In the hot seat

Ruairidh Morrison, co-owner, North Coast Smokehouse

TELL US ABOUT YOURSELF

I’m Ruairidh Morrison and, along with my wife Melanie, I run North Coast Smokehouse on the beautiful North Coast. I was born and raised on the Scottish island of Islay and, after roaming the world for many years, I settled here in my wife’s hometown of Ballycastle. I have worked with salmon for most of my adult life – working on salmon farms in Scotland and New Zealand, working as assistant to NZ’s Chief Fish Pathologist in an Animal Health Laboratory, working with the NZ Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry’s Strategic Science Team, and most recently as a salmon smoker. We specialise in hot smoked salmon, but we also smoke other fish – trout, pollan from Lough Neagh, and sometimes mackerel and other locally caught fish. We also produce smoked sea salt, smoked black pepper, smoked oil, and, perhaps our favourite, smoked dulse seaweed.

WHAT DOES A TYPICAL DAY INVOLVE?

Well, it depends what day. We do everything here, from collecting whole fresh salmon from our local Organic Salmon Farm in Glenarm, to delivering the packaged product to our customers – and every other step along the way. All I can say is that a typical day involves variety and is likely to be completely different from the previous day.

WHAT HAS BEEN THE HIGHLIGHT OF YOUR CAREER TO DATE?

It’s been a long and rambling career to date, and hopefully there will be more highlights to come. It’s hard to pick one highlight. We have won several Great Taste awards from the Guild of Fine Food, and from Blas na hEireann for our products and that always feels good, but I treasure the memory of securing our first commercial order from a prominent local restaurant. It took a long time getting all the necessary processes developed and approved, and I learnt so much along the way. So when we got that first regular order, it really felt that all our hard work was worth it.

WHAT DO YOU ENJOY MOST ABOUT YOUR JOB?

I enjoy most aspects of the job. Smoking food is a fascinating business, and I’m happy spending hours on my own filleting salmon or vacuum packing the finished product, but I especially enjoy meeting my customers – the chefs in busy kitchens, the B&B operators and most of all those private customers that come to our regular market stall, or ring the doorbell of the smokehouse.

WHAT IS YOUR MOST DIFFICULT TASK?

I’d like to be better at filleting those precious salmon.

WHAT IS THE BEST ADVICE YOU HAVE EVER RECEIVED?

If you think it will take six months, plan for it taking 18.

WHAT IS YOUR BIGGEST GRIPE?

I try not to be a gripey type. If I can fix something, I’ll try to do that, and if I can’t, I’ll try to live with it.

WHAT TALENT WOULD YOU LIKE TO HAVE?

I’ve been playing the fiddle for about 30 years now and I’d like to have a talent for that. I think my family would like that too.

WHAT ARE YOUR FUTURE PLANS/AMBITIONS?

We’d like to grow the smoked condiments side of the business. People really love what we are doing so we need to put more time into that. The recent Covid-19 crisis has led us to put a bit more effort into our online sales and I’d like to see that continuing to grow.

WHOM DO YOU MOST ADMIRE?

My kids.

WHERE IS YOUR FAVOURITE PLACE?

I love Northern Ireland’s North Coast, and one of the great things about it is that from here I can see Islay. That island will forever be my all-time favourite place.

WHAT IS YOUR FAVOURITE FOOD PRODUCT?

Cheese. I love all kinds of cheese.

HOW DO YOU RELAX?

I love Celtic music, and Irish traditional music in particular. My favourite relaxation is playing music with my friends in a small pub somewhere with a cool pint of stout!

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