people? Yes. Let’s just let’s just not serve 200 people, but let’s say serve 100 people Well, and let’s take an income hit, because, you know, there’s no point in having people in the business that don’t deliver what you want because you’ll never achieve what you set out to.
Stelios: So if we look at, you know, the whole hospitality industry, do you think that customers can be too hard on, let’s say, a front of house staff? To some degree? Do you think that their expectations are probably really high and that actually puts a lot of strain on hospitality?
Mitch: Customers can be very demanding at some levels by kind of expect that coming out for I’m going to spend hundred quid on meal you want to be right. The other side of it is I think customers can be incredibly rude. And I’ve experienced all sorts. But generally, I believe that human beings and people are good people. Yeah. And it’s just the old one. I have a sort of theory about TripAdvisor that it’s the angry channel and the people. You know, I’m going to tell you! I’ll show you! I’m going on TripAdvisor. You’ve got it cool its fine. And we never fare well on trip provides you in any of our restaurants. I mean, looking anymore. And when I when I meet fellow restaurateurs, the newly opened the place and they’re really, you know, it gets you personally. I might ignore it. You know, I can tell you we don’t rank well, but our restaurants are full.
Stelios: Do you think. So that’s a really interesting point. So you don’t rank well, but your restaurants full.
Mitch: Absolutely good because I don’t think anybody that comes to choose the seahorse or rockfish by TripAdvisor probably is not our customer. And you know, people here, you know, somebody tells me the magpie café is good. Somebody tells me Fred’s place is good. I’m not getting on TripAdvisor. Check it out. So I’m just going to go. And if I if I have a bad experience, I’m just not going to go back. I’m not going to waste my time going. Why do I want to feel so venomous? I had a bad time in a restaurant. And you know what? I’m going to go and tell thousands of others is this. I just wouldn’t go back. And that’s the most you know, the thing is, you know, we don’t always get it right. Yeah, well, we do get it wrong. We’re human. It’s a life stage set. Things happen every single day. Nothing. No. Two days are the same. Staff mix isn’t the same. People are tired. People have lives. People are trying to do the best they can works. You know, the fish hasn’t arrived on time, but. Yeah. So and we use it we use a piece of software called reputology, which I’d recommend to anyone in the industry. It’s great. And what reputology does is it sucks in all channels. So we obviously have designed by night by night, which is our reservation system, which allows people the feedback. It sucks from Google, TripAdvisor, Facebook, you know, everywhere and basically tells you every review and gives you lots of analytics about that. TripAdvisor doesn’t it’s not the biggest channel for people to give feedback. And we get really amazing feedback on Google and Facebook and all the other stuff. Very mixed feedback and stuff on TripAdvisor, which kind of makes me feel like is the angry channel. Yeah. And the fact that our restaurants are full and growing double digit like for likes every year also makes you feel like for all the people out there that think they’re going to go to TripAdvisor and point fingers at us and say, look, you know, I’m going to tell everyone what you did to me.
Yeah, it’s pointless because it’s not going to make it in the real world. Is that just like an empty room for them to go shout in because it’s bonkers. No one looks at. Company that we buy has a point. I’m not going to go rockfish.
I’ll see if people write to us at the seahorse and not a complete letter this morning. And I should just call the guy to apologise. I can see what went wrong. I don’t get invited back for a free meal.
Mitch: And that’s the way it was always done. That’s the way it was always done. And we will do that throughout rockfish, everywhere. You know, the people that you know how I broke my toe, we got to claim for me. I mean, all the stuff that we kind of get in restaurants is, you know, bonkers. I mean, this is no win, no fee solicitors trying to sue everyone over, you know, anything they possibly can. Takes the fun of restaurants in way. And it’s not just in the other areas.
Stelios: it’s interesting you say about TripAdvisor because Andy Hayler, who’s is like a renowned food reviewer is, you know, he’s eaten at all three-star established restaurants in the world. And he says that if he was to look on TripAdvisor and say, I want the best restaurants in this city, it by no means represents quality because it just doesn’t represent it. He goes by. So he doesn’t really. He would never look back. And I think you’re right.
