Glen Weston comes from a North Norfolk fishing dynasty famed for their shellfish including Cromer crab and lobster. And he is leaving his own mark on the fishing industry by introducing the world to his creation, the Cley smoked prawn. This succulent shell-on prawn is gently smoked over oak and comes direct from the flint-fronted smokehouse in the village of Cley next the Sea in north Norfolk.
Glen left school at 14 to start fishing with his uncle. He was paid £6.00 a day. It was his dream. He fished for 20 years and also processed shellfish including 5,000 dressed crabs a week.
Lady Luck played a big part in his next adventure in 2004 when one of his crab and lobster customers wanted a change of lifestyle. The customer, artist Mike Rhodes whose passion for fishing had led to him starting the smokehouse, offered to sell his business in Cley and teach Glen his smokehouse secrets.
This offer coincided with Glen wanting a shore-based job, more time with his wife and family and fulfilling a vision he already had for the future of the smokehouse. Even as a young child he had delivered shellfish to the smokehouse. It was a memory that had stuck with him.
Glen ran Cley Smokehouse on his own for a year. It was a tough start and steep learning curve but he knew he had to change the business if he was to achieve his vision. Now he has a team of 17 and another delicatessen shop and cafe two miles away in Glandford, along with storing and packing facilities for a growing online business, 150 trade customers and local shoppers.
He uses traditional hand-curing methods to hot-smoke mackerel, salmon, crevettes, chicken, roast duck and his famous prawns in a brick-built kiln. His smoke treatment comes from burning specially treated Norfolk oak.
The hot smoker is used daily. Cold smoking - a longer curing process - continues seven days a week, 24 hours a day providing kippers, haddock, bloaters, and cod roe. The smokehouse offers old favourites and seasonal specialities as well as pates, cured meats and Norfolk foods.
The fish and meat is ethically sourced mainly from local suppliers. Glen launches his own fishing boat from Cley beach. The reef offshore from Cromer is a hot spot for crab and lobster. Local supplies are supplemented from the major wholesale fish markets at Grimsby and Lowestoft.
Glen’s smoked fish and meat, with its distinctive, gentle flavours, and free from artificial colours or dyes, is sold to hotels, restaurants, pubs, caterers and shops throughout Britain. He is looking to further develop the online side of the business. Videos on how to dress a crab or recipes demonstrating ideas how to create meals using his smoked products will guide customers to explore his range of food.
It is all part of his plan to continuously improve and build a business based on fresh quality local products, reliability and service using traditional methods.
The expansion to Glandford was part of that vision to provide better service to customers unable to cope with Cley’s crowded roads and lack of parking.
Eighteen years on that vision remains the same. Glen's dream is on its way to being realised with the book Food Britannia placing Cley Smokehouse among the top five smokehouses in Britain. Glen will not rest on his laurels and has big plans for the future.
The Smokehouse at Cley is on the High Street, NR25 7RF. Call: 01263 740282
The Smokehouse Deli Shop and cafe is at Glandford, Manor Farm Barns, NR25 7JP
Cley Smokehouse's range of products can be viewed and ordered online here.
For the fish stew recipe go to My_Plates_Or_Yours