Nice Guy, that Rick Stein

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Virgil Evetts

As you probably know, Rick Stein was in town last week to tread the boards in his first ever live stage show.  Unfortunately a scheduling clash (i.e. my best beloved is obscenely pregnant and due to pop any day now) prevented me from attending, but I did go along to the associated media conference on Tuesday and sat within spitting distance (I know this because a little fleck of his saliva hit my nose) of the great, and as it turned out really rather nice, man.

It’s always a bit risky meeting ones heroes. Too often they are so drearily…human, but Rick Stein didn’t disappoint at all. How could he? He’s TVs most human chef.  He doesn’t throw pans (on camera), he doesn’t swear (much). But unlike certain Essex boys and angry Scotsmen, his public persona, as the no-nonsense champion of quality ingredients and honest cooking, appears to be entirely genuine.

Dressed in one of his ever-present blue shirts, effectively the Stein uniform, he sat about happily chatting to all and sundry as we waited for the AV people and various invitees to get themselves organised and seated.  Despite the somewhat excessive stage management going on around him (full lighting, sound, orchestral theme music, prickly negotiations about product placement…) in support of Rick Stein ‘the brand’, Rick Stein ‘the man’ seemed unflustered, and even a little amused, by the fuss.

He has been quoted saying nice things about New Zealand many times, and spent some time travelling and working his way around the country in the 60s. He talked quite frankly about his memories of the dire state of New Zealand food at that time, but acknowledged that this was largely attributable to a slavish adherence to indigestible British middle-class food traditions. The great exception to this was apparently ice cream, which by the 60s in the UK was a mass-produced travesty, lacking much in the way of cream, eggs or anything else that was very real. Down here however, it was still made the old fashioned way (let’s be honest -we probably didn’t know alternatives existed) with our trademark pasture-enriched cream, and loaded with real fruit. He obviously missed the decades when ice cream of a rather dubious nature reigned supreme.

He spoke excitedly about the transformation of New Zealand cooking into the mature, world-class cuisine it is today, influenced by our proximity to South East Asia and the tropical Pacific, and our access to wonderful seafood, meat, and other first-class produce. He also praised the sophistication of our cafe culture and most specifically the quality of our coffee, and by contrast bemoaned the state of coffee in Britain. Anyone who has tried to find a decent cup in London will know exactly what he means.  Starbucks suddenly becomes very appealing.

He admitted to having a ’grumpy intolerance of overly chefy food,’ of the sort that sounds rather lot like the work of Heston Blumenthal , but also (and rather conflictingly) spoke very highly of his previous evening meal at The Grove, an Auckland dining spot known for its rather cerebral,  molecular-inflected menu.  Go figure.

With a not-so-small empire to manage in Padstow, a new series being filmed in Spain and his latest series Far Eastern Odyssey (starting on Prime this week) still being plugged, it’s a wonder he has time to breathe let alone deliver a live show at the bottom of the world, but somehow he manages to pull it off while still looking calm and relaxed. But then chefs are the archetypal suckers for punishment.

Despite plans for ‘slowing down a bit’ in coming months, he does promise to be back in the near future to film a series travelling and cooking around Australasia. Can’t wait.

Rick Stein comes across as a keenly intelligent, but very ordinary man who simply loves good food. Despite his tenure, fame and probable fortune he still considers himself to be a student of the art rather than a master: “I’m always trying to fry the perfect piece of fish, but never quite get there” I know exactly what he means.

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One thought on “Nice Guy, that Rick Stein

  1. I think his “uniform” must be sponsored by Ralph Lauren. If not then he (or his minder) should speak to them..
    Also I have heard him describe himself as more a cook than a chef. I think he is fantastic cook that we can all aspire to.And a good cook is usually better than a pretentious “chef”