So when offered the chance to join a team of foodies at the newly established Food Travel Company, immersing myself in fishy delights and learning about what lurks around our bountiful shores, you can understand why I felt quite literally felt like a fish out of water. Surely there wasn’t life beyond my tried and tested fish fingers.
Now as any chef will tell you, the key to good food is all about the presentation. In my (recipe) book though, a key ingredient is also the location. Throw in the idyllic charms of Lanyon Cottages, set in rural Hayle and home to a farmhouse kitchen brimming with local produce, and you have the makings for a gastronomic heaven. Admittedly my time in the kitchen is simply as a means to access the garden and grabbing food whilst passing. Here I was though, totally absorbed by an entirely new world of fishy aromas causing a sensory overload.
Now credit for my new found culinary interest is due in large amounts to our guest chef, Lee Groves, head chef at the Seagrass restaurant in nearby St Ives. His wise words and natural charm were surpassed only by a genuine passion for using only the finest and freshest produce the Cornish seas had to offer. This is a man who made the semi-finals of Masterchef Professionals and yet was clearly in his element teaching to all levels of eager students how to gut a fish, humanely kill a lobster and prize open oysters.
From the moment we stepped foot into his kitchen it instantly became our kitchen. The floor was open to questions, a feverish amount of note taking and more flash photography than a red carpet premier. I certainly don’t recall learning this much at school and I am proud of my GCSE in home economics. Monkfish, trout, mackerel and hake; all were treated with the utmost respect and cooked to release their tantalising flavours. As with any tasting there is always the surprise package though, the one lurking beneath the others and waiting to send your taste buds into overdrive. Well I am proud to claim to now being a convert to the ray wing, flaking off like an aquatic version of a Cadbury’s Flake, the sauce which accompanied it can still be tasted as I write this and that’s high praise indeed.
After only one day I was already champing at the bit to learn more and certainly did not have to wait long as Newlyn Fish Market was calling – at 6am. My home life is by the sea but it is amazing what you take for granted having been shown around one of the busiest ports in the UK. Fish doesn’t come any fresher than this but there was a lack of an overwhelming fishy smell in the air that I had come to expect. This is because, our guides reliably informed me, that if you can smell fish then it has already started going off. Supermarket trips will never be the same again for my nose.
Back to the kitchen and shellfish are on the menu. Admittedly not my forte but I still stood in awe at the precision and craftsmanship of our tutor. Lobsters and crabs were dispatched of, along with mussels and oysters at a rate which no mere mortal could handle. The result, a platter of shellfish that was only hours old and just melted on the tongue.
Naturally after absorbing so much fresh sea air, the countryside comes as a welcome relief with Lanyon Cottages the ideal spot for exploring the finest Cornwall has to offer. From hidden coves along the rugged Atlantic coast to the artists delight of St Ives and the weathered remains of old mines in between. I simply found solace with views looking out onto the countryside from my room and soaking up the sunshine ambling around the tranquil grounds.
Naturally no visit to Cornwall would be complete without the compulsory attendance to a local festival honouring local produce. In this instance it was the turn of the Rock Oyster Festival – a self-proclaimed Mid-Summer Celebration of Food, Music and Art now in its third year. Just like an oyster itself, there was an air of mystery as to what would be found inside. Here you could sample the finest delights of Cornish produce ranging from fish demonstrations to local tipples amidst local crafts, entertainment and live performances. So as I sat tucking into a picnic hamper brimmed with local delights, I sat back to soak up another traditional aspect of the English summer, as the heavens opened and I smiled into my pint of nettle beer.
So calling all foodies and aspiring chefs, I am testament that it is never too late to enter the kitchen and if there are two things I would pass on it is this: firstly, never be afraid of your ingredients as you can create anything you like as long as you enjoy it and secondly, if a fish finger sandwich is good enough for a top chef then it stays in my recipe book.
The Seafood Safari holiday is available for £1065 per person based on two people sharing for a three-night stay at Lanyon Cottages, fully inclusive.