Interview

Arnaud Vanhamme, specialist fishmonger from generation to generation

  • 5 November 2018
  • 8min

Arnaud Vanhamme, specialist fishmonger from generation to generation

La Maison Vanhamme portrays trade and tradition whilst managing to meet the new demands of its customers, despite working with a product that is indeed becoming a rare commodity and is therefore highly-valued.

It is four o’clock on an autumnal Saturday afternoon not far from the Eiffel Tower. The shop front shutter of the Arnaud Vanhamme fishmonger has been raised for the afternoon customers coming to collect their provisions for dinner. The stalls are awash with mouth-watering scallops, crab, red mullet and other flat fish that tantalize passers-by.

Markets in the 16th arrondissement

The beginning of September saw a new offer on the table from the owner with the addition of a selection of ready to cook dishes, complete with seasoning, developed by his cook. Today it is cod with whole grain mustard sauce which has been a firm favourite with customers to the stall and on the Internet, because la Maison Vanhamme also distributes its goods via an online ordering platform and home delivery service.

A trade that he learnt from his grandmother

His career has progressed wonderfully over the past 22 years spent on the markets of la Seine-Saint-Denis. “I represent the fourth generation of fishmongers in my family. My great-grandmother started it all off when she arrived from Belgium. She used to set out from Drancy with her handcart to buy fish from the halles de Paris and she would auction it off them on her way back, on the roadside. She managed to keep it cold using ice packs and decorated her cart with ferns”, explains Arnaud. Having obtained a degree in Economics, he left university to take over the family business. “I truly love fine fish and the beauty it represents.”

Stéphane Minot, MOF and mentor

In 2009, he met Stéphane Minot, MOF 2007, during an internship when training to be a fishmonger and this chance meeting drove him to master all the techniques, finesse and details of the trade. He then decided to have a go at the Holy Grail of his trade, the famous tricolour collar, which he obtained in 2011. “It’s an extremely demanding contest which requires you to be tough and consistent in your preparation. You need to know the different types of fish, hygiene regulations and the rules governing fishing sites. The most difficult part for me was the shellfish.”

Accolade with the opening of a fishmonger’s in Paris in 2014

Modesty prevented him from wearing the blue, white and red collar on the markets for three years. “This helped me to keep a cool head and do some soul-searching”, he told us. This was the way it stayed until he opened his first premises in 2014, in Paris’s 16th arrondissement. “When I arrived here, I left the place where our family had put down its roots some 70 years ago, and started again from scratch.”

Drawing customers with excellent products

Ever since, Arnaud Vanhamme has been trying out different techniques to keep his regular customers happy such as varying the types of fish he sells and offering tartare, carpaccio and other raw sliced fish. “Customers who buy from a MOF are more demanding insomuch as they expect the best of the best in terms of products and the way they are prepared. It’s simply not enough to sell high-end products from the best of our French fisheries without explaining why they are unbeatable.”

Satisfied with fishing quotas

He is, however, extremely sorry to see that certain catches are greatly reduced, like Rungis for example, where he spends most nights and all because resources have been mismanaged in the past. “When I was around twelve I remember the large amounts of fish spread out on the floor of the Rungis International Market. We used to walk on enormous tuna fish and crayfish were scattered all over the place. But for a number of years now we have not paid any attention to regenerating species.”

“Fortunately, the fishing quotas put into place have started to pay off for certain species. The fourth generation of fishmongers that I represent and my MOF status have enabled me to become very well-connected. For example, I work with small producers such as JCD who have been supplying me with excellent smoked herrings for some years now.”

A seafood restaurant in Paris in the pipeline?

Arnaud Vanhamme has several projects in the pipeline, one of them being to open other fishmonger outlets but he also wants to develop new concepts in the seafood sector. “I want to make it easier for people to buy and eat seafood by offering them in the form of a bistronomic experience. ” He is also thinking about organising a sushi European championship so that he can continue to pass his trade on to others.

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