Robin leads call to get behind Arran producers
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.’
Robin Gray tends his vegetables in a polytunnel at his allotment.