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What’s Cooking? Jack Stein

In this Muddy regular, our favourite chefs spill all about their work, lives, and top tips. Dishing it this week: Jack Stein.

Jack Stein, is chef director of the Stein Restaurant Group which includes The Seafood Restaurant, St Petroc’s Bistro, Rick Stein’s Cafe, The Cornish Arms, Stein’s Fish & Chips and Rick Stein, Fistral in Cornwall plus Marlborough, Sandbanks, Barnes and Winchester. He has collaborated with Rock Oyster Festival in North Cornwall to curate a culinary lineup.

Your first job in a kitchen?

I worked as a KP, doing the dishes, at Dad’s (Rick Stein) Seafood Restaurant in Padstow, in the holidays. Chefs use every pots and pan in the place so it is a really important job. This was before Dad was even on TV (1996) — it was the same restaurant, just looked a bit different. Cooking back then in Cornwall was light years away from what it is now.

What is your career highlight? 

Six years ago I cooked a course for those attending the Food and Travel Awards in London’s Mandarin Oriental. There were lots of famous chefs in attendance, both those I knew and those I didn’t, and it was great to get such nice feedback from the chefs. I spend a lot of time cooking Dad’s dishes but this was my own — turbot, white miso, broth, and Iberico ham.

Sum up your food philosophy?

It’s similar to Dad’s really; I like working and eating in places where the food is not everything but the whole works have been taken into account. Simple – but good – food, great wine list, great vibe.

Most memorable moment at work? 

Cooking for Gordon Ramsay, who is a good friend of Mum and Dad’s. He’d come down (to Cornwall) on a stag do and he was the first big chef for which I’d ever cooked. Gordon’s such an inspiration to my generation of chefs; for me, he’s the one I have looked up to, so knowing it was him that I was serving up turbot hollandaise to, even though I’ve cooked it a thousand times, brought me extra pressure. I can understand how people feel cooking for Dad.

Ever cooked for anyone famous? 

Yes, loads. Aside from well known chefs, Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow stand out. David Bowie came in once, but I wasn’t cooking. I would really have liked to have cooked for Anthony Bourdain; he’s the only person in my industry that I would have liked to have met and I never have done. My dad’s wife Sarah was his PR in Australia and I thought one day I would have met him. He would have understood the food. 

What’s been your biggest mistake at work? 

God, loads! So many! The stand out one is elvers (baby eels) which were ridiculously expensive. We don’t serve them anymore as they are not sustainable, but back then we’d keep them in buckets, alive, until we needed them. I dropped a whole 500g pot of them in the walk-in larder fridge, the “chill room” and let me tell you, they move at the rate of knots!

You’re tired, starving and impatient: what do you cook for dinner? 

Not elvers! I love a pizza and a kebab, but when I’m at home and really rushed for time, I maybe would rustle up a quick bean stew – its hearty, nourishing and fills you up. Fry some garlic and shallots with a bit of pancetta or chorizo, wilt some kale down, likewise parsley, shove in the tinned pulses (Borlotti beans, cannelloni beans etc) and add some tomatoes etc.

What would you cook to impress a date? 

Lucy and I cooked a lot together before we got together. We met in Australia, and had a whirlwind romance. Rib eye, with a baked potato and basil and mozzarella, Caprese salad with shallots was a go to meal for the two of us. We used to cook a lot of dry aged beef in Australia, so I’d probably get a 40-day aged steak from a Dexter which is full of flavour, to try to show her the difference.

Favourite chef? 

Simon Hopkinson. He’s my favourite to talk to. Bibendum laid the foundations for restaurant culture in the UK. He’s not technically the most exciting food that I’ve ever eaten but the whole experience is just awesome.

Favourite cookbook? 

Roast Chicken and Other Stories (by Simon Hopkinson) is the one the I look at that the most.

Favourite type of cuisine? 

Ooh, tough one. I’d probably say Regional Thai, especially Northern Thai. Thailand is a bit like Spanish and Indian cuisine; all three have some really amazing food and some really terrible. But then, while all the regions are different some of the best cuisine and best culinary experiences in the world are Spanish. Or, maybe back to Thai, just for the sheer regional variation. Spanish would be a very close second perhaps. I’d love to understand the cuisine of China and Japan better, but they are much harder barriers to get to grips with, and a cuisine so vast that it would take another life time to understand.

