FOURty seconds with Tony Fleming

12 Jul 2016
3 min read
FOUR catches up with seafood extraordinaire chef Tony Fleming from Michelin star restaurant Angler in London…

You’ve become known as something of a seafood specialist over the years. What seafood do you think we should be eating right now in the UK?

The current UK weather is actually creating a bit of havoc for shellfish and seafood. For starters, it’s just more difficult for fishermen to physically catch the fish. Most of our fish is either line-caught or hand-dived so it is tougher for the general public to get their hands on prime fish like Brill, Turbot or Dover Sole which are in shorter supply at the moment. We do have incredible relationships with our suppliers so Angler still offers a wide variety of top-quality fish, but this does present a great opportunity to explore lesser-known fish like Sardines, Mackerel or other members of the cod family like Ling or Pollock. These fish are versatile, delicious and are easier to get a hold of at the moment.

What was it like working under the tutelage of master chef Marco Pierre White?

Nerve wracking. When I first started, my heart was in my mouth every day. It was amazing, though, working with like-minded individuals who were as serious and passionate about the industry and profession as I am. Being in a kitchen of that level was a dream. It was at The Oak Room where I was assigned to the seafood section. I always gravitated to fish as it’s so varied and fresh, but here I learned under Chef Jeff Galvin how to prepare fish at a 3 Michelin-starred level. This is the standard that I strive to work at today. Marco himself had such a presence in the kitchen. He calmly over-saw every detail of every dish and it really pushed me to achieve the standard of excellence that you see in Angler now.

Angler restaurant is a member of the Sustainable Restaurant Association. Would you describe yourself as a bit of an eco-warrior?

Yes and no. The term ‘eco-warrior’ is very broad one. I do feel very strongly about working with only sustainable and ethically sourced fish. As afore mentioned, most of our fish are either line-caught or hand-dived from class A waters by reputable fishermen who I work with very closely. Your everyday fish is usually obtained by dredging or trawling and this process destroys underwater habitats and yields high-levels of bycatch. Bycatch are essentially all the other fish caught ‘unintentionally’ through this method and usually just goes to waste. This process is unethical and also produces a poor-quality catch that cheaper and easier to purchase. I only use the highest-quality produce at Angler as I want the freshness to come through in every dish. This can sometimes create supply issues, but guests appreciate the caliber of our seafood and I’m inspired by the seasonality of fish.

What or who inspires your cooking the most?

I respect my fellow Chefs, but I’m mostly inspired by what is in season. Angler has its own very unique identity and it’s seafood availability that pushes our creativity.

What ingredients are you enjoying cooking with at the moment?

At the moment I’m starting to use more sea vegetables like purslane, monk’s beard, sea beets or oyster leaf. These veggies are delicious – fresh, crisp and have a natural saltiness that adds such dimension to our dishes.

What advice would you give someone looking to begin a career as a chef today?

Make sure it’s what you want to do. Someone may love cooking and have a natural flair, but you have to be prepared for the long hours, sometimes harsh conditions and very high pressure. You also have to be prepared to start at the very bottom, prepping, cleaning and learning before you even attempt a full dish. It’s a very long road and you do sacrifice your social life, so you have to love it.

How do you adapt to changing culinary trends?

I don’t really follow any food trends. I prepare very simple and elegant dishes and I think people respond well to good, honest food. Trends don’t last, but quality and consistency do.

If you could take a plane ride to anywhere in the world, just for one meal, where would it be and why?

Japan. I don’t have a specific meal in mind, but I love the way they eat and their relationship to food. I would love to go on a culinary tour with people who knew their way around.