Mitch: I think it doesn’t represent anything. I mean, we look at London, you look at the way he looked at Dartmouth today. I wouldn’t know who’d be top. It’s definitely would be us. We wouldn’t be anywhere near it. But I could also tell you that it does mean the place at the top. It isn’t the best restaurant. But I could also tell you that it probably would. You know, in some places a coffee shop. Yeah. You know, I mean, it’s not what people looking for. So I think that as restaurateurs, we look at things like TripAdvisor, we take it personally. We get very upset. You know, people work hard, in a fish and chip place. People work hard at a restaurant and to be criticized as awful. I don’t walk into a shoe shop over there and go in there and just say, by the way, I think your dress is an awful colour. And by the way, I don’t like your earrings and you know, the way you’re speaking to me and you wouldn’t dream of doing it. And so why should people go on TripAdvisor and, you know, have you have that ability to almost insult the other players? I mean, I’m educated at food and I eat food. And I think I could write about food quite well. They like to write a review of a car or a review of an art gallery. No, of course. So why would anyone want to listen to me? I’d say it’s a whole point.
Stelios: It is interesting because you mentioned that you mentioned that you probably decided to do less TV, more so because you wanted to make sure that your words are out, your restaurants and that, you know, if customers came in, they said always, you know, and you always wanted to always be around but not never be around a section, you know, and I think that. Do you think that because your celebrity to some degree that so many that they would consider you a celebrity, do you think that they think, oh, I’m going to give him a pounding on TripAdvisor or wherever because of that?
Mitch: I mean, I think I hope that my reputation is a sort of a an approachable one. And most people write me out of care, like I went to your restaurant and it wasn’t that good. And I know you demand higher standards. It wasn’t what I expected of you. Never think of myself as a celebrity. I mean, it’s a sort of weird thing. Celebrities are, you know, George Clooney to the world and we just cook food. And its very strange how people attach any celebrity to any anybody, really. But the whole TV thing was, you know, when my TV career was around, it was in the early days. You know, nice to work with Simon Rimmer, Paul Hollywood with Jenny Barnett’s show on good food live and food TV hadn’t really sort of taken off in those days. You know, Jamie was around and doing great stuff and Rick, but, you know, there wasn’t as much as it was. Saturday Kitchen was still mostly working with Gregg Wallace in somebody’s kitchen and then working with Antony Worrall Thompson. I mean, it was still a relatively small show. And I did various bits. And then I did a series with Matt Dawson, which is incredibly successful. And Matt and I had the most amazing time doing it and thoroughly enjoyed it. Then the BBC signed up for a second series and it was at that point we you know, my agent was on the phone on the way to the meeting in London along with the production company. And I just sat in the dining room over there, had a brandy and coffee and just decided that that moment I didn’t want to do television anymore. Very frustrating for everyone involved. It was a morning of, you know, having conversations with both doors and with my agent who were just why we left it so late. You know, this doesn’t feel right. It doesn’t feel right. And that’s why I’m not doing it. And for those reasons you just described, I didn’t want people to come into the restaurant and where’s mitch oh he’s filming and then attract people that come and say, look, there he is. That’s the guy on TV. I want people to come here because they’re happy to be here, that the room, the restaurant, the service they get is what it’s all about. And I trust the people behind it.
Stelios: If you look at someone like Jamie Oliver, for example, I think they opened all those restaurants after him. Yeah, I think there was there was probably a small amount people that genuinely thought, I’m going to go see him tonight. And I and I think that probably didn’t do any favours either to some degree.
Mitch: I don’t think. I don’t know. I think the public are more savvy. I think they knew Jamie wasn’t gonna be there. But obviously, you know, Jamie is one of those very incredible people with lots of integrity. I admire him and have been lucky enough to spend time with him and worked with him, you know, sort of fifteen, you know, doing demos and various things. And. I just feel like the restaurants just didn’t uphold the integrity, they couldn’t hold that integrity high enough at any restaurant.
Stelios: To get back to what was said. There is no growth to that scale.
Mitch: No. No. And that’s one of the issues. And I think that’s just an indication of it. You know, in the next six months, I pretty much guarantee there’s going to be a pizza express. Yeah. You know, that whole thing. I mean, there’s lots more that are teetering where people have moved on to better things. You know, Pizza Express used to be amazing and it was always my go to restaurant. And that’s changed over the years as different people with different visions, different motives run it. And there are new places, Franco Manca, Pizza Pilgrims, all back in the days of evolution where Pizza Express was, where everybody in that business really cared, that it was small enough that you could really do stuff. Got 400 restaurants where it got me.
