Susan Hubbard chats to husband and wife team Michael and Kelly Set of Tankerton Smokeshed, recent winners of a prestigious Taste of Kent Award.
Setting up a salmon smokery in their back garden was a bit of a leap in the dark for schoolteachers Michael and Kelly Set, of Tankerton Smokeshed.
But it’s spawned a shoal of successes, the latest being a pair of awards from Taste of Kent: not only did they win the Prepared Food section but also the top accolade of overall Product of the Year.
“It was a complete surprise,” says Michael.
“We didn’t know we had been nominated. We aren’t used to this sort of thing and we hadn’t even got a logo which the organisers asked us for!” A former pupil of the couple, Stevie, now owns Pallas Tattoo Studio, came to the rescue with that.
In its early years, Tankerton Smokeshed was known about only among family, friends, and friends of friends – including locally-retired boxer Barry McGuigan, who is a fan of the salmon much to Michael’s delight.
Now the product is supplied to eateries Café Kitchen and The Bubble Whitstable, plus on the specials board at bakery Grain and Hearth in Whitstable, and Forts Café in Margate. “It goes really well with the bakery’s sourdough bread or in a croissant”, says Michael.
Word is now spreading: the smoked salmon has appeared on screen in the TV series Taboo filmed across the estuary in Tilbury, and in the televised Whitstable Pearl novels.
Michael buys his fish from Scotland and has taken time to formulate the best way of curing muscovado sugar. It is air dried before being smoked for 12 hours over a mix of apple, oak and cherry wood, then is set in a fridge to lose more moisture so the flavours intensify. “There are no shortcuts,” says Michael.
Kelly leaves him to do the hands-on stuff while she organises. She offers the product in three portion sizes: a breakfast pack, half a side, and whole side, through Instagram, Facebook or email tankertonsmokeshed@ yahoo.co.uk. There is a smoking about every three weeks.
The initial inspiration came from Alex and Emily, who were disappointed by the loss of their Christmas Eve treat when their fishmonger moved to London. In the belief that Dad could do anything – he’s a maths teacher, after all – they urged him to have a go.
Remembering his grandmother’s recommendation that if you want to learn, you should find the best person to help you, he learned from the internet that top chef Mark Hix smoked his own salmon. Within an hour of sending an email, he had an invitation to Mark’s restaurant at Selfridges – where there’s a smokery on the roof – and learned the techniques from chef Martin Sweeney.
What started that day as a labour of love for his family is now shared by a loyal customer base. Like the smoked salmon, the business has developed slowly, but beautifully.
Keep your ingredients pure, true and honest, recommends Michael. Add three turns of black pepper to a few slices of smoked salmon so that it gently caresses the fish, squeeze on lemon and clementine juice to taste.