A prestigious chef has turned his back on the world of fine dining – to open a chippy in one of the UK’s most deprived areas.
Derek Hughes used to work at a luxurious four-star resort in the Highlands where he prepared anything from exquisite salmon fillets to lobster.
But the top chef now fries up greasy grub at his chip shop in one of the country’s most deprived neighbourhoods.
He made the change after working at posh Moness Resort in Aberfeldy, Perthshire, and serving rich punters at the Chester Racecourse.
But Derek says he’s found it more enjoyable to run the Caia Fryer chip shop in the middle of Wrexham’s Caia Park — one of the largest housing estates in Wales.
Derek, 41, said: “It’s an average chippy. The name and the branding’s good but I’m not doing oysters or lobsters.
“When the batter is right and you coat the fish and see it going nice and crisp it’s an instant reward.
“It’s as good as some inspector telling me my lamb’s cooked well.”
While the area may lack the glamour of Britain’s oldest racecourse, Derek said it makes up for it in community spirit.
He said that more upmarket patrons “expected so much but didn’t always show the appreciation”.
“People down here like the effort you put in. Being here has been great. It’s just nice to put something down on the counter that people enjoy straight away.”
The Caia Fryer is as traditional as they come.
A large cod supper costs a fiver, and two quid will get you any sort of pie, from minced beef and onion to chicken curry.
A selection of greasy grub is available on the side, including meaty gravy, pickled onions and home made chunky onion rings.
It marks a change from the time when Derek had to cook up scallops with a cauliflower puree, chorizo and a coriander butter.
The chef, who is originally from Coatbridge in Scotland, raised a few eyebrows when he initially told of his plans to relocate from the hotel to the housing estate.
The area has a bad reputation — in 2014 it was ranked as one of the most deprived areas in the UK by the Welsh Government.
But Derek shrugged that off and said: “Coming up in Coatbridge I was brought up in a place people classified like this.
“It’s easy to look down at and say it’s terrible but nobody’s said a bad word to me at all.
“It’s easy to put down Wrexham but most people that put it down don’t get to go to communities like this.
“My town of Coatbridge was hardly the capital of culture either.”
Derek explained that his wife Carys had a landlord friend who saw a good opportunity to redevelop the site of a former social club.
He said: “She knows the area well and it was just the right time in the right place.
“It was just a really good opportunity. It was right in the middle of the community – which is where I was always told you had to be if you ever had a fish and chips shop.
“I had a look and I thought this was a good spot.”
Derek has no regrets about setting the chippy up and thinks that more chefs should take a leap into the unknown.
But he joked: “Just don’t do it next to me.”
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