Updated: Dec 10, 2019
I can't believe it's been over four months since I last wrote a post on my blog, this whole year has flown by. I have been incredibly busy as the business and bookings go from strength to strength, and so lucky that the continued support from established clients, friends and family enables me to keep pushing to improve everything I do.
From doing my first bookings in April and catching my first bass on the 13th of May, this year has been a whirlwind.
As was the intention at the start of the year, I've scaled back a bit on the guided bass lure fishing to enable more time to focus on the foraging and food days out. I am still guiding people for lure fishing for the bass and will continue to do so, but its nice to be able to limit that and rekindle the sense of anticipation and excitement that fishing brought when it was just a passionate hobby of mine.
Less time fishing has given me more time to explore underwater, trying to learn more about what's going on under the water where I have fished for many years. I am finding snorkeling is a very good way to relax and forget about all the stresses that life can bring, plus its hugely increasing my knowledge of bass location and behavior, and the environment they live in.
Back to foraging, and it seems such a long time ago now that the wild strawberries adorned the hedgerows in May and June. I love to pair the assortment of things we find into a dish, as I find that if things grow together and near each other they often pair together so well.
Above - Chamomile, sorrel and wild strawberries. A match made in heaven, or at the very least a match made in a local hedgerow.
This year I've seen a growth in weekday bookings which I like to think is due to increased recognition of what I'm doing here in my little corner of beautiful Pembrokeshire. All the positive feedback has been amazing, I've even had guests who became emotional at the dining table, which I suppose indicates that they cannot comprehend how I create these wonderful dishes in such a small space and with such a connection to the environment I work in.
The hours that I put in are now starting to show through my work, but there is still a long way to go. Its so rewarding to see all the hard work I put in, and my care for the wonderful ingredients nature provides, truly appreciated by so many people from all over the UK and beyond. This overwhelmingly positive feedback and the little golden nuggets that nature continues to nature throw at me are my inspiration to keep pushing for further refinement.
Above - Rock samphire and golden samphire above it.
It never ceases to amaze me that wonderful wild plants thrive in such harsh environments, the places they grow among the cracks and crevices of the wild coast to me seem like the true meaning of how nature will always prevail. Hanging on for life almost by a thread, but they dont just survive, they thrive. Do we humans have a lesson to learn here about how little we really need to live happy and contented lives ?
There is certainly inspiration in every little newly discovered ecosystem for new dish ideas.
Above - Gathering shoreline edibles is a mainstay on any of my foraging days out.
If picked correctly then all these wonderful naturally occurring plants keep regrowing year after year. Knowledge of wild foods is important, but gathering them with respect is paramount to ensure a future with a great natural environment locally.
If everyone practiced these sustainable habits in their own backyard, then globally our environment would be in much better shape I'm sure.
Above - Wonderful laver in the cool summer rockpools.
Pembrokeshire is particularly blessed for its abundance and incredible variety of seaweeds to be learnt about and gathered.
I love using the different seaweeds in clever little dishes like the limpet dish (above) which I created a couple of years ago and which has become a firm favorite on my foraging days.
Hunter gatherers ate lots of limpets cooked in the shell. Although I have tried to cook limpets in different ways, the only way I could make them absolutely delicious is to cook them slowly for a very long time, until I am left with just the wonderful juices that the humble limpet presents after this process. The juices are passed through a very fine muslin cloth and then reduced to taste and made into a light mousse.
I pickle what I call the smaller seaweeds for a short time in my own seaweed vinegar.
Seaweeds such as Carageen, sea lettuce, bladder wrack pods, channel wrack, wireweed all go into my seaweed vinegar for an hour and they really do transform into a burst of the sea with a nice sharpness to them.
Again the things that live along side each other do pair so well and natures inspiration is only a small thought away.
This year saw the introduction of my seaweed broth. Its my take on Japanese dashi, but using my local ingredients.
This soup is a real taste sensation, just ask any of my guests that have joined me this year. Again its a long process recipe but the results are mindblowing on the taste front.
Unlike the Japanese version which uses dried fish, mine is all plant based. You get a real hit of Umami meatiness, and alongside on a scrupulously clean rock I serve kelp emulsification. I make this with kelp oil, which takes a few weeks to make, plus there's some pepper dulse (sea truffle), orache and some Sea-blite.
The dining experience now stretches to around twelve courses. Its a lot of work, but I really wanted to push myself this year and to push the boundaries, plus its a fabulous way to enable guests to try a wide range of foraged ingredients.
Above - Pembrokeshire potato, sea radish, pepper dulse, golden samphire, scurvy grass and sea buckthorn.
This humble potato gets served with maritime wormwood on the side, which you smell while you eat. It's hard to explain the sensation of inhaling this plant, but it certainly makes you slightly light headed.
Above - Lobster and the shoreline, this will always be part of the dining experience. A true signature dish.
Above - Stack rocks, this was one of four small sweet dishes.
Above - Chocolate cockle shells filled with sea buckthorn gel. The taste is kind of like a jaffa cake on steroids.
Foraging fungi can be very hit and miss and every season is different, just like the wily old bass that I chase. The fungi season this year started off well, I found an abundance of high quality ceps on my local patches, and then it really did fall off a cliff edge. I think the reasons being were that It was very dry in the spring after we had a warm end of February. Spring was slow to start and then summer was too wet and way too cool.
Above - A perfect late summer penny bun in all its glory.
Fungi hunting is exciting, fulfilling and of course it can be frustrating at times, but when you hit it right then there is no better feeling than finding the best of natures woodland bounty.
Alas even though 2019 has been a successful year at fishing and foraging Wales, it has also been a hard end of the season for me.
Just when things started to go really well my dad passed away on August the 24th. This big life event has really hit me hard, and especially now things have eased off business wise, I've had the time to think about the past and how quickly life can pass you by.
With Christmas almost upon us it seems like only yesterday that the whole family were opening gifts, sat around the table eating, chatting and partying to the small hours on Christmas day and boxing day. I would say that if you are spending time with family and loved ones this year make every second count, it is this time with them that is more important than money or materialistic objects.
I am now taking time out to reflect on a year that has been incredibly successful, but that at times has taken the wind out of me. 2019 has certainly given me food for thought, in many aspects.
So, from the foraging and food side of the journey, the question has to be what is the next step...? How do I progress and move onto my next level?
The plan remains to secure a property to operate the business from, with luck and continued hard work, I'm hoping that will be a goal attained in 2021 after another successful 12 months to come. The future is exciting, from a business point of view I have something special that no one else is really doing. Change can be intimidating, but I know I have wonderful support and solid base now to build from. Time will tell...
Thanks to everyone who has joined me and supported me this year and in the years gone by since I started this amazing journey.
A really big thanks to my long standing client and friend Dave Carron for the above photo, it sums up my love of the wild and my hope for the years to come.
I hope everyone that reads this has a great Christmas and a wonderful end to the year. If there's anyone you think would love this type of experience as a gift for Christmas then please do get in touch. I have plenty of places for 2020 right now, but they are of course going steadily and its always best to book early. One of my recent bookings is for the end of May next year, so its never too early to make a booking for yourself or as a great gift for someone.
Get booked in now to avoid serious disappointment.
Thanks for reading, stay posted and stay in touch.
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