Ramus Seafood in Harrogate celebrates its 40th anniversary with a tasty new book
- Credit: Archant
Cookbook feature 40 simple seafod recipes
As an island nation, we have a strange relationship with fish. We’ve come a long way since the days when our only choice was ‘with or without scraps?’, but we are still deeply suspicious of a lot of the produce landed off our shores.
‘We don’t have the Mediterranean culture of eating seafood every day, or the French way of favouring the sea over the land,’ said Jonathan Batchelor, managing director of Ramus Seafood in Harrogate. ‘People are still very cautious about cooking fish at home, which is why we see it as an important part of our job to push past these barriers and alter people’s thinking.’
To that end, the company, which recently scooped the national accolade of Seafood Supplier of the Year at the inaugural Food Awards England & Wales, has launched a cookbook packed with 40 recipes highlighting the simple deliciousness of seafood to help people escape their piscine prejudices – and to celebrate its own milestone 40th anniversary.
Acclaimed chefs, food writers, producers and restaurants have all provided recipes and a contribution from each book sold is going to the Fishermen’s Mission, a national charity that supports active and retired fishermen and their families.
‘Our cookbook is full of simple recipes,’ said Jonathan. ‘To be honest, great fish doesn’t need anything other than pepper, a bit of salt and maybe a squeeze of lemon. And it’s so quick to cook. It really is the ultimate fast food.’
Chris and Liz Ramus launched their business in 1974 supplying Scottish lobster to Harrogate hotels. It was a small enterprise to start with, prompted initially by Chris’s passion for diving off the coast of Scotland, but grew exponentially throughout the Seventies and Eighties until Ramus became the number one importer of Canadian lobster and was recognised as Independent Seafood Retailer of the Year.
Directors Jonathan Batchelor and Tony Rushton joined the top team in 1999, shortly before Ramus opened its first seafood emporium (don’t you just love a good emporium?) in Kings Road, Harrogate, in 2000, and its second in Ilkley seven years later.
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Jonathan, a business studies graduate, had previously worked for Asda but wasn’t impressed (‘I hated every minute of it,’ he said with candour) before applying for the position of assistant wholesale manager at Ramus 20 years ago.
‘I came along for an interview and knew immediately that this was the place for me,’ he said. ‘It became clear pretty quickly that we shared the same philosophy when it came to quality and developing trusting, honest relationships with customers and suppliers, and I knew these people had something very valuable to teach me.’
A great many of the trusting, honest relationships Ramus prides itself on have endured over decades. It has supplied Bettys, for instance, since 1981 and Yorkshire’s favourite tearoom chain remains one of its biggest and most committed customers.
This ethos of partnership working is echoed in Ramus’ attitude to its retail customers and, at the other end of the supply chain, the fishermen who work so hard to keep the catch coming in.
As well as revamping its retail outlets in Harrogate and Ilkley, compiling a stylish cookbook and picking up a national award, Jonathan and his busy team have also found time to launch Wild Catch, a new direct partnership initiative with day-boat fishermen in Cornwall and Devon.
This means that a whole host of seafood, including mackerel, mullet, pouting, pollack, squid and sole, can now be landed in Newlyn and Brixham by small boats fishing just six miles of the coast and delivered fresh to Harrogate within 24 hours.
‘Apart from the obvious benefits in terms of quality and freshness, all our Wild Catch fish is completely traceable, down to the individual fisherman who caught it,’ said Jonathan.
‘And by sourcing directly from the fishermen themselves, we’re able to guarantee the best price for our customers and a fairer price for the fishermen.’
It’s the nature of the game that Ramus’ product starts to deteriorate from the moment it leaves the sea, so time is very much of the essence.
‘Quality diminishes from the minute the fish is landed, so we want it with us here in Harrogate as promptly as possible,’ said Jonathan. ‘If we buy fish today, we want it here tomorrow.
‘It’s very exciting when the fish comes in and from 6am to 8.30am every day, it’s full-on action. We’re very hands-on with our product and I love being down on the sales floor every single morning to get a good look at the catch.’
He’s obviously an amiable man who loves his job, but if you want to see his hackles – and his voice – rise a little, just ask him why fish is regarded as expensive.
‘There is no such thing as cheap fish,’ he said. ‘There’s good value fish, but it’s still not cheap. And I’m completely unapologetic about that. When people say ‘it’s almost as expensive as fillet steak’, I tell them why it should actually cost more. The effort it takes to deliver a beautiful piece of fish far outweighs the relative ease of producing a steak and, if you ask me, fresh seafood more than holds its own in terms of flavour.’
Ramus sees it as part of its remit to educate people about the joys of cooking with seafood. It works in schools, teaching the next generation about the fabulous fare available a matter of miles from their desks, and hosts cookery demonstrations to show just how easy it is to dish up a wonderful plate of seafood in less time than it takes to phone for a takeaway.
It’s also in the early stages of introducing a seafood box scheme – similar to the veggie box schemes that have become so prevalent in recent years.
‘This is a key part of our aim to encourage people to eat more seafood,’ said Jonathan. ‘It not only tastes great, but also has so many health benefits. It’s great knowing that we are actually selling something that not only tastes good, but does you good.’
He’s a passionate advocate for the product, contributing recipes for the cookbook and even taking part in the cookery demonstrations - ‘I want people to see that if an idiot like me can cook delicious fish dishes then they can too’ – so, we have to ask, what is Jonathan’s desert island dish? If, to echo the Radio 4 classic, he could only save one fish dish from the sea as he set up camp on his own private island, would it be lobster, mackerel or perhaps tuna tartare?
‘I’m a simple man with simple tastes,’ he said. ‘Give me haddock and chips wrapped in newspaper on a park bench and I’ll be very happy indeed. Just make sure you put on plenty of salt and vinegar.’
The cookbook Ramus Forty, priced £9.95, is available online. Visit ramus.co.uk for details.