Rick Stein OBE is an English chef, restaurateur, cookbook author and television presenter. He has written over 20 cookery books, an autobiography and made over 30 TV programmes including 12 cookery series.
Rick has a passion for fresh seafood. In the 1990’s he became well known for his television series and cookbooks on his life as chef and owner of ‘The Seafood Restaurant’ in the fishing port of Padstow, England. His food business has since expanded to 12 restaurants in the UK and one in NSW, Rick Stein at Bannisters in Mollymook, NSW.
In the middle of tightly scheduled international appearances, Rick chats with Carolina Holzmeister about the expansion of his restaurant empire, sourcing fresh produce for his restaurants and the elusive definition of Australian cuisine.
“Cooking is like language, it just develops. I think there is a sort of a sense of Australian cuisine and it will develop in time. It is a mix of influences from Mediterranean and South-East Asian cuisine and many other influences.”
CH: Do you do a lot of cooking yourself these days?
Chef RS: I don’t actually because I am sort of too old for a start. I’m travelling quite a great deal and I have really good managers and chefs, but if I find something is not great I will still go the kitchen and say ‘right, get around here and I’ll show you how to do this properly.’
I mean, the thing that I really enjoy now is to work with young chefs and sort of mentor them. Make them cook the stuff that I like, which is basically simply cooked fresh seafood. There are a lot of young chefs all over Australia opening up restaurants and the chefs today are thinking the same sort of way – it’s all about good produce, it’s not too much about putting skill into food. You know, the fanciness, which I call the ‘school of spit and chives’.
CH: How did you expand your restaurant business?
Chef RS: We have 12 restaurants in the UK and one in NSW, Bannisters, which is about three-and-a-half-hours drive south from Sydney. The reason behind the expansion I suppose is that being on TV my name is good but more important than that is building a management structure. Having enough turnover to be able to pay good money to top managers to be able to gear the business.
CH: How do you source fresh produce to the restaurant? Can you tell me more about your relationship with the producers?
Chef RS: If you started in Mollymook 20 years ago, you would have to encourage a relationship with the local suppliers, otherwise they would send their produce to Sydney markets. We don’t want this mass production; we want to start growing special tomatoes or greens for example. And I find that back in Padstow we have a local farmer that now we talk to each February about what we want to grow for the year ahead.
I think chefs these days are much more looking around what is available in the area, not just working in the kitchen. Formally, chefs just cook what came in the door, now we are going out and finding the good stuff, and customers like to see on the menu that their fish comes from that part of the ocean and their vegetable comes from that particular farm. It’s very much the interrelation between the chef and supplier. The chefs I spend time with love going out on fishing boats and love going out to farms and asking about the quality of the soil, and this part of the world is fabulous for all of that.
CH: After opening all of your fish restaurants, how did the local fish merchants and markets supplying to your restaurants evolve to cater to your needs?
Chef RS: There are parts in the UK where there isn’t a fish market. The problem is that when you don’t have a fish market you can’t have fresh fish as a small restaurant. Of course, you can have a few deals with a local fisherman, but the problem is that fishermen go off for specific catches, they can’t bring all the fish that you need for your menu. Therefore, it’s really important that restaurants are growing in certain areas because their request for local produce will stimulate the local economy.
I’m afraid that the problem both here and back in the UK is that people don’t like fish as much as the Spanish or French do. I’m sure that those of you who have been to Spain and France will have noticed wherever you go, either inland or coast, there is always a wonderful fish shop. If you live in smart parts of Sydney, Melbourne or Perth, for example, you will find fish shops but they are not as frequent as they should be.
CH: Can you define Australian cuisine?
Chef RS: I don’t think it is definable at the moment. That is an interesting question. There was an Australian customer who came to me in Padstow and said: ‘We are so lucky in Australia because we don’t have this boring British food tradition.’ I replied, ‘What cuisine do you think that (Australian cuisine) is?’ Australian cuisine is Italian, is Thai, is Chinese. It’s a bit of everything and that is what is so great about it. That’s no one cuisine as such.
Cooking is like language, it just develops. I think there is a sort of a sense of Australian cuisine and it will develop in time. It is a mix of influences from Mediterranean and South-East Asian cuisine and many other influences.
There is a nice book about American cooking that has taken this idea that their food is mostly all about the mix of ethnic groups that emigrated to America and brought their food culture to their new home. In the book, there is featured a food truck in L.A. where they are making tacos with Korean fillings. It’s sort of like Kimchi and carnitas, which is slow-cooked pork, in a taco!
CH: What’s your favourite Australian native seafood?
Chef RS: I love all seafood from Australia, but my favourite seafood has to be marron from Western Australian.
Gourmet Escape 2017 – Sunday Lunch with Rick Stein at the Watershed Restaurant in Margaret River (30 April 2018). Watershed Margaret River. Retrieved from https://www.watershedwines.com.au/gourmet-escape-rick-stein-watershed-restaurant-margaret-river