Stelios: How do you think someone like Nando’s is going to like in that respect?
Mitch: No, they don’t. I mean, I’m Nandos fan. You know, I have to say, if I somebody said, you wanna go for lunch at Nando’s, I’ll jump on it. Yeah. And I’ve just stopped it. And there’s a reason I like it. I mean, chicken. It’s chicken, maybe all like chicken. I don’t think it’s the best chicken in the world. I quite like fun in there. I think the price is right. I like the Peri Peri Sauce. It’s good. And I think Nando’s will carry on. I quite like the fact that I get in a queue and pay. And I said there it’s nice and easy. and I think it’s one of those restaurant chains that I’d look at and say, you know what? That’s what the chain does. Yeah. I think it’s somewhat not pretending to be anything more than it is.
Stelios: And they did dare to be different to some degree, like paying for your food first, queuing up and doing all of that. And then, you know, I think when you take someone to a nandos for the first time, it’s like I think it’s just done slightly differently. Yeah. And it will be interesting to see what happens to wagamama, though. Now it’s been taken over. Yeah, I know it’s been about a year now. But I think it’ll be interesting.
Mitch: Wagamama is also another brand, I truly admire. And the reason I do so is I went to the Exeter one couple of months ago. It just been refurbished, and the new menu is on. That’s incredibly ambitious dishes there, you know, crockery there, fresh juices being squeezed. I mean, lots of stuff going on. My experience is perfectly okay. And I would definitely go back. I quite like it. And I’m quite fascinated by how they run such complicated business. I mean, to our chefs. No, I don’t. Because we love Asian food. We like chicken. I mean, that’s like we like fish and chips. That’s those are things that we like, as in England,.
Stelios: Looking at seafood, the whole plus point for seafood. Sometimes it’s how simple it is. Yeah. And yet we’ve just spoken about sort of it was Nandos is south African, you know. And then you’ve got obviously Japanese. You’ve got Asian style of like wagamama. They seem to be doing really well. Is that at the cost of blander foods, let’s say, or differently so different foods or is it just going to be everyone just likes what they like?
Mitch: I think we’re just like what they like. I think I think, you know, you’ve be we all have Asian food, will have Chinese takeaway and we love Indian food. That’s just something that we enjoy as British people. I think for the seafood aspect, there’s never really been a group of restaurants that are filled that mid-market part. We’ve never really kind of got beyond fish and chips, if you like. You know where you can you can you can only I can I say to the guys at work here in a pre rockfish, you know, you can have fish and chips. We could have high end seafood. Restaurant rockfish sits in the middle beautifully and allows people to choose between pizza, a Wagamama or seafood tonight. And even though we think it’s simple there. There are things that you have to do to make it brilliant. So I source these amazing prawns from Norway, you know, like half pint prawns. Nice of one boat. MSC certified by one particular size. They’re not cheap and they’re amazing, but they have to be defrosted to order in water. You get a check on, you defrost them and then you serve them and you serve them sort of, you know, nearly room temp. They’re the sweetest, most beautiful things in the world. If the guys in the kitchen defrost them in the morning and try and sell them the next day or in the evening, you lose 80 percent of the sweetness. So for me, that even though seafood is simple, it’s the understanding of the individual products and how to bring the best out in and that really make it work. It’s like which fish work amazing on a plunger in which fish work amazingly, chargrill and training. Those guys have to use those bits of cooking equipment.
Stelios: That message has really got through to your staff she explained all of that. So that certainly said, how would you like your ray wing? And I said, so what’s the best way to stray away on the grill? But I got it. It’s very nice.
Very nice on the plancha. Yeah. And that ray wing, actually, I was in the fish room yesterday morning. That wing was landed by Nick yesterday morning and or overnight and seeing a spice came out. But it was skinned by hand and, you know, 250 kilos night before last I mean, it’s great. Yeah, it’s good. Good.
