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TV chef James Martin visits Shetland

by Promote Shetland -

Shetland produce is the focus of the final episode of celebrity chef James Martin's series Islands to Highlands, which airs on ITV tomorrow (1 May). We caught up with James last week to hear his thoughts on Shetland and what he's been doing since the UK went into lockdown.

It's a happy coincidence that James Martin's latest TV series celebrating the best of British produce has aired during lockdown. More time for everyone indoors has led to a rise in the number of people watching TV, as well as a surge in cooking and home baking – ideal timing then for cookery shows. The focus on British produce is timely too, as people increasingly turn to local suppliers rather than rely on supermarkets alone for their food shopping.

"I didn’t plan for my show to go out at this time but the response has been stratospheric," says James, "more than anything I’ve done in 26 years. I know more people are at home but chefs' websites are breaking and people are buying the British produce that we highlight in the series, from Jersey up to Shetland.

"I hope lockdown means that people start to buy food produced in this country. We need to support the producers, the farmers and the fishermen. We’re too reliant on supermarkets and hopefully now we’ll rely again on butchers, bakers and fishmongers."

The series Islands to Highlands is a follow-up to last year's James Martin's Great British Adventures and highlights some of the UK's lesser-known foodie hotspots.

"I wanted to promote the produce of this country. We did the first series and that went down a storm but I didn’t get as far as Shetland, he says. "I got to Orkney, so this time I thought we'd go further and to places I’ve never been before. Jersey was first on the list and second was Shetland and that’s where we started and finished filming."

James arrived in Shetland last summer and was immediately struck by the beauty of the place: "I’ve never seen a place like Shetland. It was like being born with new eyes. The colour and the light is something I’d never witnessed. Phenomenal. The houses, the colours... It just blew me away."

I’ve never seen a place like Shetland. It was like being born with new eyes.

On arrival in Shetland, James, an avid motoring enthusiast, was greeted by members of the Shetland Classic Car Club who loaned him a Ford Capri to drive around in during his stay. Basing themselves in Sumburgh, the crew then spent a few days travelling and meeting local producers.

"I was aware that not much grows in Shetland but we visited a beautiful allotment [Transition Turrifield] and I was really impressed. I cooked a vegetable curry with them," says James. "I then went down to the waterside and there were Shetland Ponies in a field behind me. The water and the views were incredible, with seals popping their heads up in this bay.

"We’d been to a salted cod place [Thule Ventus] and I’d fallen in love with their produce, so I wanted to make something using that and all the amazing seafood Shetland has and celebrating the fishermen. I asked them what was in season and they said lobster and monkfish, so I put it all in a big pot and cooked it and made a paella. My God, it was incredible."

Next stop, was a visit to a country hall to sample some homebakes at a traditional Sunday Tea.

"What surprised was me was the island mentality. There was a real sense of camaraderie, everyone in it together. We went to a Sunday Tea and everybody knew and looked out for each other. It was just the norm.

What surprised was me was the island mentality. There was a real sense of camaraderie, everyone in it together.

James and his team also lucked out with the unpredictable Shetland weather: "The weather was fantastic, not a cloud in the sky. We were lucky the entire filming trip, we just had one bad day in the Lake District. I’d been worried about the Shetland weather but it paid us back for the journey ten-fold.

"Shetland reminded me of the Isle of Skye, but less rugged. It’s just beautiful. I was trying to describe it to my mates when I got back and I said they’d have to go. I’m going to take my mum too when we're allowed to travel again."

When it comes to lasting memories of his trip to the islands, James says: "It sounds really weird but it’s the light. It’s like being asleep for 30 years, waking up and taking your blindfold off. I just can’t get over it. I’ve never witnessed anything like it. I keep going on about it and hopefully people like it, because it certainly blew me away.

"It’s difficult to put Shetland into words apart from it was spectacular and bloody amazing."

James kindly shared the recipe for his Shetland Paella and you can find it here on our blog.

The concluding episode of James Martin's Islands to Highlands is on tomorrow (1 May) on ITV at 2pm and you can also watch the full series on catch-up. There's also a book to accompany the series James Martin's Islands to Highlands (RRP £25), which features the Shetland recipes and many more from around the UK.

Posted in: People

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