Gaggenau: How did you get into smoking fish?
Max Bergius: Growing up on the west coast of Scotland I would fish and smoke my own catch. When I ‘tapped out’ of my magazine business, I took a fish-filleting course at Billingsgate market in London and then worked in a fishmongers. I started smoking from my tiny garden in Stepney using a shed I bought for £200 plus another £100 on equipment. The locals caught wind of it and loved it. It reminded them of how smoked fish used to taste.
Gaggenau: What’s so special about the East End of London?
MB: This area has a great tradition of smoking fish. At one point there were something like 60 smokehouses in the E1 postcode alone. I moved to a railway arch in Hackney in 2016 so that my fish would qualify for PGI status. Nowadays there’s a real vibe about the area – I’m at the centre of the London food scene. Within six miles we have 90 per cent of the UK’s top restaurants.
Gaggenau: What makes your smoked fish different?
MB: I do everything by hand. I fillet the fish, cure it with salt, then it’s washed, slowly cold-smoked for a day, dried and sliced. There’s nothing complicated, no alcohol, no sugar, just salt and oak smoke. The secret is in getting the details exactly right. Cheap smoked salmon is greasy because producers freeze their fish to make it easier to slice with a machine which makes the oil leak out. Why ruin a beautiful product? You should taste the salmon rather than the smoke.