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Our seafood heroes: Interview with Tim Van Berkel from The Cornish Seaweed Company

Our seafood heroes: Interview with Tim Van Berkel from The Cornish Seaweed Company

Over 700 varieties of seaweed grow off our shores. All around us, Nori, Kombu, Irish Moss and Dulse grow in abundance, but we don’t eat it, choosing instead to import from China. The Cornish Seaweed Company wants to fix that. A rich source of vitamins, minerals, protein, iodine and fibre, for centuries seaweed was a

Over 700 varieties of seaweed grow off our shores. All around us, Nori, Kombu, Irish Moss and Dulse grow in abundance, but we don’t eat it, choosing instead to import from China. The Cornish Seaweed Company wants to fix that.

A rich source of vitamins, minerals, protein, iodine and fibre, for centuries seaweed was a common ingredient in our breads and sauces. In the 19th century, people turned to seaweed for nourishment in hard times. Seaweed was then viewed as a poor man’s food and fell out of common use except in Japanese and East Asian cuisines.

Founded by Caro and Tim in 2012, passionate globe-trotters with degrees in renewable energy and conservation, a severe motor accident brought Caro back to her native Cornwall. During her recovery, Caro realised that seaweed was a low-carbon, homegrown superfood, and the Cornish Seaweed Company was born.

Co-founder of The Cornish Seaweed Company Tim Berkel harvesting seaweed

Tim and Caro take an ecosystem approach to their work, meaning they vow to look after the marine environment. Everything is harvested by hand without disturbing wildlife, and cut sparingly to ensure no damage to the plant. In 2016, they won the Cornwall Sustainability Award for Best Contribution to a Sustainable Food Economy.

Since Tim and Caro get to snorkel every day for work, we were delighted when they invited us to visit them last July. It was a placid, warm summer day and we dived into the inviting turquoise waters lapping Cornwall’s rocky western coastline, harvesting seaweed and playing hide and seek with a very curious seal. We managed to ask Tim a few questions when we came up for air.

Close-up of sea spaghetti fresh from the ocean

What inspired you to start the Cornish Seaweed Company?

My business partner Caro heard BBC Radio 2’s Farming Today. It was about the seaweed industry in Ireland and the far east. She was walking on the coast in Cornwall trying to think about what to do, and put things together. Nobody in England was using seaweed!

What makes your seaweed harvesting method sustainable?

Cutting by hand with scissors and knowing our patch well. We never rip out the entire plant, but allow it to grow back until we can harvest again. Also, we do research into standing biomass and regrowth rates to make totally sure we remain sustainable.

Mindful Chef Co-founders Myles & Giles in the Cornish waters

Tell us a little more about the process, how long will you typically spend out on the boat? Once harvested how long does it take to dry the seaweed?

We harvest about 2-3 hours from the boat. Diving up and down for sea spaghetti. That is very intense. Then we go to our processing site and dry the seaweed at low temperature. This can take up to 2 days. We also harvest from the shore around spring tides, for dulse, sea greens, Irish moss and nori. We have 2-3 hours before the tides come back in and collect the seaweed that way. Then we dry them the same way as the sea spaghetti.

What time of the year is best for harvesting seaweed?

There are over 450 seaweeds in Cornwall, and each has their own growing season, but the best time is probably summer.

Mindful Chef Co-founder Myles diving for seaweed

Any funny stories relating to your job?

Caro and I were harvesting one day, free diving for sea spaghetti. All of a sudden I felt a tug on my fin. It scared the living daylight out of me. I quickly turn around and there’s a young seal! From then on it was playing hide and seek in the kelp, being very playful. It was so good. I won’t tell you about the time I threw the anchor through our inflatable boat…

What do you like best about your job?

The diversity, the fact that we work with the sea and that we supply arguably the most sustainable crop in the world.

What advice would you give someone who is seeking a similar line of work?

Don’t think you can do it; just go for it. But as long as you are 100% behind the idea!

Who is your biggest inspiration?

Wow, there is not just one person: my girlfriend, my business partner, my close friends, my family, David Attenborough, anyone who fights for a better environment or society really.

What is your proudest accomplishment at your job?

Winning Cornish Business of the Year maybe. Or the Cornwall Sustainability Award. Or every time I step back and see what we have achieved so far, employing 8 people now.

What’s your favourite Mindful Chef seaweed based dish?

They’re all brilliant in their taste, goodness and diversity! If I have to pick one it would be the salmon, poached egg, asparagus and seaweedThis recipe uses our Sea Salad – a mix of dried nori, dulse and sea greens – it’s an excellent garnish that complements fish beautifully! Although I do love the tofu noodle ramen too, as it has a real depth of flavour to which the salty seaweed contributes so well.

Looking for more seaweed recipes? Check out our collection here.


Get £20 off Mindful Chef – split across your first two recipe boxes – by entering code BLOG20 at checkout.

Mindful Chef recipe boxes provide you with the tools to cook delicious nutritious meals, in under 30 minutes. Each box contains recipe cards, pre-portioned ingredients and fresh meat, fish and produce sourced from small award-winning British farms.




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