Josh Niland, chef owner, Saint Peter and Fish Butchery, Australia

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 7th November 2019

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Josh Niland is the chef owner of Saint Peter restaurant in Paddington, Australia.

The restaurant showcases sustainably sourced seafood and Josh's no-waste philosophy. He is breaking down barriers when it comes to fish offal with his customers now enjoying fish eyes and milt.

He also owns Fish Butchery, a revised model of a fish shop, where people can come and buy fish but from chefs who also offer advice on cooking and pairing.

Josh recently visited the UK to promote his new book, The Whole Fish, which had the UK's chefs going wild on social media, and he spoke to The Staff Canteen about the book and normalising fish offal, promoting his ethos and what he thinks sustainability is.

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Have you always had a fish obsession?

Not at all, I grew up around my mum having tinned tuna on white bread with cheese on top of it or tinned salmon salads. Fish to me was literally what came out of a can. I definitely wasn’t a child born on a wharf, eating beautiful fish on white bread sandwiches.

Tell us about your restaurant Saint Peter.

Saint Peter is real cooking, I know people say that a lot but the level of compromise we have to give because of the limitations of the kitchen gives birth to so many thoughts and ideas.

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Saint Peter

 

Eastern cultures celebrate the whole fish and they will eat the whole thing but how do we make it desirable to western people? A fish fillet is confrontational enough for some people!

When I opened Saint Peter I started with three chefs and then we doubled the chefs in six month because it became exhausting, we were quite popular in the beginning, we had a lot of people coming. When this slowed down we still had all the extra labour but it allowed us the time to question what we were doing with the fish. We were finally questioning why there was this habitual routine of just cutting the head off the fish and putting it in the bin or belting through the fish prep because that was the task.

There was a line of training through the years where you would never question your mentor, you just do certain things you are told to get the job done. In a way this has put limitations on the evolution of fish in the Western world.

You also own Fish Butchery, why did you want a second business?

We’d run out of space at Saint Peter for the talent in the room and for the fish, everything was getting too tight, and the natural progression for most chefs at that point would be to open another restaurant but I didn’t like the pressure for me to try and be in two places, people would ask if Josh was cooking their dinner and if I wasn’t at that restaurant I wouldn’t be.

My wife and I decided that the second business needed to compliment the first one. We came up with the idea of a prep kitchen but how can you justify that if it can’t sustain itself – so we decided to do revised model of a fish shop. It allowed locals to come in and buy fish but it had a wholesale position in that we could supply to other restaurants.

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Fish Butchery - credit eatdrinkplay.com

 

We portion cut everything into something we feel brings desirability to the product and because we are all chefs who work there we try to suggest a cooking time, temperature and a flavour profile so you know what to pair with it – that helps overcome bigger hurdles for a lot of people.

If you are going to invest in a piece of fish you should be going home with the right tools and information to do your money justice.

You decided to put everything you’ve learned into a book, The Whole Fish, why?

Fish is one of those things we can all access, but we’ve never looked at it differently, I feel like the book needed to be written to bring fish up to date.

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King George Kiev - photo credit Rob Palmer

The main agenda really was to look at it more like meat, I feel like it’s a logical step forward, people say game changing, which is flattering, but I feel there is a lot of information out there which I have access to and I can bring it all together in to this little nugget.

The idea for the book, yes, it’s for chefs but at the same time I feel there is so much in there for the home-cook and even if they can’t take much from it there is some good humour in there.

It took Fergus Henderson 25 years to celebrate the whole pig, and he has normalised offal and secondary cuts of animals in mainstream supermarkets – I feel I am right at the beginning of what I do and I hope in 25 years I have the same impact in the fish world as Fergus has in the meat world.

My agenda is to stop putting fish in the bin and to hopefully inspire others to stop putting literally half the fish in the bin.

How much trial and error goes in to what you do?

Sometimes it’s as easy as a concept in your mind, and then you just cook it the most obvious way possible and then it works.

Some things don’t, there are a lot of difficulties using fish offal for example taking the fish milt and making a sausage that’s consistent out of it, or fish black pudding, it took a while to work out the ratio of fat because fish blood is so much leaner than pork blood and it sets differently.

But there is so much from the meat world that you can put into the fish world and most of the time if join the dots correctly it works exactly the same and that is really exciting.

What is sustainability?

The way I look at it comes from a culinary acumen which is to not put fish in the bin. If I take an amount of fish, I make sure we do everything in our power to have very little wastage. I make sure there is a diverse amount of species being offered and celebrated so there is a trickledown effect into other restaurants and into people’s homes. If we keep just eating the same species it puts pressure on stocks and prices.

I also think we should look at fish as a seasonal luxury rather than a consistent commodity that you can purchase whenever you want.

Sustainability gets thrown around like ‘fresh fish’ – it’s the most overused word. But it is relevant and in Australia sustainability, fish management and the laws we all abide by, I think, we are the benchmark globally for sustainable fisheries management.

I think fish farming is very important going forward but I think they need to work more closely with chefs when it comes to the diets of the fish so they taste more like their wild selves rather than building them for a commercial palate – I think the taste of a fish from the wild is far more superior and delicious.

What are you hoping to do next with fish to push the boundaries?

I want to invest some time into the steakhouse of fish – so the traditional steakhouse which everyone knows and loves all through America and other places, how do we evolve the business, so it is a steakhouse but of fish? I’ll leave it at that!

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 7th November 2019

Josh Niland, chef owner, Saint Peter and Fish Butchery, Australia