Scaling new heights: fishmonger of the year
Five young men are vying to be crowned Ireland’s best fishmonger. Only one originally chose it as a career, but all are now capitalising on Ireland’s new appreciation of the fruits of the sea, writes Catherine Cleary
Graham Rogerson with a turbot at George’s Fish Shop, Monkstown Farm, Dun Laoghaire. Photograph: Cyril Byrne
John Feeney of Galway Bay Seafoods. Photograph: Joe O’Shaughnessy
Finalists in the BIM Young Fishmonger of the Year Award, from left: Arnaud Lepricey, Wrights of Howth, Dublin; James Kirwan, East Coast Seafood, Naas, Co Kildare; John Feeney, Galway Bay Seafoods, New Docks, Galway; George Stephens, Stephens’s Fish Market, Mullingar, Co Westmeath and Maynooth, Co Kildare and Graham Rogerson, George’s Fish Shop, Monkstown Farm, Co Dublin. Photograph: John Sheehan Photography
It might be the beard, but Graham Rogerson looks like a web designer or a new media expert, or some other profession that didn’t exist a generation ago. Yet his job is more timeless. Standing in apron and whites, he lifts a glassy-eyed hake from a shallow tank in a table. He steadies the slippery body with one hand. Then he slices the head off. Next he cuts along the length of the fish opening the flesh like a large book and slicing one half cleanly away from the bone. The second half is trickier, extracting the spine. The head, tail and spine slap into a crate at his feet and he has two white fillets ready to be sold.
Rogerson is a fishmonger. He’s one of five finalists in a Bord Iascaigh Mhara (BIM) young fishmonger competition, the winner of which will be announced on Monday. He used to work in a bank (a different kind of filleting operation, perhaps). His sister Lisa, used to work in recruitment. Then four years ago they decided to open a fish shop together in Monkstown, south Dublin, continuing a family business that goes back to his grandfather.
After years in decline, fishmongering is growing in Ireland and the five young men are part of a wave of new blood into the trade. Irish consumers are eating more fresh fish, with sales up 8 per cent last year compared to 2011. Numbers in the trade are rising to the level of over a century ago. The 1911 Census lists 226 fishmongers in Ireland and a further 905 fish dealers, mostly women, living in port or seaside areas. According to BIM there are roughly 500 fish counters in country today, including fish shops and supermarket fish counters, each one run by at least one fishmonger. BIM gets calls “on a weekly basis from people wishing to set up a fish shop”, a spokesperson said.
At George’s Fish Shop in Monkstown (George is Lisa’s and Graham’s father) there’s a brisk Friday morning trade. They buy much of their fish from boats in Kilmore Quay. “Can I put it in the freezer?” one customer asks. By far the most common question, Rogerson says, is, “How do I cook it?”
Do his friends slag him about his job? “Maybe when I was 10 or even five they did, but younger people are eating a lot more fish. Even teenagers are very health conscious.” He’d like to persuade people that lesser-known species like flounder and pollock are delicious and cheap.
Another George, George Stephens junior (30) is the third in a line of Georges, but he’s the first fishmonger in the family. “I was a chef for 10 years.” He worked with Derry Clarke and in the kitchen at Sheen Falls Lodge, always opting for the fish section if he could. In the search for a more family-friendly job in food, he opened his first fish shop in Mullingar, his home town, in September 2008 “just before the banking guarantee” he remembers grimly. He credits restaurateur and TV chef Martin Shanahan as a mentor who gave him a lot of help setting up the new venture.