Roddie Sloan is a man of many contradictions. He is a Scot living in the Arctic Circle on a coastal farm in Norway. He has the bearded, fiery look of a lone wolf yet is one of the gentlest spirits imaginable. He earns his living over a small period of the year diving in cold waters to harvest sea urchins and mahogany clams by hand. Despite the punishing pressure this exerts on his lungs, he smokes like a chimney above water.
Due to Sloan's sustainable, non-invasive fishing practices, the great and the good of the food world champion his urchins and clams. He is a one-man-and-his-boat operation in a sea of Michelin stars and The World's 50 Best restaurants. He is the best kept, best known secret that any chef worth their sea salt has heard of.
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Sloan also shuns the limelight like a kraken in the Mariana Trench but today, he is hosting a dinner for 30 guests at St. John Maltby in London. The event falls on the evening of the Norwegian Midsummer, a day when the sun does not disappear. This shy urchin diver couldn't be more exposed.
"The contrast to the midsummer in the north and in the UK is phenomenal, but what I really noticed this time was the stars," he says of his Arctic Circle home. "Even with the light pollution, I was moved to see stars again."
Maltby is the Bermondsey outpost of Fergus Henderson and business partner Trevor Gulliver's St. John restaurant repertoire. It serves signature dishes like Welsh rarebit and Old Spot bacon butties, as well as fine wines. As I arrive for Sloan's dinner, there are people sipping in-house Premier Cru Blanc des Blancs in the street outside the restaurant entrance. I spy Sloan moving amongst the dinner guests—he looks comfortable but has the buoyancy aid of Henderson and Gulliver at each arm.
"The sea is my office and where I am at my best but St. John offers me a little island," Sloan tells me. "I can be happily marooned with Fergus and Trevor."
As we take our seats, Gulliver stands on a chair to welcome everyone and announces canapes of cod's roe and herring with duck fat on rye. Both morsels are soft, rich, and moreish—chased down with aquavit.
We dine inside on one large raft of a table and I sit opposite Sloan. I know he doesn't normally enjoy being in the crosshairs this much but the dinner guests at St. John understand his wildness and lack of super-slick swagger. He is as raw and real as a sashimi platter.
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Sloan does however stand to introduce every one of the night's six courses. Each time he comes up for air, the room is attentive. He does not waste words and his delivery is equal parts zen and precision.
Sloan's produce is similarly to the point. Ancient mahogany clams with sea aster are followed by cured beef and seaweed. The fattest, sweetest scallop I have ever eaten comes next, with a wild sea purslane garnish. An accumulation of perfectly seasoned salt dishes, baked salt cod, and confit duck legs follows—washed down with Scandinavian wines from waxed bottles.
Dessert is rice pudding and brown butter, which at first seems out of kilter with the rest of the dinner. But of course, its warming sustenance is well in-keeping with our reluctant Arctic host.