Restaurateur, fishmonger and chef MITCH TONKS on how he found himself living and working on the South Devon coast, and why The Seahorse restaurant holds a special place in his heart. Interview: Alex Reece
Growing up in Weston-super-Mare, I lived on the sea as a child. I spent most of my time wandering around the boatyard and on the estuary, fishing. And I spent my teenage years waterskiing and sailing, which was great.
I was living with my grandmother and she was a great cook. Probably not any different from most other grans, but she cooked all the time. I’d often be sent to the fishmonger’s to get some fish fillets that she wanted, and then I’d be in the kitchen, cooking with her.
We used to come down to Dartmouth for holidays, and I found it such a magical place. Some kind of compass inside me led me here eventually. Initially, I was in accountancy, living in Bath and working in London. It wasn’t until I made a definitive change at 27 to become a fishmonger that things started to work for me.
I moved to Brixham eight years ago when we bought a fish business down here that was supplying our restaurants in London. The Seahorse restaurant opened in Dartmouth in 2007. Every time I travel to other parts of the UK, I really enjoy it, but when I come back here and I get out my little boat, I think, I’m so lucky.
I’m a sailor, so my love of the sea is pretty deep. I’m sailing an old Contessa 26 and I was inspired to buy it after reading a book by a lady called Tania Aebi, who, at the age of 18, sailed from America all around the world. I love the idea of this little boat being full of so much capability.
My book The Seahorse is really the story of the restaurant. It is a beautiful place and Mat Prowse and I, who run it, feel very attached to it. It’s the story of all the places that have inspired us, too, but most of all it’s a cookbook.
The Seahorse by Mitch Tonks and Mat Prowse, photography © Chris Terry (£25, Absolute).
"We used to come down to Dartmouth for holidays, and I found it such a magical place."