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Inside Track: The culinary snail trail goes a long way back

The Budding Chefs exchange programme, organised by the Institut Francais in Edinburgh with support from the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs and aimed at building culinary links, is gaining serious momentum.

A dozen young French chefs and four would-be waiters from the Lycée Hotelier de Dinard have been in the capital to meet its chefs, visit Peterhead fish market and complete the field trip programme by sampling Highland Wagyu beef at Blackford Farm in Perthshire before preparing a pop-up meal for the paying public.

Somewhat perversely, a key speaker at the main event on Saturday was Dumfries-born fisherman Roderick Sloan, who now lives in the village of Nordskott in Norway.

He makes his living sustainably fishing sea-urchins, which humans had been eating for 3000 years and which he has helped bring back into fashion.

He now supplies 32 of the world's top restaurants with the spiky shellfish, including Noma in Copenhagen. He also catches mahogany clams and soft shell clams and is hoping his starfish will eventually prove popular, but the next things he really wants to get us to eat are sea snails.

In Edinburgh, it was periwinkles and whelks, those long-forgotten seaside treats that were once so popular in Scotland, that he wanted to discuss. First, he visited Stockbridge Primary School to encourage the youngsters to think about eating more of these local shellfish, often the by-catch of his own fishing trips, and which can be foraged for free from coastlines all year round, and cooked easily and simply.

Since they were so young, he got the children to taste tiny winkles out of their shells, cooked in butter by the young Brittany chefs. Only one child out of around 100 pulled a face and declined. The rest said they liked them, even though they'd never tasted them before.

Sloan also addressed a sell-out adult audience at Budding Chefs' symposium, Talking Food, on Saturday to discuss the links between Scotland and Norway, and also to argue the case for whelks. Since thousands of the shells of periwinkles and whelks - as well as mussels, limpets, crab, and other shellfish - were found in the middens and rubbish heaps at Skara Brae, the preserved neolithic village on Orkney, it proved they were a major part of the diet of northerners 5000 years ago. They are therefore an indigenous ingredient that deserves to be reintroduced to the Scots diet, in the spirit of the work being undertaken at the Nordic Food Lab in Copenhagen under the auspices of Noma's Rene Redzepi and his deputy, Edinburgh's Ben Reade.

Other speakers at Talking Food included Michael Booth, the English travel and food writer now living in Denmark, who spoke about his journey through all five of the Nordic countries to discover the secrets of their success. Cooking by the Brittany brigade was mentored by French-trained Scots chef Craig Sandler, French chef Fred Berkmiller and the French-trained Scot Tom Kitchin.

Clearly, the culinary "snail trail" goes further than we might have thought.

Contextual targeting label: 
Food and drink

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