Rick Stein on opening a restaurant in Winchester, running a nightclub and putting Padstow on the map
PUBLISHED: 10:16 06 October 2014 | UPDATED: 13:31 27 November 2014
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Rick Stein tells Liz Kavanagh why he just had to have a slice of Hampshire
He’s the chef who put Padstow on the map, created food heroes out of small producers across the country, has just launched his 20th cookery book and has brought cooking to the masses on television.
Rick Stein is one of Britain’s best-loved foodies, and now he’s planning to make his mark in Hampshire with a new restaurant dedicated to fish opening at the end of the month in Winchester.
“My son Ed lives just outside Winchester,” he says, “and over the years I’ve become more and more enamored with the city. If I wasn’t based in Padstow I’d definitely be living in Winchester.
“Hampshire has a great wealth of specialist food producers, many of whom I included in my Food Heroes book. People like Martin Bazeley at Suthwyk Ales in Fareham, Jody Scheckter at Laverstoke Park and the great team of butchers at Uptons of Bassett, who are really passionate about what they do.
“One of my favourite places to eat when I’m in Hampshire is The Wykeham Arms in Winchester. Not only is it a fun place to hang out, with old college desks used as tables in the bar, but the food is really good too.”
Rick has been visiting Winchester since he was a boy, as his brother was educated at Winchester College. “I would have gone there too,” he says, “except that I convinced my parents that it was far too austere for me and that I would do much better at somewhere a little less traditional, so I ended up at Uppingham School in Rutland instead.”
After graduating from Oxford, his first business venture was a nightclub on the quayside in Padstow. “I had a mobile disco at university and decided to set up a club when I finished,” he says. “It was a boyish affair and a decidedly rowdy house, featuring plenty of Saturday night fights involving local fishermen. The police eventually closed down the club and I abandoned the idea to try my hand at food instead.”
With little experience in the kitchen and even less confidence, Rick decided that the best way to make his food venture work was to buy local produce and cook it as simply as possible.
“I decided from the outset to use local fish,” he says, “which even cooked very simply seemed to work for my customers. It’s something that has stayed with me today. Often the more simply you cook something, the better it is.”
“Having said that, I learnt most from bitter experience,” he says. “We used to have notes on the tables saying that good food took time to make, which was an excuse for any hold-ups in the kitchen!”
Today The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow is renowned across the world. Two smaller restaurants, St Petroc’s Bistro and Rick Stein’s Café have followed, and since then a cookery school, pub, fish and chip shop, deli, fishmongers, patisserie and gift shop have transformed the Cornish fishing village into a mecca for foodies.
But there is more to Rick than food alone. His cheery, no-nonsense approach to food has seen him become not only an authority as an author but also a natural choice for television.
Rick’s latest series airs next year on BBC2 and has taken him to the most remote corners of Europe to explore Byzantine cuisine from Venice to Istanbul. “We’ve visited local markets, working men’s cafés, restaurant kitchens and people’s homes to dig beyond the perceptions surrounding Mediterranean food,” he says.
“The series not only shines a light on the long-lost people of the Byzantine Empire but also shows how much-loved Mediterranean dishes have developed over time.”
On his return from the Greek leg of his journey, he’ll be coming straight to Winchester.
“The restaurant is all about fresh fish, simply cooked,” he says. “Almost all of our fresh produce will be sourced from Hampshire, although I’ll be offering fish from Cornwall as I still think that can’t be beaten. On the menu, we’ll be offering classic dishes like turbot hollandaise, slip sole meunière and grilled lobster as well as others inspired by my travels.”
The new business will be very much a family affair, with Rick, his former wife Jill and all three sons involved. “My eldest son Ed has worked with Jill on the design, which has an understated urban feel with a subtle nod to our coastal roots. Executive chef and middle son, Jack, is overseeing the menu development and kitchen and my youngest son Charlie who works for The Vintner in London will be supplying some of the wines for the restaurant.
“It’s important to me to get everyone involved in Winchester,” he says, “and I think we’ve all really thrown ourselves into creating a place that not only offers really good food, but also becomes a favourite with locals too.”
So how does he feel about competition just over the road from Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, who is also opening up a restaurant in Winchester? “I think a bit of friendly competition is always a good thing,” he says. “Hugh and I have known each other for years and there’s definitely room for us both in the city.”
At home, food is kept simple. “I spend a lot of my time eating when we’re filming so I try and rein it in a bit when I’m back,” he says. “I’m particularly fond of Sashimi and we’re lucky in Padstow that the quality of the fish makes it perfect for eating raw.”
Asked what he likes best about his work, Rick smiles. “I’ve been lucky as my job has become my hobby,” he says. “I have been with the same TV crew for years and we’re like old mates now. We always refer to our next trip away as a ‘tour’ as we all have such fun while we’re away. There’s nothing better than spending your days in search of something really good to eat.”
Rick Stein opens at 7 Winchester High Street on 31 October. His latest book, Fish & Shellfish is available from all good book shops. Signed copies and more information about the restaurant are available at www.rickstein.com
• Christopher Richard Stein OBE was born on 4 January 1947
• Before becoming a chef, Rick tried his hand at many jobs including labouring at an abattoir and a clerk at a naval dockyard
• Rick’s mobile disco (that later became a nightclub), which he ran with his friend Johnny, was known for its freeze-dried curries
• His impact on the local economy of Padstow is such that it has been nicknamed “Padstein”