Stelios: And hes also catching rubbish in the same plastic rubbish and bombs. How does that all work? Like the fishermen are really picking up a lot of the crap. Like you were saying in brixham and there’s nowhere to put all this.
Mitch: Well, there are two issues. Call me one day and said, look, I’ve just bought a load plastic back, you know, fished out the ocean and the harbor master doesn’t have any way of getting rid of it. It’s all, you know, we’re gonna throw it back and said, just take it back and throw it in the sea. It was madness. So we would have a bin there, especially for Nick to come and take any rubbish that we thought that was the least we could do. But you know that this part of the country particularly is littered with bombs and it’s pretty regular that a trawler will haul off a World War Two bomber or a torpedo. And there is no process for it to be kind of like reported. That’s what we get back to sea. They dump it, they go. And we’ve even had instances where a bomb is laid at the end of brixham fish market with people walking past it for two or three weeks until somebody went, that’s a torpedo. They feel they’ve been on this. They’ve been under the water. They look suspicious. All right. And but they don’t you know, you know, you imagine these kind of things to look like you are kind of fins on the bar. Yeah. You know, everything else. They feel they’ve been obviously. That’s right. They’ve been under water 40 or 50 years. But, you know, highly dangerous, you know.
Stelios: So when they get dropped, they’re not like that. You’ve not had an incident where it’s actually gone up on land yet or anything.
Mitch: So I think there are you know, I’m not sure how a bomb detonates, but I think it’s more than just vibration. All right. And you know, when the bomb squad come down, you know, the cordon off the whole area and they’re straight in there and they do it. We recently had one that you can watch online if you type in, you know, torpedo being exploded off Brixham and you at the scale of this thing going off to get about three to five miles offshore and that blew it up. I mean, blimey, it would’ve taken half of brixham out if it went of on land.
Stelios: So you gonna write any more books, by the way?
Mitch: Yeah, we’re doing this next year. Ten years of rockfish. So we got all sorts of things planned. And we’re going to be writing a Rockfish Cookbook and which is going to be just talking about coastal life and the really great simple techniques for cooking seafood. So it can be great.
Stelios: How much inspiration do you draw? Travelling the country and seeing, you know, whether it’s different fishing ports or just everything. What is it that inspires you the most in that respect?
I think I think what inspires me really is people, fellow chefs, friends, that that I love, but most of all travels around Europe. So I have a theory with food and cooking that you can learn more by eating than you can watching or going to college. So if you want and if you want to, if you if you can cook and you want to make a good risotto, go to Italy, eat risotto, it’s come back and form in your own mind, your experiences and your opinion and follow that. And so that’s where I get my inspiration, really.
Stelios: What’s one thing that whether it’s a seafood restaurant, which probably wouldn’t have this problem as much bigger fish and chip shop would do to encourage people to eat more diverse fish? Like, what would you say?
Mitch: I just put them on the menu. I mean, I would be really kind of open about the fact that, you know, here’s some fish from Brixham market or wherever you going to source it from, Your gurnard fillets. All those things buy them in, have them frozen if needs be. And have them they’re ready to, ready to defrost and people will have them.
Stelios: What you think scares like the British public about eating different fish because they always lean towards the big five, don’t they? Cod, haddock, tuna, prawns and salmon.
Mitch: I think it’s just a lack of understanding. And also, to be honest with you, if you actually think about, you know, if I went to a supermarket, bought Turbot or a sea bass, isn’t there a brilliant experience? You know, I know it’s on the bone, a small farm fish. I eat it. It’s not quite brilliant. Whereas if you go to a fishmonger, you’re on the fishing port and you get a fresh fish, it’s like ours, something pretty amazing. So I think we just stick to what they know. It’s easy, really.
Stelios: So it’s probably like lean towards slightly cheaper fish initially. Make sure it’s filleted, make sure it’s clean, no skin on here. And they can probably have it the way they enjoy it..
Mitch: They can. But, you know, people keep saying to me, you know what’s cheap? And there is nothing. I mean, the whole the whole issue is that there is, you know, Gurnard used to be cheap and now, you know, seven, eight pound kilo. You know, you fill it. You’ve got to £12 a kilo, fillet. I mean, there is nothing cheap, that’s for sure,.
