Along with a strong work ethic and a good set of knives, one thing a chef can’t live without is a good supplier – even the most talented cook in the world would struggle to create anything of note if they’re only given poor ingredients. From the quality of the fillet steak right down to how flavourful the onions are, it takes time to seek out and begin working with producers and suppliers that can consistently deliver what’s needed. And once that business relationship is established, it needs to be maintained and nurtured if the chef wants first dibs on the best of the best.
Milan Hukal is head chef at The Grundisburgh Dog in Suffolk and holds the title of Parliamentary Pub Chef of the Year 2016. He scooped the title with a dish of brill and razor clams – something he couldn’t have done without Hannah Branch, his fish supplier.
‘When I first started at The Dog we had a different fish supplier and the quality was absolutely terrible,’ he says. ‘It was prepared in an awful way, with lots of cuts in the flesh and fillets that were V-cut rather than pin-boned, which meant half the fish was wasted. I think they were bulk bought, too, so they weren’t the best quality.’
At his previous job Milan sourced his fish from Hannah Branch at The Felixstowe Fishmonger, and was keen to get her on board. ‘I’ve been working with Hannah for over four years now,’ he explains. ‘She goes up to Billingsgate Market every night and takes the time to pin-bone all the fish, which means less work for me in the kitchen.’