My food odyssey is all about working in jobs that reflect the quintessence of the country I’m in. With that in mind I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to work in “Great British chip shop”; an establishment recently judged to be more iconic than the Beatles, Princess Diana and the Queen. Fortunately enough for me, my oldest and dearest friend Tom recently took over his family-run Chippy in my hometown of Leeds and agreed to let me run riot in the shop for a few days last week.
Tom and I met some 23 years ago at playgroup and our families grew close mainly thanks to a mutual love of food. When we got together no one ever left hungry. I can recall the day 15 years ago that Tom’s fish shop, Atlantis, first opened. On the night of their soft launch, greed got the better of me and I rather foolishly thought it wise to try and turn my liver into foie gras by eating as much as I could physically manage. Mounds of chips and delicious flaky fish in golden batter, washed down with the vats of mushy peas, and curry sauce. Needless to say I wasn’t feeling too sprightly when I got home to bed.
23 years on…Tom’s certainly outgrown me!
The origins of fish and chips, like Tom and me, go way back. One story says that Jewish refugees first brought the dish of fried fish across from Spain and Portugal sometime in the 17th century. Ironically, chips first appeared in England as an alternative to fish around the same time. When rivers froze over, housewives started cutting potatoes into fish shapes and frying them. How the two were paired and served together is unclear. Even batter was never intended to be consumed – it was originally used to protect the fish from the rancid oil and then scraped off.
Some 200 years later the first fish shop opened in the UK. Southerners believe it was Jewish immigrant Joseph Malin who first set up shop in East London in 1860, Northerners claim the first shop was opened in Oldham in 1863 by John Lees (I’ll let you decide which camp you sit in). Fish and chips grew increasingly popular in the UK. A staple dish of the working class, it was a rare source of protein in a diet that consisted largely of bread, dripping and tea. The dish became so important to the nation that it was the only takeaway food not to be rationed during the second world war.
My first few days as a chippy were to be spent with Tom on the mobile chip van, the Flying Pan, offering fish suppers for communities in and around Leeds. With a simple menu of fish, chips, sausage, mushy peas and curry sauce, the van was an ideal place to learn the basics of the business. Earlier in the day we had rumbled the skins off the potatoes, lovingly removed any unwanted blemishes and put them through the chipping machine. I was also entrusted with the task of de-boning the fish, which was a lot harder than Tom made it look.
Tom and me hard at work.
With the goods assembled we headed out to our first of stop near to Harewood House. (After last week’s brewing at Thornbridge Hall, it certainly felt bizarre to be cooking beside yet another stately home). Everything at Atlantis and the Flying Pan is cooked fresh and to order. Not a single luke warm fish or soggy chip in sight! Just piping hot fish and crisp chips with buttery centres. 8 mins for chips, 4 mins for fish. Beautiful simplicity.
Serving up my first portion of Fish and Chips
Despite the pouring rain, the regulars turned up in force for their fish fix. We then moved on to the Old Star pub, where my Grandpa waited with bated breath for his dinner to be delivered alongside a pint of creamy Yorkshire bitter. I was surprised by the overwhelming sense of community around the van’s weekly spot. I was also reminded how much I’ve missed Yorkshire folks’ sense of humour. “What can I get you”? was answered with “How about some dry bleedin’ weather” and “Fish and Chips?” met with the sarcastic reply: “No I just came here to tell you about my tax return”. I paused for a moment. If he thinks he has it tough, imagine a tax return with 52 jobs on it!
Fish and chips? The great British dish? Leave your comments below…
Foodish Boy cooked at Atlantis Fish and Chips & The Flying Pan. 298 Harrogate Rd Leeds, LS17 6LY, 0113 269 2624
Up next…Atlantis’s Guide to the perfect Fish and Chips.