Rick Stein needs no introduction to avid foodies, with 13 restaurants across the UK and a cooking school to his name, plus over 20 cookbooks and 12 continent-crossing television series – and counting. An ever-passionate seafood advocate, inveterate nomad Stein is known for his approachable, affable way of getting up close and personal with local cooks and ingredients from Sydney to Shanghai, pioneering a style of vibrant, real and unrehearsed food programming that many TV chefs now attempt but few pull off as effortlessly.
Fans love your TV series because of your evident delight at discovering new dishes and meeting local cooks. How much is planned and how much is serendipity? What were your favourite moments?
We always set out with a plan, a ‘call sheet’, but both [producer] David Pritchard and I regard a plan as something you have a duty to change at the last minute – I think this leads to spontaneity. The downside, however, particularly in countries where I’m well known, is that telling a restaurant or a food producer at the last minute “Sorry we’re not coming” pisses them off big time. [Though] in Thessaloniki recently, about an hour after we told him we weren’t filming, a deli owner found my hotel room and bought a big hamper of goodies – he didn’t complain…how low do you think I felt?
Some of my favourite moments are the differences of opinion between David and I, which we film. This goes right back to when we visited Tetsuya’s restaurant in Sydney in 1997, after which I was ecstatic and he was saying how much he’d prefer lamb chops, gravy and green beans.
Have your travels to Asia and Australia changed how you cook seafood?
Most definitely. Sydney in the late 80’s was taking off at a time when the UK was lagging behind, and its restaurants were filled with Asian flavours. Trips to India, Thailand, Singapore and Hong Kong broadened my horizon, particularly the fish curries of Goa.
You went to the Margaret River Gourmet Escape in November last year. What do you enjoy most about Australia, and Margaret River in particular?
Australia is my second home, and thinking of mundane but absolutely essential things, even at Kingsfordsmith Airport on arrival you always get a good cup of coffee. As for Margaret River, it’s coming back to those gorgeous wines and cooking brilliant seafood on a beach somewhere.
What would your dream holiday and holiday feast be, without the TV cameras around?
I love Malaysia. The diversity of culinary influences there never ceases to amaze me, not only the local Malay cooking but the massive influences from China, India, Thailand and Europe as well, particularly Portuguese. Eating out in somewhere like Penang is a constant excitement – whether be it finding yet another recipe for laksa, discussing the difference between pepper crab recipes from Malacca or Kuala Lumpur, or ordering up satay with delicious peanut sauce.
Are there any new projects on the drawing board?
I’m planning a big journey from California to the south of Mexico, I love Mexican food.