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Skegness Is a Culinary Wasteland But I Wouldn’t Change It

As a kid in Skegness, I grew up on fish and chips with mushy peas, fish cakes, and greasy doughnuts. The mushy peas were fluorescent green—they must have had so many chemicals in them.
Photo via Flickr user David Berkowitz

I'm Skegness born and bred. It was, and still is, a bit of a culinary wasteland and despite being keen to get out and buggering off to London at 18, I wouldn't want that to change.

My family had a food business in Skegness so they had cafes, an ice cream place, and a candy floss stall, which was great as a kid. I grew up on fish and chips with mushy peas, fish cakes, and greasy ring doughnuts. It wasn't of particularly great quality and looking back on it now, not at all healthy. But my parents were always super busy and my mum worked as a teacher as well, so I'd hang out around the cafe after school and that's where I'd have my tea.

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I remember they had these mushy peas which were fluorescent green—they must have had so many chemicals in them. There's also a recipe where you'd put mint sauce on it—I think it's quite a Northern seaside thing. You'd get a tub of these marrowfat, bright green mushy peas and ladle in some mint sauce on top. That was quite a delicacy in Skegness.

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We'd have also have ring doughnuts, which you'd always buy in threes and they would always be fried to order. You could have chocolate sauce on them or squirty cream and sprinkles. All the best stuff.

The tourist side of Skegness is geared towards people on a limited budget. It's not like southern seaside resorts like Whitstable or Rye, where you get more high-end food. People value quantity over quality—it's all about what people can get for their pound.

Things haven't changed but people are happy with that. The cafe is still in the family and now my sister runs it. The physical aspect of the place has changed but the food hasn't. She moans about how people will still argue the toss over a tray of chips. They cost about 80p but people will still stand there and say it's not enough.

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Skegness beach. Photo via Flickr user Paul Stainthorp

But that's what people want. I don't think it would go down too well if I tried to open a place in Skegness. It would be a bit of a nightmare.

I still go back to Skegness a few times a year but it's best in winter. It's obviously a really seasonal place and it gets rammed with holidaymakers from Easter onwards. The population must swell four or five times over the summer so for the first month of the low season in autumn, it's great because people who have been working manically all summer can kick back and relax. Everyone will be out drinking and having a good time because in the summer, you can't even get in the pubs. Skegness comes alive in winter but in a different way.

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When I go back now, the first place I'll go is to the Sea View pub for a pint. It's over the road from my parent's house and I basically grew up there as a kid. My parents would walk over there late at night in the summer after they'd finished work and I knew the owner, so it became a home from home. There's also a great fish and chip shop called A Proper Little Chippy. They fry the chips in beef fat and tallow—the traditional Northern way to do things.

There are a couple of places in Skegness trying to take the food up a notch but I don't know—I'm not convinced. I don't think it would ever go high-end, although people used to say that about other seaside towns like Margate.

But Skegness is a Northern town and it would spoil it. And my parents would hate it.

As told to Daisy Meager.

Ben Tish is the chef-patron of the Salt Yard Group of restaurants in London, which includes Opera Tavern in Covent Garden and Soho's Ember Yard. He is known for dishes inspired by the produce and flavours of Spain and Italy, despite growing up in the Lincolnshire seaside town of Skegness.