On the handful of occasions I met the late John Bil I always remember being most taken by his straight-shooting nature and stoic demeanour, and I feel that both of these aspects of his personality flow throughout the pages of this posthumously published book, Ship To Shore (Ambrosia).
This handsome book comes replete with some stunning photography courtesy of Toronto’s Rick O’Brien. Ever since I was a young child I’ve been utterly fascinated by the sight of whole fish in the raw, probably because of all those trips with my Mother to the village fishmonger in Currie, just outside of Edinburgh. For me Ship To Shore was a real delight aesthetically as each featured species is presented in gloriously detailed close-up; you can almost smell the sea spray as you flick through the pages, testament to O’Brien’s innate skill with the camera.
Organised into four distinct chapters titled Shellfish, Small Fish, Medium Fish, and Large Fish, the book is judiciously peppered with short essays on various related topics, from the highly amusing Do Not Attempt A Clambake, through the eye-opening How Old Is That Fish Anyway?, to the enlightening Is There Such A Thing As “Sushi Grade” Fish? Although I greatly enjoyed the knowledge contained within the core chapters, I found myself particularly loving these brief and witty intermissions as I pored over Ship To Shore’s methodical journey through the many fish one may find on the fishmonger’s slab.
Evidence of Bil’s famed commitment to education surrounding seafood sustainability can be found in each of the chapter’s sections, as he speaks plainly to each species’ stock status at time of publication, whilst also suggesting that the reader stay up to date with such matters as he breaks down the rather confusing “Alphabet Soup” of seafood-certifying bodies present in our market today.
Like most of the better-illustrated cookbooks that end up in our kitchen, I handed this one to our ever-eager four year old son and asked him to pick some recipes that he would like me to attempt to prepare for dinner. What with the wee lad being currently obsessed by both insects and aliens, it came as no great surprise that he chose lobster, crab, and octopus; his choice of red mullet seemed a little more random though. I guess the colour of them appealed to him that particular evening. For the record, each of the recipes for these I took from the book were rewarded with “1 million thumbs up” AKA his hearty seal of approval, so for our purposes at home, the recipes turned out an absolute treat.
From cover to cover Ship to Shore is a damn fine legacy for a fellow who’ll be sorely missed by so many in our community. Although I didn’t know John Bil all that well, through his wry and informed commentary upon these pages I feel I can begin to understand why so many were inspired by his life’s work.
(Five out of a possible five apples)
Edinburgh-born/Toronto-based Sommelier, consultant, writer, judge, and educator Jamie Drummond is the Director of Programs/Editor of Good Food Revolution… And he’s looking forward to trying more of these recipes.