While most restaurateurs build their culinary empires in cities such as London, New York or Paris, credit must be given to celebrity chef Rick Stein who has been quietly building a reputation for himself on the Cornish coast for the past 25 years. And now it’s paid off, with a portfolio of businesses that include The Seafood Restaurant, Stein’s Fish & Chips and The Cornish Arms (among many others). And with a slew of TV shows and books also under his belt, it’s hardly surprising that Rick’s reputation as an excellent seafood chef has spread much further and much wider than his hometown of Padstow; so far, in fact, that the Malaysian government has asked the 63-year-old to be part of Malaysia Kitchen – its scheme to promote Malaysian cuisine in Britain. As you can imagine, Hg2 was thrilled when Rick agreed to take time out of his busy schedule for a quick interview with us.
SITE: rickstein.com & malaysiakitchen.co.uk
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There are loads of restaurateurs and an increasing number of celebrity chefs out there. What marks you out from the culinary crowd? First and foremost I’ve always been a seafood cook. That’s my signature. I started my first restaurant 15 years ago, specialising in fish and shellfish. What made me different is that everything I sold there – and still do – comes from Cornish waters.
Why the focus on seafood? As a child I grew up around seafood. And being in Cornwall, it was the obvious thing to sell. As a nation we didn’t seem interested in the fish in our own waters. Other countries like France and Spain celebrated their own, and I wanted Britain to do the same.
Out of your own restaurants, what is your favourite? I guess I am most emotionally attached The Seafood Restaurant. I opened it when I was very young and have worked in it for 25 years. But being a restaurateur is like having children; you can’t pick a favourite. They’re all different and each has its own personality and problems.
Do you have any plans to open up any more restaurants? No more for the moment – I’m not of a chain mentality.
So tell us a bit about the Malaysia Kitchen initiative you’re involved with. I have been going to Malaysia for 20 years, usually as a stop-off on the way to and from Australia where I have a home. I find its food a fascinating melting pot of cuisines – Chinese, Indian, Eurasian… When the Malaysian government asked me to help promote Malaysian cuisine, I said I’d love to. Thai is hugely popular here in the UK, but Malaysian needs a helping hand. Malaysia Kitchen is the manifestation of that.
What’s your favourite Malaysian dish? Laksa – a noodle dish with a spice paste, often fish, bean, sprouts, coriander, chilli… They serve different variations of it all over the country, and different places often compete to serve up the best one. This dish represent everything about Malaysian cuisine.
Can you tell us about MasterChef Live 2010 and the winter BBC Good Food Show 2010? I will be presenting Malaysia Kitchen at both shows this year; MasterChef Live 2010 will take place in London from 12th to 14th November, and the winter BBC Good Food Show 2010 will take place in Birmingham from 24th to 28th November. I’m going to be cooking three classic Malaysian dishes at both; a salad of grilled prawns, chilli, coriander and shredded mango, a crab stir-fry of sorts, and a laksa to finish things off. It’s going to very focused on finger food and I will use each dish to explain to those who come about Malaysian food, with its emphasis on fresh, locally-sourced produce.
Finally, what’s your favourite city to live in? Sydney. I spend a lot of time there.
As it happens, Hg2 is launching a guide to Sydney next year. Any restaurants you would recommend our readers try? Icebergs Dining Room & Bar in Bondai and Rockpool Bar & Grill in Spice Temple.