Cod’s gift and no Missed hake

Lancashire Life - - FOOD & DRINK - WORDS: Martin Pilk­ing­ton Š PHO­TOG­RA­PHY: John Cocks

CHRIS NEVE is so pas­sion­ate about fish that he once woke his wife in the mid­dle of the night to eu­lo­gise about his catch

Not many of us would think we’d re­tired if we still rose for work at 1.30am. But at 70, fish mer­chant Chris Neve com­pares his cur­rent rou­tine with the in­cred­i­ble hours he used to work and con­sid­ers him­self lucky. ‘I’m re­tired, what I do is

small scale these days – and I get ev­ery third Fri­day night off now!’ he says, adding: ‘But then, I’ve al­ways worked long hours, round the clock and same the next day some­times, pro­cess­ing fish, driv­ing up to Scot­land, down to Devon and Corn­wall…’

Chris is something of a force of na­ture, his leg­endary love of fish and fish­ing re­flected in a fund of sto­ries. ‘I was work­ing one night, felt hun­gry, and the hake were mag­nif­i­cent, so I went home, cooked one up and it was beau­ti­ful,’ he says. ‘I thought

“I’ve got to show this to Jane [his wife].”’ She puts that into con­text:

‘He came up­stairs and woke me to say look at this fab­u­lous hake. It was three in the morn­ing. That’s how pas­sion­ate he is about fish!’

His per­sonal favourite is ac­tu­ally tur­bot, but he doesn’t turn his nose up at any catch, some un­con­ven­tional. ‘I was fil­let­ing cod the other day, and one big fish had a prawn tail sticking out of its mouth, a huge lan­gous­tine down its throat,’ he re­calls. ‘So I had that along with the cod bat­tered for my tea.’

At home they pre­pare fish sim­ply, but he loves what chefs can achieve with the same material. He es­pe­cially likes to eat at one of the smart din­ing inns run by his daugh­ter, Joyce­lyn, boss of the successful Seafood Pub Com­pany. ‘We had fish in madras curry the other night, it was fan­tas­tic,’ he en­thuses.

For a time, he owned three Fleet­wood trawlers with a busi­ness part­ner. ‘I’d go out on the boats some­times. It was unbeatable but never very prof­itable, though it gave a good sup­ply of fish.’ And he had an eye to the PR ad­van­tages too. ‘Ev­ery May Bank Hol­i­day we’d take a big group of top chefs from Manch­ester over to the Isle of Man, do some fish­ing with us and en­joy the catch – it was a marketing tool, but great fun for ev­ery­one too.’

He even looks back with good hu­mour at a brush with the law. Af­ter Chris bought two bass from an an­gler, a fish­eries of­fi­cial stormed in, read the two their rights, and warned they’d be pros­e­cuted as the fish­er­man’s row­ing boat wasn’t li­cenced. Three court ap­pear­ances be­fore going to trial in Liver­pool and the min­istry’s costs had risen to a scary £80,000. What they didn’t know, and hadn’t ap­par­ently asked, was how the bass were caught – the fish­er­man re­vealed he’d been digging bait on King Scar Bank, left some lines out to check the next day, and caught the two fish per­fectly legally.

‘The bar­ris­ter de­mol­ished them. When the trial ended the Liver­pool jurors who’d found us not guilty stood and gave the thumbs up sign! The court costs were sup­pos­edly £100,000 for that. Mad­ness. If a ship is fish­ing il­le­gally, fine, but two bass from a bloke with a row boat?’

Chris is the man who en­sures Joyce­lyn’s restau­rants have top qual­ity fish on the menu and, though largely re­tired, Chris is hoping to add a smoke­house to his premises so he can re­turn to that side of the busi­ness, though that too was not with­out in­ci­dent. ‘One night the saw­dust caught fire, and ev­ery fish in the smoker was cooked. When I came in, the women ar­riv­ing to work next door were eating it still warm. It smelled great.’

His home town’s hey­day as a fish­ing port has now gone, which sad­dens him. ‘The fi­nal blow for Fleet­wood was the cod re­cov­ery pro­gramme – I’m not sure if the cod stocks have re­cov­ered, but the in­dus­try hasn’t,’ he says. He has lit­tle hope of change whether Brexit oc­curs or not, ex­pect­ing the fish­ing in­dus­try to remain a bar­gain­ing chip, to be sac­ri­ficed for other gains. ‘The lu­natics are run­ning the asy­lum,’ is his sum­mary.

Fish man Chris Neve at The Farm­ers Arms, Great Ec­cle­ston

ABOVE: Scal­lops and black pud­ding BE­LOW: Chris Neve with wife, Jane, Jane’s mum, Eileen Dut­ton, and daugh­ters, Amanda Pope and Joyce­lyn Neve

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