Stelios: But an oyster. This used to be essentially just thrown away.
Mitch: A dozen oysters in the restaurant. I think. What do we charge for? a dozen oysters. Twelve quid. Doesn’t know you. Half dozen oysters too. Yeah. You know that’s it. And you know, we have this battle with price. We don’t have chicken livers, black pudding a mouse or a soup that we can put on that doesn’t cost any money. It’s all it’s all expensive. Yeah.
Stelios: It’s all seafood isn’t it. So. Yeah.
Mitch: So I unashamedly say to people, you know, people say you know your fish and chips £13.95. I actually think that’s incredibly cheap. If I was at a pub, as you said earlier, fish and chips a £15.95 you wouldnt mind. Yeah. But we put the price up last year we didn’t want to because we all know the cod prices are 40 percent higher now than they were a couple of years ago. You know, we’ve got to find it from somewhere, but when I look at £13.95 unlimited water unlimited chips while caught products sustainable, somebody does the washing up so for £28 quit. Bearing in mind that 20 percent is that the government get its say. I think it’s healthy because it’s a fantastically affordable product and massively,.
Stelios: Massively. And so, you know, you’re one of the few that are doing this. You know, there’s you there’s Gary Rosser. There’s so many people that are just putting fish on the menu only. Just becoming more niche. Yeah. And I think that I’m seeing more people doing more niche than broad at the moment.
Mitch: I think, you know, and I think specializing in, you know, anybody in. I really admire anybody in the seafood industry because it’s an industry we all love, we’re connected with. You know, it’s a fishing trip for water a few times. And I love the passion, the energy. People really care about what they do. And I think that sort of skill needs celebrating. Garry is typical of one of those people. I mean, he knows you know, he was one of my mate. He actually took my job. I gave him my head chef’s role in my first restaurant. He was a case person to follow me. And he had worked with Matt at the olive tree. And, you know, Garry [Rosser] was just one of those people that was going to succeed at whatever cost. It was a great, great disciple. He learned everything he could. He sucked it in. He was very respectful. And I’ve watched him grow. And when he opened his own place, I couldn’t be happier. And when I, you know, opens the scallop shell, once Bath was off to my home at one point, I don’t really go back to anymore. But I think Garry’s a real beacon of what can be done when you have knowledge. Commitment, again, integrity. You know, that’s one thing that Garry always had when he worked with us. Was he when we worked together, he just wanted to do the right thing the whole time. He’s a great guy. And Dan, his son, you know, he worked with us for a year here. And, you know, dans like part the family, really. And, you know, like his father, incredible integrity. Incredibly nice man. And for all those reasons, I think they’ll succeed. And do something brilliant.
Stelios: Isn’t that nice? When, so now you’re talking them. It’s multigenerational. Like, you know, you worked with his dad and his sons has come to work with you. And, you know, you still have both in the same industry. Yeah. There is a few hundred miles between us But you still.
Mitch: We still share between us. Garry was, you know. Mitch can I come in and look at what you’re doing. You know, what is it you want, Garry? There’s no secrets. We can help you do anything else in the same way. I have huge admiration for Fred Capel, Richard Ord at Colmans, who when we got into the industry were just nothing but helpful And they’ve come and eat in the restaurant, turn up for the openings, you know, live miles away from here. And it gave us great support. And so we you know, I relish that. And I think that’s the joy of our industry, really.
OK. Last few questions. What you love about hospitality.
Mitch: What I love about hospitality is seeing other people getting enjoyment out of something our doing.. There’s no greater reward than putting a plate of food down in somebody or shaking somebody’s hand, putting a drink down and smiling back at, you know, you’ve had a known you’ve had a great time with somebody know I eat in the restaurant. People come over and thank you. And I think I think it’s that as to why you do it doing so, it makes a difference. I just totally love looking after people.
Stelios: Yeah, I get that. Yeah. You can see and all your team like that I saw. Yes. That I was exposed to. You can see how they’re all trying to achieve that.
