Rick Stein heads to St George's Hall in Bradford for talk on career in cookery

Rick Stein will share fascinating stories from his incredible near 50-year career in the culinary industry when he visits Yorkshire. He talks to Anne Shooter.

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.

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“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.”

Chef Rick Stein with his CBE Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2018. Picture: Steve Parsons/PA WireChef Rick Stein with his CBE Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2018. Picture: Steve Parsons/PA Wire
Chef Rick Stein with his CBE Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2018. Picture: Steve Parsons/PA Wire

The tour, called An Evening with Rick Stein, sees him visiting 14 cities around the country, appearing at St George’s Hall in Bradford on March 22.

“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!”

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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.

Rick Stein.Rick Stein.
Rick Stein.

“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!”

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Since then, that little establishment 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 more 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.”

He laughs as he tells a story about how one incredibly famous film star was turned away from the restaurant without him knowing.

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“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,” he says.

“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.”

On tour, the cook– who visited Yorkshire for an episode his latest show, Rick’s Stein’s Food Stories, now on BBC iPlayer – will have an interviewer with him to make sure he gets through as many stories as possible and there will be film clips, some which have not been seen before by the public.

" 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.

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"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.”

A food hero of so many, who are the chefs that Rick Stein looks up to? "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.”

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

Rick Stein’s tour comes to St George’s Hall in Bradford on Friday, March 22.

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