Rick Stein: Pearls of Wisdom

By William Drew

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags: Seafood, Food

Rick Stein. Photo: Anna McCarthy
Rick Stein. Photo: Anna McCarthy
The chef and TV presenter runs three seafood restaurants in Cornwall, as well as two fish and chips shops and numerous related ventures. Now based partly in Australia, he talks fish, fights and fair portions.

We’ve just opened a fish shop in Padstow​, which is very exciting. Fishmongers are closing all the time so we’re trying to do our bit for the industry. It’s been very encouraging so far.

It’s pretty rare that I cook in a restaurant kitchen​ [during service] these days, but I’m still developing recipes for the books and writing the restaurants’ menus.

My advice to young chefs is to eat out as much as you can.​ Too many chefs aren’t really interested in food. You’ve got to be greedy, to love to eat.

In 1973, a friend and I opened a nightclub in Padstow.​ It caused tremendous aggro. We had a licence until 1am, a lot of pretty girls there, but we couldn’t keep order and there were endless fights. We had to close the club in the end, but they left us with a restaurant licence, so that’s how we started – by accident really.

I do find it disappointing we don’t eat all the fish we catch.​ It takes an awful lot to change old habits in this country. But 10 years ago there really weren’t many seafood restaurants around, and that’s changed.

I had to be in the kitchen [when The Seafood Restaurant opened]​, there was no money for anyone else. I could chop stuff up and do all the basics. I didn’t have any great technique, but I knew how good the local fish was. We kept it simple – we still do.

Raymond Blanc’s first restaurant in the 70s was a revelation.​ All he was doing was taking local cooking from Besancon [in northern France] where he came from and doing it in Oxford, but that was an eye-opener for us all.

I went through a phase of falling out of love with restaurant food​ because it got too elaborate, too showy.

Despite the trauma of the club, it did make me very aware of the cost of things​. Even back then I worked out the margins we needed to operate at. You’ve got to have an instinct for balancing things like lobster with fish pies and soup.

I ate at Etxebarri when I was in Spain filming recently​ – now there’s a man [Victor Arguinzoniz] after my own heart. Everything has a slightly smoky taste, and he grills really high-quality seafood. Then you end all these courses with a beef chop from aged cattle with just so ​much flavour.

Lots of restaurants get away with serving very small portions of fish​. I look at them with a mixture of irritation and quiet envy. Our servings of fish are 180g-200g, as opposed to 130g-150g with lots of extra bits to fill up the plate.

I’ve taken to going to Bocca di Lupo [in London].​ It is Italian regional cooking the way you want it, even though he’s not Italian.

The Lebanese restaurants in Sydney are superb​ – the food is very close to what you’d find in Beirut because they are relatively recent immigrants. But that’s how it works with immigrant cooking: it starts off being exactly like it was back home, and then gradually gets diluted.

I was cooking [in the restaurant] until my early 50s, and by God it was tough.​ I was tired and stroppy and you don’t get time to enjoy it. Now I take delight in the restaurants – and when I go into the kitchen, I can just stand at the pass and try stuff.

My son Jack, who’s a trained chef, is in charge of development.​ He’s recently gone off to work with Michel Bras. I have no problem with him taking over the business – that’s the plan.

Whenever I go into José Pizarro’s places​, I think ‘fuck, this is good’.

I’ve followed The World’s 50 Best Restaurants for years.​ Of course it’s difficult to compare a great Chinese place with a French one, but it’s worth it because it draws people’s attention to good restaurants and interesting food.

Related topics: People, Restaurants, Pearls of Wisdom

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