Andrew Sawyer, Sam Ashton-Booth, Tom Aikens: 'To get quality, you have to pay for quality'

The  Staff Canteen

Even amid rising costs, the quality of seafood remains a top priority for chefs

On a recent trip to Inverness and the Outer Hebrides in Scotland, a group of award-winning chefs were given an insight into how some of the UK's best seafood is farmed, caught and processed, and left with a renewed sense that their suppliers' work is worth every penny - even as prices continue to rise.

The UK's fishing sector was already facing a tough situation in dealing with the consequences of Brexit, but for those who made it through, riding the proverbial wave now presents the opportunity to expand on a domestic customer base.

Scrupulous restaurants will be the first port of call - because produce is not something chefs are willing to compromise on.

'It's over to us to turn it into something beautiful'

Sam Ashton-Booth, development chef for Tom Aikens, working mainly at Michelin-starred Muse in London but helping the chef with his various ventures, said he was particularly taken "by the passion and the love that people give" to their produce.

"It's like a chef, we love what we do. We're passionate, we care. The fisherman are insane in what they do and what they risk to make us have this beautiful produce in our kitchens. It's over to us to turn it into something beautiful." 

Quality and sustainability go hand in hand

For chefs operating at their calibre, "sustainability is as high-up on the agenda as quality," explained Andrew Sawyer, the executive chef of The River restaurant by Gordon Ramsay at The Savoy Hotel.

At The River, he almost exclusively buys fish and seafood from the South West of England or Scotland - because it is of the highest quality, and it is sustainable.

"Without one, there isn't the other, for me. And yes sometimes it's a bit pricier," he said, "but I'd rather pay the money to get the best and serve it to the guest at the restaurant than get second rate." 

As for the rising cost of food, "we've been taking the hit of it for the last three weeks," he added, "we've been balancing it out - and that's not just shellfish, it's everything across the board." 

As the menu at The River fluctuates according to the seasons and the price of fish, he explained: "If the lobster goes up, our prices go up, if the lobster goes down, our prices go down. We try and keep a fair price across the board for the guest," but "to get quality, you have to pay for quality." 

Chefs Sam Ashton-Booth, Andrew Sawyer and Tom Aikens
on a visit to shellfish supplier Keltic Seafare

Raising prices is inevitable

As record-levels of inflation and the cost of living crisis begin to affect restaurant footfall - with four in ten people choosing to cut back on dining out in the past six months, according to YouGov research published this week - the scope for raising prices is slim, but with energy and staffing costing operators more, they are left with little choice.

Tom Aikens hasn't risen the prices at his Michelin-starred restaurant, Muse, quite yet. He explained: "it's something we probably will be looking at, because everything is going up - not just fish and shellfish but vegetables, dairy, everything." 

It's also a case of staffing, "because as we know, there are less people around, so the cost of staff is going up. It has a knock-on effect on everything sadly."

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 27th May 2022

Andrew Sawyer, Sam Ashton-Booth, Tom Aikens: 'To get quality, you have to pay for quality'