Mitch: But that’s the culture spreading. I mean you know, one of the things is a. No, he’s going in there with his bacon but it’s for all of his mates in the local places. You know, they would club together or, you know, take out their tips and they love bacon and eggs, sandwiches. Yeah, they’ll be having a brandy and coffee. Nobody asks me what they can drink, but little habits here, just to give an example of like the way the place runs at 5:00pm. Let’s check tablecloths, goes down on table 11 or table 1 and 2 and we eat food. Well, I always have this slightly romantic thing that I always said to look, if in ten years time one of our ex staff was down on their luck and they needed a meal at 5:00pm in the Seahorse every day, there would be a table laid up. And if anyone walked into it, I worked here ten years ago. Could I have some food? Then they would be able to join us as part of the past family and an eat. So this happens every day when we have big weeks in the restaurant. Tommy goes to selects a hundred group of quit bottle of wine and they drink plenty Mom Shea or Colt or Charlemagne or a bottle of claret or something. They’ve always worth drink off the less than I think it’s a small price to pay when everybody’s had a great week. We’re in the winter. We have really bad weeks. We drink water and everybody respects it. And nobody feels like we have to ask. They run it here as a family would respect. At the same time, I respect that they spend a lot of time here. And so the old bottle of champagne, decent wine, a brandy with a coffee in the morning, beer after work.
Stelios: Is there a favourite fish or seafood dish that you like?
Mitch: Okay, so it probably a mix of pasta and fresh. And there’s a restaurant that means friends go to. Most years if we can in Tuscany and the Luciano, the chef, cooks maltagliati, which is a kind of roughly torn cut pasta, was written on it and red mullet is my favourite. Fresh seafood and pasta. A fantastic. And that would probably be my favourite. But you know, I love crawfish, I love langoustines I love oysters. I think every fish has got some kind of quality that you just I just love is not one fish. I think more relight that even monkfish, which is sort of can be great, can be poor. But when it’s kind of chargrilled or cooked this stew, it somehow takes something out.
Stelios: So seafood probably mostly is just simply.
Mitch: Always. I mean, you know, I tell it, you know, partly the reason we cook seafood simply is because that was all I could do. And secondly, I’ve been some of the best restaurants that I would consider in the world around the Mediterranean. And when you asked for a dover sole, so we asked for a piece of turbots, some red mullet or some anchovies and squid. It’s fried, it’s grilled. It’s with amazing olive oil. It’s just out the water that moment, vegetables on the side or whatever. And that for me is as exhilarating a plate as I have had anyway.
Stelios: And what is your favourite book?
Mitch: My favourite cookbook is a book that probably most people wouldn’t have heard of. It’s by chef called Paul Bertolli who was a chef at Chez Panisse, and he wrote a book, called Cooking by Hand. It’s probably most beautifully written cookbook I’ve ever read. He really has a depth of understanding of tomatoes and balsamic vinegar of Sugo and all the elements of cooking that I truly love. So I often pick that book up and look at it. And again, great integrity.
Stelios: If you can choose one restaurant, I know you’ve got lots of different restaurants, on your website, your favourites, but you can choose one favourite restaurant. Which one is it?
Mitch: One favourite restaurant where I’d like to go. My favourite restaurant at this moment in time it does change would be the French house in Soho and its historic old dining room where my friend Fergus Henderson started cooking. That would be another restaurant. I would always go to St. John never fails, and it’s run by a chap called Neil Borthwick, who’s a great friend of mine, and Angela Hartnett’s husband. Amazing energy worked in lots of three star restaurants. Neil in France, one of the few guys speaks great French and he’s learned the hard way by working in these Top End kitchens. And Neil just cooks really, really simple food, land not around, you know, grill, steak, coffee, garlic and goat’s cheese on bread. Everything he does is just utterly fantastic. And he’s one of the few people, I think, in London that can actually properly cook. There’s a proper chef, proper cook here with a complete understanding of a bowl of lamb stew. There’s a bottle of burgundy. It’s a simple white tablecloth. It comes down and says, hello. So it takes 20 people. The dining room is brilliant.
Stelios: And who would you say who would you say is inspired you the most? Oh, I just inspired you could be one or could be 10. Could be as many people as you want.
