Story & photo Melissa Butters
If you’ve ever tasted the wild fish rillettes from The Bay SmokeHouse you know what’s cooking. Born out of a vision to provide sustainable, healthy and delicious fish products, these award-winning artisan ‘jars of gold’ are the lovechild of head smoker Damien Curtis. His inspiration comes from the traditional European smoking methods combined with the style of the Aboriginal saltwater mob; freshly caught mullet cooked on the coals on the beach.
Damien grew up in France with his mother, who is from a Malaysian background. His love for smoked fish began at an early age with salmon and mackerel as staples in their household. Arriving in Australia 13 years ago with a passion for spearfishing, he witnessed the coastal waters teeming with an abundance of wild, oily fish, perfect for smoking. Driven by social change and respect for Indigenous culture, Damien learnt from the Yolngu people while living and hunting along the northeastern coast of Arnhem Land.
As farmed salmon has become increasingly unsustainable and unhealthy owing to farm runoff creating ocean dead zones, Damien saw an opportunity in the market. ‘The fatty salmon that we love so much is also full of pesticides, antibiotics and chemical dyes. There needed to be a more ethical and local alternative for consumers.’
He turned his attention to traditional methods of smoking wild-caught fish species from the clean waters of the north coast, such as sea mullet, tailor, Spanish mackerel and the ‘Rolls Royce’ for smoking: eel. These oily, plentiful varieties stay moist and carry the salty smoked flavour beautifully. ‘Something special happens when you combine salt, fat and smoke!’
The fillets are smoked over hardwood and blended with organic raw cashews. His inspiration is very primal. ‘The satisfaction of targeting just the right fish, and the juicy flavour of it cooked over a fire; pulling it off the bone with your fingers while sitting on the beach with family. It reconnects us with something so simple and important.’
You can catch Damien’s smoked fish at the New Brighton Farmers Market, every Tuesday from 8am to 11am, and the Mullumbimby Farmers Market, every Friday 7am to 11am.