food writer, CEO
Looking out across the waters of the Bristol Channel would be Mitch Tonks’ first significant connection with the sea.
He grew up with his mother in Weston-super-Mare. Just a few doors down the road lived his grandmother. It was in his grandmother’s kitchen that his earliest food memories would form. He recalls buckets of eels arriving at her back door, fished from the Rynes by the local children. The eels would win an hour’s reprieve swimming around in her sink before being chucked, boiled and jellied. Mitch would run errands for his grandmother. He’d return home from the fishmonger with shrimps, which he’d help to peel and prepare sandwiches with, which they would then devour together. These simple shared pleasures were the first small steps of a food journey that would take Mitch to culinary experiences all around the world. But home would always be the coastline of the south-west of England and the place where his fervour for seafood in particular would shape and resonate most profoundly.
Mitch has become one of the most respected and knowledgeable seafood people in the country and an acclaimed restaurateur, chef and author in the process. His Seahorse restaurant has won the Observer’s ‘Best UK Restaurant’ gong; his Rockfish seafood restaurant & takeaway chain has twice claimed ‘Best Independent Restaurant’ at the National Fish & Chip Awards, also winning the Good Catch sustainability award twice. Of his books, one of them – Fresh – scooped ‘Best Fish Book’ at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards.
And his achievements and influence have been further recognised with a nomination for Ernst & Young’s ‘Entrepreneur of the Year’, inclusion in The Caterer’s prized ‘Top 100 Most Influential Foodies’ list, in the Telegraph’s top 50 Food Power List and appointment as the UK ambassador for the Marine Stewardship Council. Such accolades are an acknowledgement for a philosophy that is genuine and refreshing in a world where Michelin stars and viral social media campaigns so often steal the limelight: keep it simple and do something as well as you can possibly do it.
Each new day at The Seahorse, the Dartmouth quayside restaurant begins as though it was his first. Acutely aware that the restaurant is only as good as the weather and climate and the food they source, Mitch has handed the reins of head chef to Jake Bridgwood who has worked with Mitch since opening in 2008. Mitch has no problem in trusting Jake and his team to treat those ingredients with care and respect and to trust the front-of-house team to welcome each new customer into the restaurant with the warmth afforded to an old friend. The restaurant, like much of his business has a strong family ethos, both his son and daughter work in the restaurants and it is the same across the group. And so it is with each of the other restaurants under his stewardship – Rockfishes in Dartmouth, Torquay, Plymouth, Brixham, Exmouth, Exeter, Weymouth and Poole Quay. In Brixham, the restaurant stands proudly amongst the bustle and noise of the fish market, allowing the Rockfish chefs to see and hear the catch of the day, every day. In 2020 he opened a retail fish market 50m away from where the fish is landed. In 2019 he invested in a fishing boat and his skipper, Nick Rich, catches and lands for the business every week.
The recipes in his books are the recipes of his restaurants, dating right back to his debut FishWorks Cookbook, named after the original Bath-based restaurant which grew into an award-winning 13-site-strong chain. But these restaurant recipes belong to the home and to tradition, often inspired by his travels and by such legendary writers as Elizabeth David and Jane Grigson, and always informed by the best of what the local land and sea have to offer, embracing simplicity, freshness and flavour over everything else. Home is the ethos that underpins every aspect of his restaurant business. He wants people to walk into a place and they feel like they belong there, a restaurant that knows everyone.
His fifth cookbook is the absolute embodiment of this philosophy, featuring the people who produce, source and supply his restaurant, the cultures and traditions that pass recipes down from generation to generation and the simple wonders of the ingredients themselves. The Seahorse: The Restaurant and its Recipes was published in June 2015. The Rockfish Cookbook is currently in production for release in May 2021.
On TV he’s known for his ten-part fishing series with Matt Dawson and appearances on Saturday Kitchen and Market Kitchen and has just finished filming for 2021’s Celebrity Masterchef – as the seafood guru of course. He was a consultant for the menus on the distinguished Pullman trains run by Great Western Railway and also to a number of brilliant national restaurants, including Hawksmoor in London.
He is a champion of sustainability, ambassador for the Marine Stewardship Council in the UK and driven by a strong belief that the South West coast is Britain’s Seafood Coast and produces some of the finest seafood in the world. In 2020 as a result of various lockdowns he spearheaded linking producers directly with customers by selling asparagus crops, fish from boats and fruit and veg directly to customers outside his restaurant with all proceeds going to the producer. With demand for fresh seafood so high he began offering seafood experience boxes direct from the port to people’s doors as a stop-gap. He is developing a range of canned British seafood,
He is committed to constantly giving back to the community that has given him so much. He has embarked on an academy scheme in partnership with South Devon College to help train the next generation of aspiring chefs and to supporting the local something that has been a little out of fashion here but building great momentum as people look for more sustainable ways of eating. Many of these initiatives have become so successful a much bigger plan is afoot. With the UK’s exit from the European Union there is a huge need to connect consumers direct with the wonderful seafood that the UK produces as an island nation and that is a mission Mitch has never lost sight of.
fishing industries. He has co-founded the Devon Environment Foundation, part of the international Conservation Collective which has already issued regeneration grants to local sustainable projects in excess of £120,000. On matters of UK fishing, sustainability and supply, his is arguably one of the most erudite and credible voices out there.
MSC CHEF OF THE YEAR
LIFE TIME ACHIEVEMENT AWARD
Herald Express Hospitality Awards
WINNERS of Best Multiple
& Good Catch
THE TELEGRAPH’S TOP 50 FOOD POWER LIST 2017
WINNERS of Best Community Contribution & Best Multiple award
Shortlisted for Best Multiple
& the Good Catch award 2014
winner of Best Seafood Restaurant – Good Food Guide 2013
Winner of Best Restaurant
in UK – OFM 2012
RockFish UK’s BEST Independent in National Fish & Chip awards 2012
RockFish voted by The Times 2011 in top 30 UK Fish & Chip restaurants
Nominated in London Restaurant Awards 2008 for Best Chain
World Gourmand award for Best Seafood Book for Fresh, The Fishmonger’s Cookbook
Andre Simon prize – shorlisted for The Seafood Cafe Cookbook
Presenter for BAFTA nominated BBC’s Get Cooking, 2007
Restaurateur of the year, 2006
CATERER & HOTELKEEPER
Top 100 most influential foodies
Best Fish Restaurant, London ITV Restaurant Awards
Ernst and Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year Award finalist
Seafood Café Cookbook, short-listed for André Simon award
Best Seafood Restaurant for Bath FishWorks in Which Good Food Guide
Best fishmonger award Food For Britain agency & Country Living Magazine