Ōtautahi has no shortage of fish and chip shops, and one deputy principal is on a mission to review them all – one fish and one scoop of chips at a time.
This is an excerpt from our weekly food newsletter, The Boil Up.
There’s the sound of crumpling paper, hunger-inducing shots of fresh-from-the-deep-fryer kai and very often, tidbits and facts about the shop and its surroundings. These are the decidedly no-fuss fish and chip video reviews posted to YouTube by 1 Fish 1 Scoop, AKA Ōtautahi deputy principal and history teacher Alby Wilson.
Each episode sees him travelling to a new spot in the city with the help of his wife, kids and friends, then ordering, as the name of his channel might suggest, one fish and one scoop of chips.
After two years of tasting, it’s clear that Wilson isn’t on a mission to simply elevate fish and chips, rather he’s in it to show that wrapped up among the battered fillets and steaming chips there is skill, art and history. I spoke to Wilson about the complexities of reviewing fish and chips.
Can you tell me about what you do when you’re not reviewing fish and chips?
I’ve worked at Rolleston College in Christchurch for the last two years. I’m the deputy principal here and a history teacher. That’s probably what intrigued me about this whole food thing, I’m a big history geek.
You grew up in Aranui in Christchurch – how do fish and chips fit into your childhood memories?
In the early 90s, we would only buy dinner once a week if we could afford it. And that was the meal, fish and chips. So it was always part of my childhood. We had our local, which unfortunately came down during the earthquakes. Thankfully they relocated within the area. Gin’s Takeaways – in the heart of Aranui.
When you’re reviewing fish and chips, what are you looking for?
Growing up in a low socioeconomic area like Aranui, in what was not the wealthiest family, in fact, on the poverty line, fish and chips was a special moment for us – it was a family thing. That’s what I try to look for in each review. I’m trying to get that feeling, and then try to connect it to the people who are watching. It’s like the film Ratatouille when the grumpy reviewer takes a bite and it takes him back to his childhood.
How easy is it for fish and chips to go wrong?
It’s so easy just to get a little bit over[cooked], and because we eat straight outside the shop, I can imagine what something would be like when it gets home – it’s still cooking in the packet. Some fish and chips [sellers] poke the packets with the fork so it airs it out, or people still believe in ripping it open so it doesn’t get soggy. You can do all those tricks. But if the chips are over, or the fish is over or it’s too soft, there’s not much that can be done. They can get it wrong within just a minute or less than that – it’s either gonna be over or it’s gonna be under, and it’s a fine line.
It’s such an art!
It is. And I give it up to them. Some of the shop owners, they let me behind to watch them do it all. Even wrapping the fish and chips is a skill. And those busy shops where there’s a massive line waiting, the phone’s going off and it’s mum or dad working, son or daughter on the counter. And still, they just smash it out. They know the timings, no timer out or anything. It’s just such an art.
There’s often a lot of discussion, especially in the art world in Aotearoa, about how difficult it can be to be critical in this country – do you find that challenging in your reviews?
Yeah, it is. It is hard because on one hand I’m saying “support small business, go and check your local out”. On the other hand, if it’s not up to the mark I comment on it because I can’t go around saying everything’s perfect if I’m calling myself a fish and chip reviewer. It has taken me some time to be comfortable with that, especially post-Covid and knowing some owners now and hearing the struggle of keeping the shop open. So I always try and tag on a line around saying, I’m just one person, try it yourself.
The owner of Cashel Street Takeaways reached out to me after we didn’t give it a great review, saying, “Hey, can you please come in again?” And so we did. We got a real story with the food and he cooked us an amazing feed. In those moments you’re like gosh, this is a tough business. It’s a fine line being mindful of the shops trying to make a living and keeping the doors open to serve their communities. But I’m also calling myself a reviewer, which is to be critical, but you don’t have to be cruel. If I get too much into my head, I second guess myself. So thankfully, my wife’s on the camera, and she gives me the eye, like, “don’t be too generous”.
What’s your methodology for your reviews?
We rate out of seven. The seven things are crunch, whether the chips are fluffy inside or too soggy; whether the fish is dry; the batter-to-fish ratio; the overall presentation; the size of the scoop; and then the vibe I get.
Do you unearth things while making these reviews that cross over into your history interests?
Definitely. When I ask the people making the fish and chips “How long have you been here?” and they start explaining that. They’re so busy so it can be hard to even ask questions. So I usually ask when they pass me over the food, and I sort of throw in a few quick questions as I’ve got their attention. And then you start getting a bit of a conversation, but I always know they’ve got to go to the next order. The history side of it is really just wanting to know more about the shop, their roots, how they started. It’s about people.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.