"I probably have quality seafood in my DNA. Coming from the picturesque seaside village of Anstruther in the East Neuk of Fife, it’s hard not to grow up with an appreciation of some of the best fish and seafood in the UK, which naturally converts into amazing fish and chips.
I always say to people of my childhood “The salty tang of fish was always in the air, coupled with the delicious waft of freshly cooked fish and chips from the many quality chip shops in the village!”
But it was a teenage crush that first led me to work in a chippy. I fancied a girl who was working in the Anstruther Fish Bar, one of the celebrated chippies just mentioned.
I thought I would get a job there myself and ask her out.
Twenty years later I was still working there and even had a partnership in the business. I developed wanderlust though and decided to sell my share to travel the world for a year, returning to Scotland to buy a fish and chip shop in Kinghorn. The love of fish and chips was still in the blood!
Together with fellow businessman Gordon Spinks I then set up The Tail End in Edinburgh (from an old pub that had closed), which became another well known fish and chip shop. We did the same at the St Andrews Tail End fish bar.
I was then approached by businessman William Frame nearly three years ago to open and run an upmarket fish and chip restaurant in St Andrews. It was a fantastic opportunity and Cromars was born, a “Rolls Royce” of Fish & Chip Shops if you like, serving champagne, scallops and langoustines as well as superb quality haddock and cod. My 32 years of experience came to fruition to run my dream eponymous chippy.
We have attracted numerous industry accolades in our short life so far. Highlights for me have been the two National Fish and Chip Awards we have won – last year we were Fish and Chip Restaurant of the Year in Scotland and this year we clinched Fish and Chip Shop of the Year in Scotland, the sought after Takeout category, which is the one we all want to win the most in the industry.
It meant so much to myself, William and the whole team. Each year we have been a Top 10 UK finalist as well.
I wore my kilt to the final to fly the flag for Scotland and we took several members of the team down to the awards dinner, as well as our wives. We all had a brilliant time.
So of course, it's the actual quality and taste of the fish and chips which makes a great chippy - cooked correctly, with cleanliness at the heart of the preparation, with regular changes of oil, the correct temperatures for frying (or grilling as we do that now too) and quality ingredients. It's the atmosphere, the staff and the banter. We have a great team at Cromars, we have many regulars. You should look for that if using a new chippy for the first time- how do the staff engage with the customers?
Our customers come into us looking for a treat, whether eating in or carrying out - they are not going to have to cook their own teas, and that is a great feeling! I lead from the front, as all proprietors and head fishfryers should do. We are a happy brigade, we apply the same standards to the food whether it's carry out or sitting down. All customers have to feel special.
I suppose that in the past fish and chip shops did not worry too much about seasonality, as menus didn't really change. Not so now, as we do reflect the seasons with lots of delicious summer add ons such as crab, scallops, prawns and langoustines - of course being near the East Neuk helps enormously. I also prepare my own salads and make my own fishcakes. We have specials for customers to try too.
So many factors nowadays come into what make a great chippy, and why people will return again and again, always assured of the same quality of food, and the same great service, regardless of who is behind the counter.
It’s a good job I did pluck up the courage to go into that first Fish Bar in Anstruther that day and ask for a job, prompted by a pretty face. It has certainly been one of my best decisions."