Josh Niland can make fish scales taste like sugary cereal and fish eyeballs resemble prawn crackers. In his hands, seafood can become Christmas ham, mortadella and caramel slice. He can even turn calamari sperm into something you’d want to eat (no really)! His creative, waste-free approach to using every fin and scale is a response to the typical method of ditching 60 per cent of everything caught from the sea (“How is that 40 per cent of a fish is getting all the credit?”) and his innovative thinking is showcased at his acclaimed Saint Peter restaurant, Fish Butchery shop, and within the pages of his new publication, The Whole Fish Cookbook.
Niland’s interest in food started not long after he was diagnosed with cancer at age eight. His mum’s chicken pie and the excitement of food media offered comfort after intense chemotherapy treatment – he even pinned pictures of chefs he admired on his bedroom wall. These well-known figures later ended up applauding him when he won Best New Restaurant for Saint Peter at the first national Good Food awards.
Before opening Saint Peter with his wife Julie Niland (“Julie and I thought about this restaurant for so long – in every single meal that we ate together”), Josh worked at Est., Glass and Fish Face and shares the many “hectic stories” of his culinary education. A crab-eating competition, funnily enough, led him to being mentored by Fish Face’s Steve Hodges, and ultimately inspired him to open Saint Peter (which landed Niland multiple Best Chef honours and a World Restaurant Award nomination alongside Massimo Bottura and Dan Barber).
It’s fascinating to talk to Josh about everything: from the Starlight Foundation wish he was granted as a kid to his recent Good Weekend cover story, plus all the unending possibilities he sees in every scrap of seafood (from cultivating single-origin bottarga to using fish fat like butter in desserts). Many of these ideas are featured in his book, which René Redzepi calls, “an inspiring read, something to return to again and again”, and are compelling even if you don’t eat fish. (That said, I’m hoping Josh can be convinced to bring back his self-saucing potato scallop one day.)
You can listen to this episode on Apple Podcasts or download it via RSS or directly. You can also find it on Stitcher and Google Podcasts nowadays. Massive thanks to anyone who leaves super-nice comments about this show on Apple Podcasts, as well as anyone who kindly subscribes to this podcast and tells me how much they enjoy listening to it – it makes the 12+ hours it took to edit this episode (a lot of it done before 4am!) hugely worth it.
Photography by Rob Palmer, courtesy of The Whole Fish Cookbook by Josh Niland, published by Hardie Grant.