Tom heads to Hastings to cast an eye over the Classroom On The Coast
A recent study revealed that a fifth of the UK’s young adults thought that fish fingers were made from the’fingers’ of fish. Which may say more about the common sense or drug taking habits of the young, but whatever the reason demonstrates a real lack of understanding of fish.
For an island country with around 10,500 fish and chip shops and instagram feeds packed full of perfect plates, this is sad, even if a great headline statistic.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“I think it’s partly due to people thinking fish is expensive,Ã¢â‚¬Â Toby Welfare at Classroom On The Coast told me, Ã¢â‚¬Å“and partly due to a lack of understanding of how to cook it. Chefs can produce high-end, complex fish dishes that people really enjoy when eating out but perhaps don’t give them the confidence to cook more at home.Ã¢â‚¬Â
I nodded whilst eyeing up the salt cod he was frying up for lunch.
I had headed to Hastings on a windy, grey Friday after an invitation from Toby to take a wander around the Hastings Stade and learn more about the Classroom On The Coast. I’ve only been to Hastings once, which was a mixed trip of a hotel room that looked like a crime scene and a fantastic Thai meal in a bookshop, so had been looking forward to the trip.
We started with a quick wander around the Stade checking out the huts of the’Old Boys’, retired fisherman selling ludicrously cheap fish, and the Hastings fleet where fish has been landed for over 1000 years.
It was a little chilly for a swim, so we had a quick look in some of the nearby fishmongers, including one called Rock-A-Nore that sell a range of their own incredible looking smoked fish, then headed for the classroom.
Classroom On The Coast, a fish cookery school, was built around a year ago with funding from the Fisheries Local Action Group, and is now run by the local council.
I’m unsure how to write this, without it offending anyone, and appreciate it is a rather sweeping statement but often when I have been anywhere council run it’s a little council-ish. That grey ribbed carpet, the frosted, wire-enforced windows, the over-enthusiastic warning signs, so I was more than pleasantly surprised here.
Toby opened the door to reveal a spacious, well finished classroom; floor to ceiling windows on one side looking out to the sea and all the induction hobs, fridges and fryers one could need. It also became clear, over a cup of tea, that as well as the right location the classroom has the right teacher with Toby telling me about his decision to quit working in TV to become a chef, his obvious passion for food and fish resonating from every sentence.
The classroom currently hosts sessions on both weeknights and weekends including’Classic Bouillabaise’,’Fish Pie’ and there’s even a special Valentine’s Day class next week including some local Sussex wine.
Ã¢â‚¬Å“We try to make the classes engaging and enjoyable, and also make sure everyone sits down together at the end with a plate of well-cooked local fish.Ã¢â‚¬Â Says Toby.
We tucked into to the salt cod he had made us, with a rich pepper sauce, and talked fish, food and cooking into the afternoon before I begrudgingly made my way back to the station for a train to Charing Cross.
In this world where teens think dogfish have digits it’s people like Toby, and Hastings Borough Council that are fighting back and after my trip to Hastings I can see why. It would be an awful shame to see age-old fishing industries and all the quirky, tasty, interesting things they have produced disappear.
Below is a list of some of the upcoming classes this month, a full list of classes is available here and deals with local hotels are also available. For more information visit www.classroomonthecoast.org
The Stade, Hastings, East Sussex, TN34 3FJ
Tuesday 9th February Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Perfect Valentine’s Day Menu
Thursday 11th February Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Classic Fish Dishes: Skate with Black Butter
Thursday 17th February Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Classic Fish Dishes: Perfect Fish & Chips
Saturday 20th February Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Saturday Brunch @ The Classroom
Thursday 25th February Ã¢â‚¬â€œ Classic Fish Dishes: Classic Boillabaise