“We did it!” Craig Maw whispered into his partner’s ear while whoops and cheers erupted around them. Their chippie had just been named the best in the country and it was the realisation of a dream for the couple.
Kingfisher Fish and Chips in Plymouth was taken over by Mr Maw and Nikki Mutton in September 2012 and they were determined from the start that they were going to stand out.
Being named the Best Fish and Chip Takeaway in the country at the 2017 National Fish & Chip Awards was the culmination of intensive planning, hard work and dedication. Or as Mr Maw put it, “Blood, sweat and tears.”
And it began, he said, after a conversation with Fish2fork when he and Ms Mutton were being asked about the sustainability of their fish sourcing.
Sustainability was important to them from the start but how to achieve it was less clear.
“Our first toe in the water was to apply for a Fish2fork rating. This is what set us off on the journey.
“I was having a telephone call with Fish2fork. I was saying all our fish is responsibly sourced and sustainable. The response was, ‘That’s a very bold statement. Can you prove that?’
“That really made me think, and now we run our business on that basis. Every statement we make as a business has to stack up and be proven.”
Kingfisher is now among the most sustainable restaurants in the world. It has a 4.5 blue fish rating from Fish2fork - the highest rating possible - and it has a three star rating from the Sustainable Restaurant Association.
It also holds the word record for the number of species it serves that have Marine Stewardship Council (MSC) certification of sustainability.
Kingfisher serves 13 species of seafood of which just one, its scampi, doesn’t come with MSC certification of sustainability, and chain of custody certification to provide assurance that the product cannot have been swapped for another at any point from boat to restaurant.
Mr Maw said he would like to get MSC scampi but hasn’t found a suitable supply. Moreover, he and Ms Mutton are satisfied after intensive talks with their supplier that it is “the best we can find”.
A year ago Kingfisher won second place at the National Fish & Chip Awards and, while delighted, Mr Maw and Ms Mutton were determined to go one better.
In seeking to find ways to improve their already high standards, they tweaked much of what they already did and made some bigger changes.
They installed new equipment, including an upgrade from a five to an eight-pan frying range, introduced a mobile fish and chip van which they can take to events, and added own brand batter and ketchup to their repertoire. “There are lots of little things and some big things,” said Mr Maw.
“We put a lot of blood, sweat and tears into our shop. Tears of joy and tears of frustration. We are very passionate people. We go into it full tilt.”
Realising they were up against stiff competition, the couple were far from certain they would win but at the packed ceremony on January 25, an event regarded as the Oscars of the fish and chip industry, they were ecstatic to hear their names announced by compere Nigel Barden.
Mr Maws said: “It was a rollercoaster of emotions. I genuinely can’t put into words how we feel about it. It’s a mixture of elation and emotion. It’s just fantastic.
“I gave Nikki a cuddle and whispered in her ear, ‘We did it!’ I had a time restraining myself from bursting into tears. It was so emotional. It was unbelievable.
“Walking through the crowd, the support we got was absolutely phenomenal. It’s difficult to put into words. We were so blessed to have that level of support. It seemed there were cuddles, hugs, kisses from everyone we seemed to come across. It was an absolutely amazing experience.”
Having won, Mr Maws said they now intend to act as ambassadors for the fish and chip industry and for sustainability.
“We don’t want to sit on our laurels. We are ambassadors. We love fish and chips.
“What we want to do now is help the industry and raise the profile of sustainable seafood and fish and chips. That’s our next quest, to get more people eating sustainable fish and chips.”