On 29th April 2019, Strength2Food hosted the 2nd UK Hybrid Forum in Newcastle upon Tyne. The event was organised by Food Nation and Newcastle University. It consisted of a ‘Fish Supper’ conversation hosted by Harissa Kitchen, a vibrant restaurant and social enterprise in the local community. Participants were offered a three-course meal celebrating lesser-known and underutilised locally caught seafood. The dinner also showcased the cooking skills and experience of young apprentice chefs, as part of the seafood training programme delivered in partnership with the North of Tyne Fisheries Local Action Group (FLAG).
The Fish Supper attracted around twenty attendees in total. Chris Jewitt and Joanna Lacey (Food Nation) introduced Strength2Food and shared insights from ongoing pilot action initiatives in North-East England on stimulating new quality markets and alternative food chains with local seafood. They explained the theme and structure of the evening to set the scene for a relaxed and informal environment where participants could share knowledge and perspectives on how they perceive the value of local seafood. The discussion, building on insights gathered from the first UK hybrid forum, focused on the following three key main areas:
- the importance of local versus sustainable seafood
- consumer preferences and habits towards seafood
- confidence and skills in the kitchen
While tasting different seafood courses, the participants were asked to note down their views and experiences on the provided paper placemats at their tables. Two guest speakers were invited to give brief talks at the event and to inspire discussions. The first speaker, Laura Foster from RTC North, talked about business growth and scaling up opportunities for North-East SMEs. She also spoke about the ambition of the North Shields Fish Quay to tackle some of the existing barriers to purchase and consume local seafood. The second speaker, Tash Perros, Project Manager of Food Chain App, highlighted some of the challenges associated with the responsible sourcing of locally landed seafood. Tash also spoke about the launch of the new application for food procurement, which would enable restaurants to significantly expand their fish offer.
Researchers from Newcastle University team, Barbara Tocco, Carmen Hubbard, Matthew Gorton and Jeremy Phillipson, while sitting at different tables, joined in with the discussions and took some notes on controversial issues emerging from respective group discussions. For instance, mixed consumer perceptions and preferences towards local seafood confirm the importance of restaurants’ roles in experimenting with lesser-known species and diversifying the consumer plate.
The successful seafood dinner, carefully planned and delivered by the trainee chefs under the supervision of Kristy Whittle, employability manager from Food Nation, was highly complimented by the guests. Kristy thanked all customers and announced that a series of Seafood Supper Clubs will follow throughout the summer, when the young trainees will take over Harissa Kitchen.