Rick Stein, the famous chef from Padstow, and his enthusiasm for local produce helped Scotland find the recipe for culinary success, writes Stephen Jardine.
Over the years I’ve been on TV just about enough to be vaguely familiar to a few people. Often they think we were at school together. One was convinced I’d sold her a washing machine. A handful make the link with television.
Understandably, these people have expectations. They want the person onscreen to be the same as the person offscreen. That’s why the ruling in an HM Revenue and Customs court case earlier this year caused such a stir. A judge ruled that when Lorraine Kelly appears on TV, she is actually a theatrical artist playing a version of herself.
Probably for that reason, they say don’t meet your heroes so I approached interviewing Rick Stein last weekend with trepidation.
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Rick has been in the public eye for a long time. Few chefs have the profile he has, built on the back of 30 books and more than 40 TV shows. He feels like someone we all know well but on top of that, he has played a huge role in changing our approach to food. So I’m glad to report, he didn’t disappoint.
It’s 20 years since his TV series Seafood Odyssey helped transform our approach to seafood. We are now eating more fish and less meat than ever before and a big part of that is down to Rick. He has put seafood on our plates like no one else.
Although fish and chips has always been a favourite in Britain, beyond that what came from the sea was often seen as being a bit exotic and expensive.
Scotland’s ports landed some of the best produce in the world but while the haddock stayed here, just about everything else was exported to the continent where it was properly appreciated.
Rick Stein taught us to how to enjoy the fruits of our sea and showed us what to do with it.
But his influence didn’t end with the world of fish and seafood.
Nowadays it is hard to find a restaurant without local produce on the menu but it wasn’t always that way.
Twenty years ago, we were much more in the grip of an obsession with ingredients from far away. Why would you want strawberries from down the road if you could get Kumquats from India for much the same price?
For Rick Stein, the low point was a trip to Glasgow where he stayed in a big city centre hotel and couldn’t even get a Scottish steak.
“Highland beef is probably the most famous Scottish food of all, and yet here we were, staying in the biggest city in the country, and you’d never know that Scottish beef existed,” he recalled at the time.
He addressed that in three series of Food Heroes where he travelled the country meeting artisan producers and celebrating the work they were doing keeping traditions alive. From that came our taste for local produce.
Twenty years on, he is just as enthusiastic. His new book and TV series questions if French food is as good as it once was. But what about Scotland, I asked him?
“The problem with France is we have caught up and Edinburgh is a great example of that,” said Rick. That is in no small part down to the infectious enthusiasm and easy charm of the man from Padstow.