Favourite kitchen gadget? 

Temperature probe. I can’t cook without one. It is so important to know what temperature you’re looking for, so a probe makes things so much easier. Chicken is the hardest meat to cook; it’s pretty much only animal we cook whole, and almost impossible to cook perfectly without a probe. There are so many variables in a domestic kitchen they should probably give them away with cookbooks and forget about timings and oven temperatures.

Favourite local hotspots? 

Paul Ainsworth‘s restaurants. Love his attention to detail. He worked for Gordon and you can tell. The Gurnard’s Head in Zennor (above), it’s got a great feel and the food is fantastic, and lovely walks nearby. Coombeshead Farm, we buy his bread for work; it is the best sourdough in the world. We are very lucky to have that in Cornwall. Nathan Outlaw, is the nicest bloke, and (along with Rick, obvs) the best fish chef in the country.

Favourite local markets and suppliers? 

Loads – I like Warrens (Philip Warren in Launceston) who is our meat supplier as well as Matthew Stevens in St Ives, who is our fish supplier. They are an amazing family business – it’s now in the hands of the next generation under his daughter Andrea. In Padstow itself, Murt’s Shellfish and then Ross Geach at Padstow Kitchen Garden (below). I also like Trewithen Dairy and Camel Valley sparkling wine. We are very lucky with where we are; there are a lot of chefs in a small area which helps with the producers. It is an interesting approach; they learn from the restaurant and then sell to the consumer.

Favourite things to eat when you’re on holiday? 

Anywhere that is busy and on the street is a good place to start. I’ve got a good sense of when something looks like a tourist trap and avoid that but otherwise, anything off the street.

Favourite ingredient and why? 

Salt. I do also like a full umami taste (from something like marmite, fish sauce, soy, or parmesan rind, which I use a lot) but it would have to be salt if it were just one. Cornish Sea Salt but Malden is exceptional too.

Most overrated ingredient? 

Lemon thyme. Pointless. It isn’t thyme. Thyme is my favourite herb and one of favourite ingredients. But lemon thyme is a bad impersonator. 

What mistake do inexperienced cooks tend to make? 

They don’t season as they go. It is so important so learn this: season as you go. Put onions in, season, then garlic, season. Season every layer. Raymond Blanc teaches this too. Season as you go properly, then you don’t need to do it at the end. 

The dish you’re most proud of creating? 

Turbot with miso. Then Dad nicked it for his book!

Tell us your best ever cooking tip? 

Probe; season; and never stop tasting.

Three dishes every home cook should master? 

Full English, Roast Dinner, and some sort of curry. Sounds a bit British but there is a reason for it. The first two are all about sourcing ingredients and secondly, both require lots of elements to come together at once. If you can cook one of these two, you can cook anything. Once you can do that, keep things warm, some resting, and bring it all together instinctively, you can cook. A traditional French dish has all those elements too. And then a curry of some sort, because its about spices, tempering, making salads, various little skills, and everyone loves a curry so it’s a favourite. Make the spice paste, make the little salads, naan breads etc. It’s actually quite complicated but if you can master all three of these you can be a professional chef. It would also definitely be a good weekend if you manage to have all three, although you’d want to go for a run on the Monday morning! 

How can we be more sustainable in the kitchen?

Eat less processed meat. Make the effort to spend more money on better quality meat – it is about making a change more locally. Reinvestment of small businesses, its not just food miles, it’s keeping the local businesses going, as well as the actual environmental.

Are you looking forward to Rock Oyster festival?

Yes! All I’ve really done is phone a few chef friends for the demos. I didn’t personally ask the Happy Mondays! But I am really proud of the fact that there are a good mix of male / female chefs at the demos. I’m really looking forward to it; Paul did a great job last year, and having someone to host really personalises it. 

Jack will be inviting foodie friends and enthusiasts from the South West and beyond to his home county for three days of pop-up restaurants, open-fire cooking, and chef demos, teaching audiences how to create dishes using top-quality local, seasonal produce.

The music line-up includes a host of household names, such as Happy Mondays, Laura Mvula and Passenger. Festival-goers will also have the opportunity to take advantage of everything the north Cornwall coastline has to offer, including wellbeing activities and watersports such as yoga, paddle boarding, canoeing and much more.

Rock Oyster Festival runs from 29 – 31 July.

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