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Meet The Board: Chris Percival

September 11th 2020

Four years ago Chris Percival spotted an advert in The Shetland Times for a cookery competition organised by soon-to-be Taste of Shetland chairwoman Marian Armitage.

He promptly entered and proceeded to win the thing with a menu that, without wishing to be disparaging, is perhaps not the sort of scran you’d expect an engineer and former RAF man to concoct.

In fact, it all sounds so delectable that it bears listing in full. A starter of smoked mackerel chowder with buttered scallops and mussels, served with seaweed rye bread. For main course a trio of lamb – a half rack, a confit rump and a heather-smoked neck – with celeriac and potato mash, buttered veg and a Valhalla Brewery White Wife jus. And to finish a raspberry and Shetland Fudge mille-feuille with a Shetland Reel Gin and cucumber sorbet and a raspberry coulis.

Chris remembers rocking up to work at Sullom Voe and “the guys having a right laugh and saying how ridiculous it all was”.

So where did he get the inspiration for a succession of dishes that wouldn’t have been out of place at Scalloway Hotel or Martin Wishart’s? “Cookbooks, TV, watching all the different programmes that are on. But the menu I did, to be able to reel off such a high quality menu with so many distinctive local ingredients at the forefront is fairly unique.”

My brother-in-law used to work with Chris at the terminal, and when I mentioned his name, “how is the man, still cooking away?” was John’s immediate and unprompted response.

From Shropshire originally, Chris met a Shetland partner – they have two teenage sons together but are now separated – and after leaving the RAF he ran a property development business in Norfolk for a decade, before he and Marie moved to Shetland in 2012.

But his affection for Shetland food started nearly quarter of a century ago.

Chris says: “I’ve always had a passion for food and drink, even from 1997 coming up and visiting I used to go down with suitcases full of reestit mutton and mackerel, salt beef, bannocks, oatcakes, and similarly get packages sent down to us.

“It’s something that is unique, what Shetland has to offer, and we’re starting to see that more with the TV programmes and the interest that’s generating, and the tourism on the back of that.

“I think food is a hugely important part of it and is going to be a massive growth industry for the whole of the UK. Shetland can really be a leader because of its unique setting and the unique qualities of the produce.”

After getting involved in the food festival in 2017, he was asked to join the Shetland Food & Drink board and says he did so “just to say thank you and pay my due”. “To help show off that uniqueness is an amazing opportunity that I relish, really, and I’m privileged.”

Once Covid-19 leaves us be, Chris hopes to see Taste of Shetland going “on the road”, exhibiting and demonstrating at food festivals in Glasgow, Birmingham and London, and really shouting about the provenance of our local produce.

“I think the excitement that would be generated from the public and trade alike at seeing what Shetland has to offer would start an enormous snowball effect.”

In the meantime, he hopes a similar but “more slow-burning” effect could be generated by bringing together all the aspects of Taste of Shetland’s diverse membership through social media.

As regards how to cope with the ongoing effects of the pandemic, Chris is someone who will “always try to be glass half-full”.

Covid-19 “gives us a chance to reassess our life priorities as individuals and as a society. The only answer coming out of that is to support our local producers and buy locally, eat locally and live locally.”

Once the islands’ tourism sector recovers he sees huge opportunities in “presenting Shetland as a commodity in its own right”, and sees scope for developing residential courses and food demonstrations to show tourists how best to cook the distinctive ingredients available on these shores.

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