There’s a reason why fish & chips is one of Britain’s national dishes. And it’s not necessarily down to a good, crunchy batter; the softness of a well-blanched chip; or liberal lashings of salt and vinegar.
No, the best thing about fish and chips is that it’s not a dish you make at home. Often, it’s not a dish you can make at home. Let alone recreate the atmosphere of a local chippy, what with the uncouth smell of chip grease, the sizzle of batter in hot oil, and the banter between locals. Maybe all these things in culmination is why it is, like the public house, such an iconic part of British culture.
Fulfilling this criteria, while taking the national staple to unfamiliar heights, is Millers’ fish and chip shop in Haxby, a few miles north of York. In January, the shop was handed top prize in the takeaway equivalent of the Oscars – the National Fish & Chip Awards. For a fourth generation family business such as this, this is no small matter. ‘It’s still sinking in,’ current co-owner Nick Miller tells me.
Nick, with his father David, currently head up the shop. Just after their win, Nick divulges to me how and why they got here, from all aspects of their business – whether it’s tweaking the material of their forks or maintaining relationships with their Norwegian suppliers.
You’re probably busy enough as it is, but has winning the National Fish & Chip Awards put more people through your door?
Absolutely. It’s great for our community as well. People are driving from Essex and Manchester to little old Haxby to try our fish and chips.
The locals are obviously important to you.
We’d been serving fish and chips in our community for over fifty years when my grandfather had the shop. We feel very proud of that, but it’s nice because my customers remember my grandfather and his father, and their shops when they had it, and now I’m serving them. A big thing we’ve done this year is for Loneliness and Isolation – we do a monthly donation of fish and chips for the community of York, organised by St. John University, to bring people together and tackle isolation and loneliness with one of the great comfort foods.
Sustainability is clearly a priority for you as well. Is it important for customers too, or is there a lot of education still needed on that front?
People these days are more in tune with what they’re eating, and why, and we feel it’s our job to educate them – we have to start looking after the oceans and things around us. You know, that doesn’t just mean fish. All our fish is MSC Certified, and we’re one of the few shops unfortunately to have that accreditation, so we’re trying to promote that idea of buying sustainable seafood because it’s important for not just our future as a business, but our future as human beings.
And with this plastic crisis going on, our plastic and boxing is fully biodegradable, and our forks are made from corn starch. We’ve had all this in for quite a while. We’re working with the Norwegian Seafood Council to bring out a Bag For Life for our customers as well.
How else have you evolved throughout the years? It’s a family business that goes way back, so how do you adapt to the times?
We’ve been a family business for 75 years. We’ve seen things happen and change. My great grandfather started rumbling potatoes in an old bathtub. Now we’re taking payments by phone. We’re proud to utilise modern technology, and find out how technology can support the business. One thing we brought in last year was digital food safety, so everything we do in the shop is on an iPad. Right now it’s about working towards a paperless business.
Is the fish and chip industry in a good place right now, in regards to employment?
It’s a fantastic business to be in. For the younger generation especially. There’s nothing like The satisfaction you can get as a customer-facing business. Financially, as well as loving what you do. But for us it’s about delivering a quality product and having that customer satisfaction.
What about in terms of sustainability? What should we be doing to improve on it?
If we want a future, then we have to start looking at it. Start taking it seriously. Many shops are doing that, but you need to make sure you’re educating your customers about it. We’ve got digital screens in the shop which show where our fish comes from. It shows we’ve been to Norway and on the vessel that catches our fish, and we care about it. But it’s also showing the journey, and that they’re a part of it. When they see that, you can tell it means a lot to them.
Finally, any advice on how to best prepare fish and chips?
The fantastic thing about fish and chips is there’s no right or wrong way to do it. Across the industry and across the UK, we’re looking at 10,000 fish and chip shops, and each one is different to the other. We’ve all got the same raw materials, but it’s what you do to it that makes the difference. These fisherman and farmers have taken great pride in getting that product for us, so we feel it’s our duty to take those products and create great fish and chips with those ingredients.