If James Andronis wasn’t co-director of Victoria’s leading wholesale seafood business, he might have been a stockbroker. Intriguingly, as he explains what he loves about his job – the surprise and uncertainty of unpacking the day’s fish, temperamental market variables and the thrill of a winning trade – the parallels between the wheeling and dealing of the fish industry and a latent Wall Street ambition are soon enough revealed.
But it’s not until Andronis ushers us into the enormous, arctic cool room housed onsite at the Clamms’ Yarraville headquarters, that it becomes clear the world of wholesale fishing is not the place for the type who doesn’t like to roll up their sleeves and in this case, don a hair net.
“I’m passionate about fish,” he says. “You couldn’t do the crazy hours (a normal working day begins anywhere between midnight and 2am) if you weren’t! I walk past a bin of fish and if they’re super fresh I pick them up, have a look and get excited,” he enthuses. Andronis then proceeds to do just that as we wander past catches of salmon, tuna, kingfish and squid, primarily sourced from Australian as well as New Zealand waters. His energy is palpable.
Although plenty other wholesalers hold stalls at the Melbourne Wholesale Seafood Market in West Melbourne, Clamms is the only operator that can source directly from vessels and have first choice of premium fish for important clients, including the Melbourne Pub Group. This invaluable exclusivity of produce was made possible by forward planning and the cultivation of strong relationships with suppliers made by Andronis’s forefathers, before he joined the business in 2000.
“We get to keep the highest quality stuff solely for our customers and no one else has the ability to do that. We’ve been lucky because our internal growth has coincided with a phenomenal boom in the Melbourne dining scene and a general desire to be more experimental with seafood. However, we did the right things early too, like sourcing directly from local boats,” he says.
Reassuringly, Clamms’ commitment to doing the “right things” does not overlook issues that surround sustainability, a topic that Andronis does not shy away from discussing. “In the recent past, the average punter didn’t know much about the environmental supply chain, whereas now people have more of a food conscience. Where sustainability is a global issue, the Australian fisheries that we work with are heavily regulated and managed. Our customers can feel comfortable about where what’s on the plate comes from”.
If unsustainable practice ranks first amongst Andronis’s most despised crimes against Nemo, his second pet hate is a little lighter. “One thing I cannot stand is ‘surf and turf’, where they do a steak with prawns on top. It’s not natural,” he grumbles. Although the modern-day fisherman understands that everybody gets cravings that can only be satisfied with a batter-laden fillet and a liberal sprinkling of salt every now and then, he tends to avoid an overly smothered approach.
“Baked, grilled or raw is the best way to eat seafood, as it highlights the freshness of the produce,” he says. And which produce would that be? “Clamms, naturally. It’s an entirely different kettle of fish,” he says with a wink.