Mitch: I think I have been inspired really by, I would say, defining my travels as people. I would say the people around me that my friends, Mark Hix, Angela, Henry Harris. All of those people not only are they great friends, but I absolutely genuinely love what they do. And you know what? Watching Angela making pasta, I want to make pasta like I had a day when I cooked in here with Henry Harris last year and I’ve never cooked with him before. And I felt like an excited kid preparing for our future together, preparing feel together. We just talked and we drank too much wine. And it was a glorious time. And I just felt incredibly energized by that.
Stelios: I recently read those two questions here. I think we all have the same somewhat and wants more of an acknowledgement. But I recently read a story about you and your dad’s final moments. And yeah, and it was very bittersweet because it was me telling the story and I try not to get emotional, but if I do, it’s only because I’m sort of happy about it, really.
Mitch: I mean, it was one of those things. My father was a wonderful man and unfortunately, he got diagnosed with cancer and it’s four years ago. And, you know, we all expected dad to have another year or so, really. But it wasn’t to be. And dad had never been to Hawksmoor. And I said, okay, well, we’re looking at tables. I called Will, I said, well, look, I’m coming up with dad. Can we lay it on real special for him and. Yeah. Great. So that was organized, got towards the weekend and dad’s condition started to deteriorate and it was apparently he wasn’t gonna be able to travel to London. So I call Will, cancel the table. And he said, don’t worry, I’m going to organize something. I’m gonna bring Hawksmoor to you. And I said, okay, great. I’ll pick up some steaks. That was a good idea. He said, no, no, I’m bringing Hawksmoor you. So he sent Matt Brown down, who is the most extraordinary guys, big tattoo guy Mark appear white sous chef for like 15 years. And I saw head chef for 15 years and he’d recently joined hawksmoor. And Matt turned up with a magnum of Countermeasure 2000. And about the Rooney block and all that, all the stuff to make recreate Sunday lunch. And we have an open kitchen at home and there was sort of 12 of us around the table. It was obviously distressing for all of us. And Matt just sat in the back, cooked dinner to really get in the way, put everything on the table, washed up and left the house quietly. so professional. And the food was amazing. And I then took dad home. This is the emotional bit, Because we watched a few games at rugby and got into bed, hugged him and he died in the morning.
That last supper that was brought around through friendship. And it was just perfect. So, yeah, brilliant.
Stelios: You know, when I read that story, it just it hits you in a weird way because it is best we it’s you don’t want dad to die. But the way it went was just pretty amazing. But again, it was around food.
Mitch: It was around food. Yes. As for food is always a great rugby fan. We wish to think of the 1973 Barbarians game. We watch the World Cup final. Dawson passing that ball. And I’d had the good fortune of introducing Dad to Matt. We would start Matt’s high so he was able to meet its heroes. It’s lovely. And I think what I find emotional about that story more than anything was the.
The spirit of hospitality. So Will’s generosity, Matts generosity that’s a Sunday that he could spend with his family.
And, you know, he came down the way he did, it was amazing. And it was just that whole. This is what hospitality is. And it’s very human. And it was amazing.
Stelios: And I think this is where I said there was another part of the story. If there’s one party, that’s the other part of my question was. You seem content. You seem really happy, you know, and is it the seawater or is it life experiences? Is it that story? Is it just that whole amalgamation of everything just life like?
Mitch: I think a lot of stuff, but I think one of the things that, you know, I was a very discontented youngster, which I think probably drove me in the beginning to try and find contentment. You know, the mind’s racing, the anxiety. We all live with. In general life. And I think one of the things that I’ve learnt in life or something has happened to me is, is the word enough? And I have enough. I’m by far from a wealthy man. I don’t drive a big car. I don’t have a big house or anything else. But like, it’s enough. My children are healthy. I love my family. You know, I have a wonderful relationship. My wife and I don’t need anything else. And I think I think it’s often human beings just driving. When I get this, when I get back, when I arrive here, when I arrive there, when I open the 10th restaurant, it’ll all be okay. But like, it’s really okay now. And I think something like try to practice and work. But that’s what I generally feel is enough is such a powerful word. And I think for people to sit down and realise that we’ve all got enough and that we don’t need another pair of shoes or another dress or another suit or another car or a bigger house, they need it when you arrive at Enough, you’re a billionaire..
Stelios: Wow. That’s a profound ending. I’m not saying that. I just think that that word enough. That’s where I finish. Yeah. And I just want to say thank you for your time.