Mitch Tonks is an award-winning chef and restaurateur with an enthusiasm for cooking for and inspiring others to enjoy the finest seafood.
Born in 1966, Mitch spent the first 24 years of his life by the sea. After working as an accountant, he decided to fulfil his passion for seafood by opening a specialist fishmonger in Bath.
In January 2022, Mitch will be embarking on his latest adventure – the launch of Rockfish Seafood at Home. This will be an all-new way to buy and eat fish at its freshest. It will give customers direct access to the 24-hour fish market in Brixham where they can view fish as its being landed minute-by-minute – choosing to purchase direct from the boats via the online market for delivery to their door within 48 hours.
Mitch has been on a mission for over 20 years to change the way people eat seafood in the UK – and encourage more people to eat British and sustainably. With Seafood at Home he wants to give the power back to the consumer, bringing the thrill of the live fish market to everyone regardless of location, as well as giving people access to seafood with genuine quality, providence and that just really tastes delicious.
We sat down with Mitch to find out more about his foodie background, love of seafood and his plans for the exciting new brand.
Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, including your where you are today, professionally, and what got you here?
I found my way into cooking after opening a fishmonger at the age of 27. I had always loved the sea and cooking but I recognised my customers were nervous about cooking fish. At home I was cooking from Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson cookbooks and decided I would open my own restaurant above the fishmonger. I taught myself to cook there and learnt how to run a restaurant.
From there, I have opened a further 26 restaurants in my career under the FishWorks and Rockfish brands, as well as the Seahorse in Dartmouth. I’ve enjoyed writing six books on seafood and am now CEO of the Rockfish group which has 10 restaurants, 400 brilliant people, and a fishing boat and processing business which sources and supplies all our seafood.
What or who inspired you to become a chef?
My grandmother was a great cook and as a boy I spent a lot of time in her kitchen. I thinks this is where my initial love of cooking came from, but over the years chefs such as Angela Hartnett, Mark Hix and Henry Harris have all influenced my thinking and cooking.
Who has been your biggest influence to get you to where you are today?
I have enjoyed working with a number of people, but in the last five years I feel I’m benefitting from a lifetime of experience and working with Will Beckett, the co-founder of Hawksmoor, who is my chairman. He has really polished and shaped who I am at work today.
What’s your signature dish?
I don’t have one, but if there’s one thing I love to cook, it is a simple plate of spaghetti and clams. A simple dish, but it needs to be done well – and when it is, it’s just perfect.
What inspired you to launch Seafood at Home and what can people expect?
I have always thought seafood could be done better in the UK which is why I opened my first fishmonger in 1996. Today things haven’t changed much for consumers and there is still a complicated supply chain. I wanted to change that and create a way, using today’s technology, to give people access to the wonderful seafood of the UK. At the same time, I wanted to take away the inherent barriers of eating seafood at home by doing all the fish preparation, making sauces and butters and providing recipes and tuition in their homes.
How different have you found launching Seafood at Home to launching a new restaurant?
It has been a whole new world of learning and that’s been a joy. I love the energy of startups and working with a team that are really hooked into the vision.
How would you describe it’s USP?
It’s fresh fish, delivered the next day directly from the port. We just add the expertise to prepare it and make wonderful sauces and butters to help you create something magical at home.
What differences do you find working with local produce as opposed to non-local produce in terms of what you can create and flavour?
British seafood is the best in the world, you can’t beat it in every sense, so there is no comparison to non-local.
How would you describe your cooking style?
Really simple – the fish is the star of the show and I like to let it shine.
Do you have a favourite time of year or set of ingredients that you look forward to working with?
I love springtime when the new vegetables start as you can do so much with them and seafood together.
What would you be doing if you weren’t a chef?
Sailing round and round the world as a beach bum.
What is your favourite dish to cook at home?
I love curries and Asian seafood dishes.
When you’re not in the kitchen where can you be found?
On the beach, in the sea, a pub or on my boat.
What’s your favourite takeaway or comfort food?
I love Chinese takeaway – it’s so addictive.
Where is your favourite place to dine?
The Seahorse, it’s marvellous and I have nothing to do with the running anymore. Jake, who has been with us since we opened, has taken it on with my son, Ben, and his partner Bronte. It is wonderful to see them running it so well. Nowadays, I feel like a guest. I’ve always wanted to find a restaurant like the Seahorse and at last I have.
What do you think is the most over-hyped food trend?
Smoky barbecue and dishes designed for Instagram, they rarely eat well.
What do your future plans entail?
I want to build a business that is a role model for organisations and can be run with a strong sense of purpose, culture and values, a business that positively impacts the areas and communities in which it exists.
How would you describe the food you create at Rockfish and The Seahorse to someone who’s never experienced your kind of food?
We just take fresh seafood and use expertise to bring the best out in it whether it be grilled roasted or fried.
What’s your favourite flavour combination?
Anything salty, sweet and raging hot.