Restaurateur Shane Harrison serves up food foraged at Hackney Marshes
- Credit: Emma Bartholomew
Emma Bartholomew finds out about chef Shane Harrison’s Kiwi upbringing and why he promotes natural farming in his restaurants.
Shane Harrison grew up on his grandparents’ farm in rural New Zealand where he would run around barefoot next to the sea, forests and farmland.
His upbringing in Whangarei has influenced the ethically farmed and foraged produce he serves up in his two Hackney restaurants – both called Shane’s.
Lower Clapton man Shane can often be seen foraging for wild garlic, sorrel, elderflowers, blackberries and whatever other delights he can find on Hackney Marshes – with the help of his rescued bulldog Edna.
Casting his mind back to his childhood, he remembered: “It was all about natural farming and being respectful of your surroundings, the earth and the sea. We only took what we were going to use that day.
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“You were fishing for that day and not whatever you could catch.”
Shane’s great-grandfather was the Maori chief Hori Pokai, painted by renowned artist Charles Frederick Goldie.
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Foraging sounds idyllic, but Shane remembers how he came a cropper when he was “testing things” once or twice.
“I was only 12 and ate the wrong crab and ended up with massive gout,” he said, “but then you learn from your mistakes. Don’t eat something if you don’t know what it is. It wasn’t too bad learning about English plants because the internet is such a wonderful thing. And people you meet are always telling you about this plant or that plant.”
He joined the navy aged 17 “for adventure”, and travelled through the islands learning about bush survival. He was part of the dive team in 1985 when the Greenpeace ship, the Rainbow Warrior, was bombed by the French government, killing a photographer who was on board.
“It was he first time anything like that happened to New Zealand,” said Shane.
“You wouldn’t expect anything like that to happen and nothing like that has happened again. New Zealand feels safe and always has done.”
After four years he went to work on an oyster farm then opened a fish restaurant with his dad.
He travelled through Asia with BBC producer Elisa, who he married in 2002 in Las Vegas. He jokes she brought him back to the UK as “a souvenir”.
In 2012 he opened Shane’s in Chatsworth Road after deciding he had had enough working for other people, and opened his second at Canalside last summer.
“I missed the life,” he said. “I missed the feeling of being a chef, being involved in the community. For me it’s the diversity, because I work with things fresh and seasonal you are constantly evolving.”