Interview with James Eagle from The Pished Fish

Way back in 2019 (before COVID-19 was even heard of!) we interviewed Hermione Eagle from The Pished Fish. It’s always fun to catch up with businesses as they evolve and grow, so we returned to ask James Eagle how things have gone since… especially during lockdown.

What’s your career background?

In a previous life I travelled around Scandinavia with a big bag of ‘medical devices.’ Such trips involved lots of hotel stop offs, a ‘no stone unturned’ immersion in fine fish appreciation and a steady stream of gravlax for breakfast.

I became fascinated by the flavours that curing fish could impart and while I was already well-versed in dill gravlax, the discovery of more exotic flavour formats in Finland and Norway sparked an enthusiasm that would one day lead to the emergence of The Pished Fish. 

As a ‘keen’ home cook, I had a crack at making gravlax at home, melding and merging all manner of intriguing ingredients, dispatching samples far and wide to friends and family. It soon became clear that my nearest and dearest were less enthused by the notion of raw but loved my increasingly elaborate ‘smoked’ offerings.

Reluctantly bowing to my friends’ less expansive taste buds, I moved my focus to ‘intriguing’ smoked salmon and that’s when things got REALLY INTERESTING!

Where did the idea for The Pished Fish come from?

The simple thinking behind The Pished Fish is to showcase salmon’s more audacious, booze-infused ambitions by moving away from salmon’s historical ‘safe, mild-mannered’ fish reputation by encouraging the undisputed king of the North Sea to cast off its inhibitions and showcase its more outlandish, rock and roll persona by pairing it with an array of high-quality spirits and botanicals before being smoked in small batches over a variety of aromatic woods.

Fast forward a year and I was popping over to Billingsgate on an increasingly regular basis buying what seemed an inordinate amount of top-notch salmon and trout to meet the growing demands of my increasingly addictive hobby.

Having purchased a small home smoker, I moved my fledgling business to the shed at the bottom of the garden before taking my experimental recipes to the local farmer’s markets where they literally flew off the shelves.

Within two years Selfridges, Fortnum’s and Partridges had embraced The Pished Fish range and I was struggling to meet my snowballing orders. This is when my wife Hermione quit her day job and joined The Pished Fish crew and now it was full steam ahead!

What sets you apart from your fine fish peers?

There are four key things that set us apart:

  • A wry sense of humour – To our mind great food is as much about a sense of involvement as it is quality, which is why a self-effacing personality is integral to everything The Pished Fish stands for. Our core range offers an Augustus Gloop (blueberries and vodka), a Sozzled Santa (brandy, cinnamon, clementines and nutmeg) a Dark & Stormy (rum, ginger lime zest and Agave honey) and even a Designated Driver (no alcoholic element, merely botanicals) among many others whilst for trout lovers there’s Little Cousin Francois, where fish meets fennel & Pernod.
  • Scottish salmon – Let’s be honest fish is the real hero, so never settle for second best!
  • Slicing sashimi style – I discovered that this distinct cutting style in tandem with opting for thicker cuts provided the very best fish foundation blocks when it comes to my hand-picked fish, embracing and retaining the tastes and aromas of my alcoholic/botanical blends. As you might imagine, ‘a personal touch’ is integral to The Pished Fish experience so the team always chooses hand filleting, curing, smoking and slicing over quick-fix machinery.
  • A constant stream of intriguing innovation – For example, in 2020 the team created ‘hot-smoked’ salmon, courtesy of the perfect bourbon/honey blend (smoked over hickory) which ensured a perfectly balanced sweet yet smoky Texas twang!   

What happened to your business in lockdown?

Your readers might be interested to know that what on paper appeared to be our biggest success almost led to our business sinking without trace. The arrival of a new baby meant in the back of our mind that we needed to expand quicker than we originally intended, so imagine our excitement when a leading online retailer came knocking at our door, which in the blink of an eye led to dramatic growth and a significantly raised profile for our brand.

What perhaps we hadn’t appreciated was that such a move, whilst financially sound, would essentially lead to us unwittingly selling off a small part of our soul. Suddenly there was no time to visit Farmer’s Markets or speak to real people, or enjoy meaningful ‘thinking time’ to innovate.

‘You know who’ wanted everything we produced, was very happy with a few core lines and spirited away our limited marketing funds on promoting our salmon online.

Suddenly work didn’t seem as much fun as we first thought, a realisation that got progressively worse when the same aforementioned online retailer teamed up with M&S (who had their own inferior smoked salmon supplier) which meant our services were no longer required. In time-honoured fashion we’d put all our fish in one virtual basket and were now feeling the pain.

Fortunately, Lockdown had resulted in stuck at home seeking out new, healthier-living/permissible treats that didn’t skimp on indulgence. We’d been thrown a lifeline and we weren’t going to waste it. We invested in our online shop, prioritised new product development, for example Gilltong: think salmon biltong- smoked salmon, hand sliced then marinaded in teriyaki, honey, Tabasco sauce and black pepper. 

In addition to direct to consumer, we returned to farmer’s markets and street food gatherings and remembered why we loved working whilst interacting with ‘food savvy’ crowds.

What did you learn from this experience?

Three key lessons:

  1. Never forget why you set up your business in the first place. Yes, financial rewards are important but so is enjoying what you do and always being the best you you can be! 
  2. A strong online shop is the best marketing monies you’ll ever spend!
  3. Never be afraid to be different – our Pished Fish name and logo still draws wry smiles and second glances

What’s next for The Pished Fish?

So much innovation including salmon dips, more pates and the ultimate fish pie!

Find out more about The Pished Fish.