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Schooling fish at Billingsgate Market

Hospitality and catering students from Reading College took a trip to Billingsgate Market to meet the traders, sellers and chefs who frequent the world famous fish market.

Leaving at 4am in the morning on Thursday (13 October), the students and teachers experienced what is the UK’s largest inland fish market, where an average of 25,000 tonnes of seafood products are sold each year. The complex covers an area of 13 acres in East London.

The day kicked off with a tour of the large trading hall, led by Billingsgate Seafood School, showing and teaching the students the many species of fish and shellfish sold daily at the market. 

After a brief breakfast of kippers on toast, the students were given a masterclass in knife skills by “block-men”, skilled craftsmen who cut and prepare fish for a living.  The students all had a chance to put these invaluable skills into practise themselves, using fish sourced from the market. 

Neil Bardo, chef lecturer at Reading College said: “The Billingsgate Seafood School knows the market really well and gave us a very insightful tour focusing on species identification and quality assessment, with a little bit of friendly Billingsgate ‘banter’ thrown into the mix! They also tasked the students with cooking the fish that they had successfully prepared; resulting in dishes such as gurnard wrapped in chorizo, prawn paella and pan fired squid with sweet chilli sauce.”


After lunch, the students moved to New Covent Garden Market to visit Sheringhams Fine Foods Ltd.  New Covent Garden Market is the largest fruit, vegetable and flower market in the UK, with over 200 businesses and employing over 2,500 people.  Sheringhams, supply fresh fruit and vegetables to businesses in London and the South East, including restaurants, schools and hotels.

Neil continues: “The trip to Sheringhams demonstrated to the students the scale and complexity of how a large wholesaler operates.  The sheer size of the warehouse was phenomenal, I’ve never seen so many lettuces in one place before. The visit visually showed how, for example a pallet of carrots, is delivered to a restaurant.  From the initial phone call from chef, to delivery by the supplier.  Sheringhams run a tight operation and the tour they kindly delivered really opened the student’s eyes.

“It might have been an extremely tiring day, but by exposing our hospitality and catering students to these two amazing markets really improves them as cooks and restauranteurs.  By meeting master craftsmen and experts in their field elevates and complements our teaching, while giving our students the edge in a competitive job market.”