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Rick Stein dishes up his favourite memories from nearly 50 years of gastronomic experience

A feast for the mind! The multi-award winning chef, restaurateur, writer and presenter Rick Stein delves into his lifelong love affair with cooking, and his unwavering devotion to the brilliance of great British produce, in An Evening with Rick Stein at The Anvil on Wednesday, March 27.

The show will see the culinary expert dish-up his favourite memories from nearly 50 years of gastronomic experience. Revelations from the kitchen, musical delights, poetic interludes and stories of global adventures are all on the menu.

Rick Stein
Rick Stein

Rick says: “Touring the country with a show sounds really grown up, like being in a band on tour - ‘Oh it’s Liverpool, it must be Saturday’, sort of thing. I’ve discovered of late that I love talking about my life to a live audience. I’ve got lots of stories which people seem to really enjoy: like why my nightclub got closed down in the 70s, what was Keith Floyd really like, what the Dalai Lama knew about cooking and why a pint at 5.29pm is so important.”

As a self-taught chef his story is one of perseverance and passion. From humble beginnings to the pinnacle of culinary success - with over 25 cookery books, 30 TV programmes including 12 cookery series, 10 restaurants and several hotels - Rick Stein is one of the country’s most well-known and best-loved chefs. An Evening with Rick Stein will explore his career, how he established his thriving restaurant business with no prior experience and his journey to becoming a national institution.

Tickets are priced at £39 (includes £4 booking fee). Contact the Anvil Arts box office on 01256 844244 or visit https://www.anvilarts.org.uk/whats-on/event/an-evening-with-rick-stein.

Anne Shooter talks to Rick Stein prior to his UK tour.

COOKING has only ever been part of the story for chef, restaurateur, TV presenter and writer Rick Stein, so while a UK tour is a new challenge, it is something that makes him very excited.

“When I first met my wife and she watched me on television, she told me ‘When you do the cooking I fast forward - it’s the bits in between that I am most interested in,’’ he says.

“I seem to have an ability to communicate well with people. I know some performers who say the best thing about being on stage is that feeling of connection with an audience and that is what I am most looking forward to.”

The tour, called An Evening with Rick Stein, sees Rick visiting 14 towns and cities around the country, kicking off in Buxton on March 15 and ending in Torquay on March 30.

“For me it is a new, fun challenge and a bit like going on the road with a rock band,” he says. “It’s that thing of ‘Oh, today’s Tuesday, it must be Liverpool’ but we have just 14 venues and I am going with my wife, Sass and my friend Tim Etchells who is organising it all, so it’s not really that rock ‘n’ roll!

“I think people will really enjoy the live shows. People love food and they’re going to hear some great stories about what goes on behind the scenes and about people I have met over the years which will make it good fun.”

After 50 years in the business he certainly has many stories with which to entertain audiences during the shows - not least the one that started it all, when he first went into the restaurant business, almost by accident. “I fell into cooking really,” he says. “I wanted to run a really glamorous nightclub in Padstow, Cornwall, for what I suppose you would have called ‘the beautiful people’, back in the Seventies. I don’t know why I thought there would be any of those in a tiny Cornish coastal village. Instead, our clientele was a load of drunk fishermen, who liked the fact I had a late licence and they could still get a beer at 3am.

“We ended up getting closed down.

“So I opened a restaurant in the building, literally just to pay the bills. I could cook a bit - my mum was a good cook and I had worked in a hotel kitchen in London, so I knew how it worked. I also hired some great chefs I could learn from. The truth is, it was the Seventies and restaurants were new and customers were quite unsophisticated so I cooked a bit and got away with a lot more than I would now. I remember once serving a mackerel dish to a customer who ended up with a mouthful of bones. He complained that I should learn how to fillet a fish before I started cooking one. It was a fair point!”

Since then, that little restaurant has become the internationally-renowned The Seafood Restaurant (albeit in a different venue, nearby) and Rick Stein, aged 76, has become a household name and one of the best loved faces in British food.

With over 25 cookery books, 30 TV programmes - including 12 cookery series - 10 restaurants and several hotels, he says he could never have envisaged his story would have led to this point.

“One of the things that is great about owning a restaurant is getting to really know people and we have had The Seafood Restaurant for nearly 50 years now so I have known whole families, through the generations and that is amazing,” he says.

“I have also had so many famous customers like David Bowie who came a couple of times and Kate Winslet who was just lovely when she came just after she had made Titanic, before she was really famous. There was also David Cameron who was just an ordinary regular and then was suddenly Prime Minister. Trevor Nunn and his wife Imogen Stubbs used to come in every couple of weeks and I would see them regularly. I went to see a play called The Score he was directing in Bath recently, starring Brian Cox from Succession, and afterwards he said ‘Oh Rick, it is such an honour that you came’ and I thought, no it’s not - the real honour is that you know who I am from coming to the restaurant.”

