Britain’s leading seafood school casts a wider net
Whether it’s the first big step on a promising new career or simply providing the confidence to cook and eat a wider variety fish at home, The Seafood School at Billingsgate has been inspiring people of all ages and from all walks of life to celebrate all that’s great about seafood for a generation.
From its spiritual home above the world famous Billingsgate Market in London’s Docklands – the biggest inland fish market in the United Kingdom – the school has provided fishmonger training and imparted seafood cooking instruction to more than 100,000 people in the last 10 years. But while this is a staggering number of students, especially when factoring the relatively small footprint of the cutting room and recently refurbished demonstration kitchen, the school’s CEO, CJ Jackson, wants to reach so many more.
This ambition, said Jackson, necessitates expanding beyond the confines of Billingsgate and indeed the capital, and this is a move that’s at the center of the school’s relaunch.
“I believe that expanding our outreach could see the school provide training to another 40,000 or 50,000 in the next five years,” Jackson said. “We are a standalone charity with a lot of expertise to share. It’s time for the school to spread its focus to a much wider area; grow awareness and increase the opportunities for young people looking to pursue careers in the industry, either in retail or the kitchen.”
It’s a path that Jackson and the school have already started to explore. Indeed, it began some three years ago with visits to classes of school kids and encouraging them to prepare and eat different species as well as the health benefits of having seafood in their diets. More recently, activities have expanded to include food festivals – not fish festivals and the already converted, but those tentative or non-eaters of seafood. The newest outreach project delivers multiple courses at The Hastings Classroom on the country’s south coast – providing the tools and enthusiasm for this traditional fishing town to “make the most of its local catch.”
Because having a solid understanding of the issues involved is crucial to the successful progression of young seafood professionals, not to mention encouraging consumption beyond the United Kingdom’s “famous five” choices of salmon, tuna, prawns (shrimp), cod and haddock, which combined account for more than 70 percent of the nation’s seafood intake, the school has introduced new “Update Your Knowledge” seminars. To date, thanks to some core funding from retailer Marks & Spencer’s Forever Fish project, six of these free SUSTAIN events have been held at the school, promoting sustainable seafood, with guest hosts including the Alaska Seafood Marketing Institute (ASMI) and the Norwegian Seafood Council (NSC).
Coming soon is a new aquaculture seminar, aimed at providing greater clarity into modern farming systems as well as looking at the social and environmental issues and myths connected with the industry. The session will also include an escorted visit to the market, focusing on the wide variety of farmed products available from its traders.
“More than half the seafood we eat is farmed but many people still have very little understanding of why or how it’s produced, so working alongside some aquaculture experts we will give students, chefs and caterers a clear understanding of what goes on as well as how to choose the right products,” Jackson said.
Back in the demo kitchen, for members of the general public looking to build on their fishy repertoires, Jackson has put together a new program of seafood cooking and preparation courses, including some seasonal fish workshops and a number of special events hosted by high-profile chefs/restaurateurs and supporters of the school like Mitch Tonks and Silla Bjerrum.
“These are exciting times for the seafood school, we have received a lot of enthusiasm and support for our new focus and all of our new activities, especially those that connect with new regions,” Jackson said.
What won’t change, though, is that all commercial activities undertaken by the school will continue to help fund free courses for students.