author. Ashleigh Howells
photographer. Ali Blakemore
Rick Stein is well known in our household and whilst I am sometimes fearful of meeting an icon, in fear of disappointment the keen foodie in me would not let the chance to interview a top celebrity chef go easily, and he did not let me down. Faced with opposition I learnt that persistence is the key to any successful journalist obtaining that perfect interview. Steins wonderful PA Vivienne was the key to my success and I thank her warmly for the opportunity. Perched on the edge of a slightly grubby sofa I sat at ease and began what I can only call a chat rather than an interview - I had had no time to prepare an interrogation in such impromptu circumstances.
I attended so called ‘Padstein’ last November for the Christmas food festival and was sad to have missed him there. The southwest is an amazing hub for good food he states, the fish here is of such fantastic quality, A quality impossible to find in supermarket fish. Something I trust he has every right to say with his lifelong experience with seafood, something I've always been familiar with – our kitchen shelves stocked to full capacity with a multitude of Rick Stein fish and seafood cook books.
Stein marvels how individuals are so stunned by the taste and texture of Padstow’s fresh fish, shocked by its delicacy and flavour when they Are used to frozen or imported kinds. This is appalling he says passionately. We as a culture are missing out. Just go across the water to France and Spain and they truly value the importance of food. It's bad how few people even know how to cook in his country. I nod in passionate agreement. This is a lesson I learnt quickly at university…surprised how few of my peers had any knowledge of cooking or food.
Rick and I share the same views. Food and culture are the same thing. And ours is falling apart with the unhealthy influences of American cuisine. This junk convenience food is destroying our culinary heritage and aids the obesity crisis.
This is why it's so important for young chefs both domestically and professionally to use their passion and educate our society on the fundamentals of good fresh local food.
Food writers like Nigel Slater, Stein explains are superb at food writing and really articulate the palette. Being gay he says he seems to have that elaborate language about him that just explains the food as if it were in your mouth and you are tasting it. Food writing and tasting food along your travels is important but it can only say so much. The real challenge for any food writer is to express fluently the flavours- it's steins pet hate – the generic food writer who seems incapable of writing beyond the means of standard adjectives, hot, spicy, complex…how Boring. Food is a spiritual experience it's deeper than the usual descriptions we would use for anything else.
The real test is to try it at home, to take pride in your food and your cooking and educate yourself on the wonderful produce that calls Britain its home.
Not just Britain though - Stein is a keen traveller – I really enjoyed his series that took him to India and the East and I find myself expressing my love for African flavours with him. Having recently returned from Essaouira I'm surprised to hear that Stein has never been. The fish capital of Morrocco Stein says I have hit a sore spot. It's one of those places I should have been to he laughs but I've just never had the chance. You've got to go I stress, the food there, once you move past the standard touristy pizza and cheesey chips stalls, is stunning. They pull fish straight from the water onto your plate and I smile as Stein flicks excitedly through my holidays snaps. You've got to go I say again. Take the film crew!
This talented chef has made his mark on the industry and on the world! Yet his character is personable And I detect no trace of arrogance or sense of superiority. Stein is easy to talk to and I warm to him quickly.
What can you say to young chefs trying to make it ? – I ask him keenly.
It's key to inspire and influence the new generation of chefs Stein stipulates. It can be hard though for young chefs to make it in the industry. Not only is it long antisocial hours, it's hot, testosterone filled and meticulous but beyond this it tests the chefs ability to adapt from the naturally creative being that they inevitably are, into a being of science, skill and control. The key is to find a kitchen that allows you to do both Stein says, with our staff we always let them cook their own dishes and we taste them…we may not use them on the menu though! Hard work pays off Stein promises. You get out what you put in and if you're really passionate you'll do it.