He laughs as he tells a hilarious story about how one incredibly famous film star was turned away from the restaurant without him knowing. “One of the funniest things - though not that funny at the time - was when Ian McKellen was filming a movie called Swept From the Sea with Rachel Weisz in Port Isaac and the whole crew was booked in for dinner.

“I was in Italy on holiday at the time so wasn’t around, but apparently they were late arriving, as film crews always are. We had a particularly stroppy pastry chef at the time called Tex, who decided it was outrageous they were so late and told the chef to refuse to cook for them and close the kitchen.

“Can you imagine turning down Sir Ian McKellen because he turned up a bit late? I am not sure if he has ever forgiven me.”

There are endless stories that he will be telling on the tour, he explains, and an interviewer with him to make sure he gets through as many as possible. “It won’t just be me talking,” he explains. “There will be an interviewer and we will be mixing it up with film clips, some that nobody has seen before. We will have some fun sketches of the crew and clips of my old Jack Russell, Chalky, and some of the music I am passionate about along with poetry. I like quoting poetry that is pertinent to what I am talking about. I guess it will be a bit like making a TV show.

“The late David Pritchard, my television series producer for many years, was very skillful and understood that you had to keep pointing the camera in different directions - you couldn’t just focus on one thing. Food was the real star but the shows were about more than that. He was the one who noticed that Chalky was sitting on the sofa, trying to eat the microphone and that we should have more of him in there! You need diversion to keep people interested.”

Filming the television shows has given him a huge amount of material for the tour, as he has many amusing anecdotes from years of travelling around the world with what he calls his ‘filming family’. He says: “When I did a series called French Odyssey on the Canal Midi in France , I lived with the crew on a narrow boat for two months, with just one week off in the middle.

“A director came on to take some candid shots of us not getting on with each other. He made a film called Cabin Fever that had me swearing at the director and shouting that I was getting fat from all the food. People think I am nice but that is not always the case.

“I have been filming for 25 years with the same people. Occasionally we have tiffs and fall out, but it never lasts long. We do keep in touch in between filming, mostly to have a joke at the expense of Pete Underwood, who is in charge of sound, who is a massive fan of Plymouth Argyll.

“I am not a huge football fan, but funnily enough I met Delia Smith the other day and was talking to her about How to Cheat at Cooking because it was a big inspiration when I was writing my latest book, Simple Suppers, and all she wanted to talk about was Norwich City!”

These days Rick does not cook in the restaurants and is based for around a quarter of the year in Australia, where his wife Sass is from, and splits his UK time between London, where they have a house in Chiswick and a cottage in Cornwall.

“I am still very involved with the business,” he says.

“I liaise with the chefs, discuss the menus endlessly and do come up with new ideas sometimes - though I try to encourage them to do that. My son, Jack, does a lot of that too, as chef-director of the restaurants.

“It is exciting when new things happen and we can put new species on the menu, particularly as people's knowledge of food is so good now and customers are willing to try new things. The latest arrival is Cornish Blue Fin Tuna which is brilliant as we couldn’t get it for years. Now it is no longer endangered and there are very strict regulations to stop over fishing, so we can have it on the menu in small quantities.

“It is imperative we find ways to catch and eat fish without depleting the stocks. My brother is a neurophysiologist and says omega 3, which is found in oily fish, is essential for brain health . So we need to be eating fish for nutrition as well as because it is delicious. We just have to do it in the right way.”

A food hero of so many, who are the chefs that Rick Stein looks up to? He says he admires chefs who love good food, who are passionate about ingredients and like to talk excitedly about food - rather than the type who ‘like to win awards’.

He says: “My kind of chefs are people like Rowley Leigh, Simon Hopkinson, Sean Hill, Mark Hix, Henry Harris, the late Alistair Little and Anthony Bourdain, who I knew quite well.”

As for his last meal, he laughs as he answers: “Over the years I have been asked this many times and it never changes. It would be turbot - the best fish in the sea in my opinion - with a classic hollandaise sauce and a glass of white burgundy.”

Asked about his ultimate comfort food, he takes a little longer to consider, before answering with absolute conviction. “It’s crab. I think British brown crab is the best anywhere in the world and I want it with my homemade mayonnaise. I make it like you get in Brittany, heavy on the mustard, how I remember it from when I used to go on holidays and there were fish restaurants everywhere there.

“I make my own sourdough bread at home but when you go to France you realise how good a simple French baguette is and that’s what I want with my crab.

“So that’s it - a crusty baguette spread with Brittany butter with the salt crystals in it, British crab, and mustardy mayonnaise. Heaven.”

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