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Deputy principal by day, fish and chip reviewer by night
On the teacher reviewing fish and chips in Christchurch, the fate of grapefruit Frujus and a chip that might be better for breakfast.
Nau mai, haere mai. Welcome to The Boil Up, The Spinoff’s weekly food newsletter produced in partnership with Boring Oat Milk. Written by me, Charlotte Muru-Lanning. It’s lovely to have you here!
There’s the sound of crumpling paper, hunger-inducing shots of fresh-from-the-deep-fryer kai and very often, tidbits and facts about the shop and its surroundings. These are the decidedly no-fuss fish and chip video reviews posted to YouTube by 1Fish1Scoop, AKA Ōtautahi deputy principal and history teacher Alby Wilson.
Each episode sees him travelling to a new spot in the city with the help of his wife, kids and friends, then ordering, as the name of his channel might suggest, one fish and one scoop of chips.
After two years of tasting, it’s clear that Wilson isn’t on a mission to simply elevate fish and chips, rather he’s in it to show that wrapped up among the battered fillets and steaming chips there is skill, art and history. I spoke to Wilson about the complexities of reviewing fish and chips.
CML: Can you tell me about what you do when you’re not reviewing fish and chips?
AW: I’ve worked at Rolleston College in Christchurch for the last two years. I’m the deputy principal here and a history teacher. That's probably what intrigued me about this whole food thing, I'm a big history geek.
You grew up in Aranui in Christchurch – how do fish and chips fit into your childhood memories?
In the early 90s, we would only buy dinner once a week if we could afford it. And that was the meal, fish and chips. So it was always part of my childhood. We had our local, which unfortunately came down during the earthquakes. Thankfully they relocated within the area. Gin’s Takeaways – in the heart of Aranui.
When you’re reviewing fish and chips, what are you looking for?
Growing up in a low socioeconomic area like Aranui, in what was not the wealthiest family, in fact, on the poverty line, fish and chips was a special moment for us – it was a family thing. That's what I try to look for in each review. I'm trying to get that feeling, and then try to connect it to the people who are watching. It's like the film Ratatouille when the grumpy reviewer takes a bite and it takes him back to his childhood.
How easy is it for fish and chips to go wrong?
It's so easy just to get a little bit over[cooked], and because we eat straight outside the shop, I can imagine what something would be like when it gets home – it's still cooking in the packet. Some fish and chips [sellers] poke the packets with the fork so it airs it out, or people still believe in ripping it open so it doesn't get soggy. You can do all those tricks. But if the chips are over, or the fish is over or it's too soft, there’s not much that can be done. They can get it wrong within just a minute or less than that – it's either gonna be over or it's gonna be under, and it's a fine line.
It’s such an art!
It is. And I give it up to them. Some of the shop owners, they let me behind to watch them do it all. Even wrapping the fish and chips is a skill. And those busy shops where there's a massive line waiting, the phone's going off and it's mum or dad working, son or daughter on the counter. And still, they just smash it out. They know the timings, no timer out or anything. It's just such an art.
There’s often a lot of discussion, especially in the art world in Aotearoa, about how difficult it can be to be critical in this country – do you find that challenging in your reviews?
Yeah, it is. It is hard because on one hand I'm saying “support small business, go and check your local out”. On the other hand, if it's not up to the mark I comment on it because I can't go around saying everything's perfect if I'm calling myself a fish and chip reviewer. It has taken me some time to be comfortable with that, especially post-Covid and knowing some owners now and hearing the struggle of keeping the shop open. So I always try and tag on a line around saying, I’m just one person, try it yourself. The owner of Cashel Street Takeaways reached out to me after we didn't give it a great review, saying, “hey, can you please come in again?”. And so we did. We got a real story with the food and he cooked us an amazing feed. In those moments you’re like gosh, this is a tough business. It's a fine line being mindful of the shops trying to make a living and keeping the doors open to serve their communities. But I'm also calling myself a reviewer, which is to be critical, but you don't have to be cruel. If I get too much into my head, I second guess myself. So thankfully, my wife's on the camera, and she gives me the eye, like, “don't be too generous”.
What does you methodology look like?
We rate out of seven. The seven things are crunch, whether the chips are fluffy inside or too soggy; whether the fish is dry; the batter-to-fish ratio; the overall presentation; the size of the scoop; and then the vibe I get.
Do you unearth things while making these reviews that cross over into your history interests?
Definitely. When I ask the people making the fish and chips, “how long have you been here?”, and they start explaining that. They're so busy so it can be hard to even ask questions. So I usually ask when they pass me over the food, and I sort of throw in a few quick questions as I've got their attention. And then you start getting a bit of a conversation, but I always know they've got to go to the next order. The history side of it is really just wanting to know more about the shop, their roots, how they started. It’s about people.
The Boil Up is brought to you in partnership with Boring Oat Milk.
Stone fruit season is winding down. Gather up the last plums from under the tree or pull them from the freezer and turn them into something cosy and yum, like this oat milk upside down cake from Carter Were. Click here for the recipe.
They are to the ice block world what the London Review of Books is to the magazine world – the thinking person’s ice block. Grapefruit and lemon Frujus are a cult favourite among those who like their ice blocks a little more sophisticated, a little more piquant, and a little more challenging. Sadly, the love of its fans hasn’t been enough to keep the flavour alive, with Fruju producers TipTop confirming that the variety has been discontinued. Bitter news for dairy freezer ice block connoisseurs.
In an effort to slow the hepatitis A outbreak linked to some frozen berries, the Ministry for Primary Industries has launched posters warning buyers to boil imported frozen berries before eating. But the blanket advice for berries has left “consumers confused, supermarket chains divided, and local suppliers outraged”, reports 1News. While the outbreak is linked specifically to Pams Frozen Mixed Berries, some suppliers and customers felt that it painted all berry suppliers with the same brush. But there could be good reasons as to why the current guidance applies to all imported frozen berries, rather than only the specific brands subject to the recall. According to the New Zealand Food Safety agency, determining the precise origin of the recent outbreak has proved challenging.
“We Somalis are tied deeply to our land, our people, and to our traditions. The forced migration as a result of the Civil War – estimates say there are two million Somalis in the diaspora in Africa and across the globe – interrupted a generational passing down of knowledge, language, and culture,” writes Somali-born chef and writer Ifrah F. Ahmed in her Eater essay. Early last year, Ahmed launched a pop-up in Los Angeles, selling Somali-style wraps, a take on the city’s beloved breakfast burrito. She writes of how food like hers, made by Somalis abroad, holds the history of forced migration and of balancing the interruption in the passing down of culinary traditions with the influence of the culture of where they now live.
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The weekly snack
Gugen mini corn chips hot green pepper and mayo flavour, $2.20 from Bok Mart: I may be in the minority here, but I find myself regularly wondering what savoury versions of typically sweet foods might taste like. What if we made savoury yoghurt pottles, or muesli bars or sodas? If you were ever questioning what savoury corn flakes would taste like, I believe the answer lies in these mini corn chips. Are they any good though? No, not particularly. They’re tiny and extremely fragile – a terribly impractical combination for enjoyable snack eating. And unless you’re scoffing back generous handfuls at a time, the advertised flavours are hardly discernible – other than a weirdly unpleasant echo of dull heat at the back of your tongue once you stop eating. So far, so meh. But it was within this blandness that I encountered a primal urge (which I did not follow through with) to douse them in milk and eat them with a spoon. After all, corn flakes too are not at their best when eaten dry and with your hand – paired with milk and an eater armed with a spoon is where they really come to life. Perhaps these “chips” need that too. 4/10
Talk next week!
Hei kōnā mai, Charlotte