Robin leads call to get be­hind Ar­ran pro­duc­ers

The Arran Banner - - News - Hugh Boag ed­i­[email protected]­ran­ban­ner.co.uk

A mar­ket gar­dener on Ar­ran has called for all busi­nesses on the is­land to get be­hind lo­cal pro­duce.

There is a jus­ti­fi­able pride in the wide range of food­stuffs grown and pro­duced on Ar­ran, and menus across the is­land boast of lo­cal in­gre­di­ents that are ex­ported the length and breadth of the coun­try and across the world.

How­ever, chef Robin Gray says that is only part of the story and he be­lieves more needs to be done to in­volve all lo­cal pro­duc­ers, some of whom have to ship their prod­ucts to the main­land or fur­ther afield to sell them.

Robin, 54, says he has just had his best har­vest in 10 years at his sprawl­ing al­lot­ment at Kingscross in Whit­ing Bay but says it is also his worst year for sales on the is­land.

He be­lieves a lot of the big­ger ho­tels, and also some of the smaller ones and B&B es­tab­lish­ments, could do more to use more lo­cal pro­duce than they do at the mo­ment. How­ever, he ac­cepts there may be time and fi­nan­cial con­straints which makes it eas­ier to deal with big­ger sin­gle sup­pli­ers.

But he ar­gues that needs to change, say­ing: ‘I sim­ply want grow my veg­eta­bles on Ar­ran and sell them here but I find I in­creas­ingly have to find mar­kets on the main­land.’

And he is not alone. Fish­er­man Ian Cu­sick, who catches lob­sters, lan­goustines, and other shell­fish in Lam­lash Bay, is find­ing fewer lo­cal out­lets for his pro­duce with all his medium to large lan­goustines now be­ing ex­ported through Tar­bert, Loch Fyne, to Spain.

He said: ‘The clo­sure of the Drift Inn was a big loss to both of us as they re­ally sup­ported us by us­ing our pro­duce, but now they have gone I haven’t seen any­one else tak­ing up the man­tle.’

Robin ac­cepts it is about mak­ing both the pub­lic and the trade aware of what is out there. To that end, he plans to hold a series of pop-up restau­rant events to show­case what is avail­able lo­cally.

He held his first event in Lam­lash last week­end sell­ing his trade­mark pulled pork sand­wiches, burg­ers and seafood us­ing his own salad, veg­eta­bles and home­made pick­les and chut­neys, and us­ing bread from George Grassie of the Black­wa­ter Bake­house, who also sup­ports Robin’s prod­ucts.

‘It is all about get­ting all the busi­nesses on the is­land work­ing to­gether to use the fan­tas­tic in­gre­di­ents and prod­ucts we have right here on the is­land, with­out bring­ing them from the main­land,’ he said.

Robin only too read­ily recog­nises the sup­port he re­ceives from Stu­art and Clair Fraser at Bay Stores in Whit­ing Bay as well as The Sand­wich Sta­tion in Lochranza.

How­ever, most of his har­vest this year will go to the main­land sup­ply­ing restau­rants in Glas­gow and other trade out­lets in the cen­tral belt. He also dis­trib­utes his pro­duce through Ar­gyll Foods.

A mem­ber of Taste Ayr­shire, Robin also runs the fes­ti­val and event cater­ing busi­ness Is­land Gourmet.

Robin has a long as­so­ci­a­tion with the is­land and was pre­vi­ously the chef at the Whit­ing Bay Ho­tel and the Auchran­nie. Hav­ing trained and worked as a chef both in Scot­land and abroad, Robin un­der­stands the cook’s need for good sup­plies of in­ter­est­ing fresh green­ery for sal­ads and cook­ing.

He ex­plains the deep flavour and pun­gent aroma from these nat­u­rally grown herbs, salad leaves and veg­eta­bles is largely to do with their sys­tem of grow­ing. None is forced with ar­ti­fi­cial fer­tiliser, which may pro­duce a faster grow­ing leaf, but at the ex­pense of flavour. There is also the health ad­van­tage of their free­dom from pes­ti­cides.

Stu­art Fraser from Bay Stores added: ‘Robin’s herbs and veg­eta­bles are top qual­ity and we are tak­ing more and more be­cause of their in­creas­ing pop­u­lar­ity. In­creased vis­i­tor traf­fic to the is­land means more op­por­tu­nity to pro­mote lo­cal pro­duc­ers and lo­cal busi­nesses.

‘I think peo­ple ap­pre­ci­ate the lo­cally-grown fac­tor, and un­der­stand some pro­duce is slightly more ex­pen­sive than pro­duce that has trav­elled hun­dreds of miles and is po­ten­tially of in­fe­rior qual­ity. In our three years in Whit­ing Bay, we have tried to pro­mote and sup­port lo­cal pro­duce and pro­duc­ers, es­pe­cially lo­cal flow­ers, bread, honey, fruit and veg­eta­bles.

‘It would be great if more busi­nesses around the is­land bought lo­cally, but it is also im­por­tant that Ar­ran pro­duc­ers get out and pro­mote them­selves in a pos­i­tive way, so we can all ben­e­fit and show­case the best of Ar­ran food and drink.’

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Robin Gray tends his veg­eta­bles in a poly­tun­nel at his al­lot­ment.

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