A Lewis-born chef and TV celebrity appearing at the Hebrides International Film Festival today (Thursday) is urging everyone to take the festival’s environmental message seriously – so we can safeguard the islands for future generations.
The sixth annual film festival takes place in venues across the Outer Hebrides from today through to Saturday. This year’s theme is about islands, environments and remote communities, with a focus on the urgent need for everyone to take action on climate change and conservation.
Bragar-born chef Angus Campbell, who has enjoyed a lifelong career around the world, is back in Lewis this week from his home in the US and will be appearing at the film festival, both on screen and off. He will be giving a cooking demonstration in Ionad na Seann Sgoil in Shawbost at 6.30pm, ahead of a screening of Cooking With Angus: The Final Episode, which also shows in An Lanntair in Stornoway and Talla Na Mara in Harris tomorrow (Friday).
The programme reflects on his life as a chef and the influence of his island roots on his cooking, as well as on practical cooking techniques.
For nearly 30 years, Angus has lived in Grand Rapids, Michigan, and taught culinary arts at West Michigan University and Grand Rapids Community Council. While there, the media department in the college suggested he started a TV show, to help students learn how to cook, and a screen star was born, with the programme even winning an Emmy, American TV’s equivalent of the Oscars.
The Final Episode completed a series of around 120 programmes and Angus returned to Lewis last year to film it, bringing with him three illustrious chef friends, two culinary students – the show is based on the premise of him teaching students on screen – and a film crew.
Angus was delighted to be back in Lewis again this week, lending his support to the festival and its principles. He said the environment and climate change was “a subject that we should be paying a whole lot more attention to”. He said: “It should be on the tip of everybody’s tongue because that is the only way we’re going to secure the island for future generations.
“If we want our children to see the island the way we’ve experienced it, we seriously have to take care of it in every way and I don’t want to think about, two generations from now, some of the great old solid recipes – cultural genius recipes that were created because of necessity – never being known any more because that would be criminal.”
Angus loves the old traditional recipes and intends to use produce from the sea in his cooking demo. He has been foraging for ingredients on the Shawbost shore – thinking about “what’s there but nobody knows how to cook anymore” – and was planning a stew with limpets, periwinkles, mussels, razor clams and dulse.
Film festival creative director and programmer Muriel Ann Macleod is delighted that Angus will be appearing personally at HIFF.
“His film is such an inspiring film because it’s really about his life as a chef, internationally, so I was really pleased when he offered to come and do a demo,” she said. “His subject is sea harvest and he’s harvesting from the shores. Who knows what he’s going to make?”
Angus also feels we should be more proactive in preserving the traditional dishes, which in a way were ahead of their time.
He said: “Nowadays the big push for everyone is ‘farm to table’. We’ve been doing farm to table for ever in Lewis, because we have an abundance of fresh produce from the sea, from the land, from the air. Everywhere we look we’ve got fresh produce we can use and I don’t think we do a good enough job of realising it.
“I don’t see grouse or pheasant on the menu. Everybody is complaining about deer but I don’t see venison on the menu. The beaches are covered in rabbits, thousands of them. The produce and the amount of stuff that we have available is incredible.”
Angus left Lewis at the age of 16 to begin a cooking and teaching career that would take him all over the world, including three years in the Bahamas in the 90s.
He credits his mother with igniting his passion for cooking and was “at my mother’s skirt tails, every day of my life”. He said: “She’s great. The beginning of my bio is that I came from the Isle of Lewis and I got my passion for cooking from my mother – because it was exciting, because it was something that happened every single day and it was (always) different.”
Angus’s story of how he got his college teaching job in the Bahamas also illustrates the important part that being an islander has played in his life. During the interview he was asked “tell me about the Isle of Lewis” and after he replied the head of the panel said: “He’s the man for the job because he understands island life”.
The similarities would prove striking – such as seeing an old Bahamian man of Potters Cay, Nassau, slice a piece of konk off a larger piece that was hanging drying in the sun.
The man walked away chewing it, reminding Angus of when his grandfather would slice a bit of salt ling off a larger piece hanging on a pulley by the fire. He also went away chewing it.
“The similarities are dramatic because they had to preserve their food, the same as we did.”
Island life has been “instrumental in every single thing I’ve ever done”, said Angus.
“We ate well when we were kids. We never went hungry and it was right across the board, from a duff to salt mackerel to Ceann Cropic. It really opened my eyes. It gave you a good grounding into what food was all about. All you have to do is stuff a black pudding once and you’ll never be squeamish about anything again in your life. I still make them when I come home.”
While Angus’s demo and screening are taking place in Shawbost tonight, An Lanntair in Stornoway will be gearing up for the film festival’s official launch, which takes place at 7.30pm and will be followed by a screening of Patagonia’s Artifishal, which explores how wild salmon are under threat from fish farming and hatcheries.
The films programme gets underway in the morning, though, with screenings in An Lanntair and a number of the rural venues from about 10.30am. Check programme for details.
For more information on the festival visit: www.hebfilmfestival.org/hiff-2019
Tickets for the rural venues can be bought through the website by following the links to the Eventbrite marketplace but tickets for the An Lanntair films must be bought through the art centre’s own website at: www.lanntair.com.
Follow the Hebrides International Film Festival on social media – on Facebook at @HebFilmFestival and Twitter at @HebIntFilmFest – for regular updates.