Rick Stein OBE is a chef, restaurateur, cookery book author and television presenter who has cooked for the Queen, Presidents and Prime Ministers. Happy Ali’s own celebrated chef, cookbook and TV personality, Lyndey Milan, caught up with her old friend to find out what brings him joy.
Rick Stein and I go back a long way.
With over 20 cookbooks as well as an autobiography to his name, Stein has also produced more than 30 TV programmes, travelling the world bringing different cultures and cuisines to life. In addition to all this, Rick and his Australian wife Sarah (Sass) have two hotel-spa-resort businesses in Australia, the original Bannisters by The Sea and Bannisters Port Stephens.
Rick and I are old friends. We shared a book publicist in Melbourne – it was 1995 and I had published my first book, Plates, and Rick his second, Taste of the Sea. Our publicist asked me to look after him in Sydney. Without knowing that he was becoming famous from his Taste of the Sea TV series, I collected him and took him out to do a restaurant review — seafood, of course — and then arranged a tour of Sydney Fish Market for him. Little did I know then that he was the man who is on record as saying, “Nothing is more exhilarating than fresh fish simply cooked.”
Rick appears in my Taste of Australia TV series at Bannisters Mollymook and before this, I had a cameo in his Seafood Odyssey talking about Australian food, where he included a recipe of mine in his book of the same name – though he spelt Lyndey wrongly. Never let him live that down! He launched one of my books for me and accepted my Good Food Guide Legend Award on my behalf when I was overseas filming.
Since we first met in Sydney in the mid-90s, Rick and I have always enjoyed a laugh together, so I knew he was the right person to ask about happiness.
Where is your happy place?
At the moment, it’s in Sydney where we have been since COVID-19 closed down international travel.
I began taking a daily swim near my home in Padstow some 15 years ago. Port Stephens is where I was this morning: swimming in the ocean even though it is mid-winter!
The water was 17°C which is the same as Cornwall. It was raining which I just love. I swim and listen to music — this morning The Beatles Rubber Soul album and ‘Norwegian Wood’ especially.
I floated on my back looking at the sky listening to The Beatles. In Port Stephens, it was pretty calm – cold but not for a British person.
What is your happy meal (and I’m not talking McDonald’s!)?
Well, it’s got to be fish: two courses of fish with some sort of shellfish.
Last night I had fresh pippies [a kind of hand-harvested cockle from Australia, a little like vongole] with homemade XO sauce. Mitch Turner, head chef at Rick Stein at Bannisters Port Stephens, had a lot of oysters which he couldn’t use because of the COVID-19 lockdown, so he dehydrated them and made XO sauce. It worked just as well as with dried scallops. He is as much into sourcing stuff as cooking it. A man after my own heart.
So the first course would be something like pippies, mussels, or scallops. The main: a thick fillet of turbot with hollandaise sauce and new potatoes.
And bread and butter pudding for dessert. My Mum made great steamed puddings, Spotted Dick and treacle tarts. I really like British puddings.
What is your happiest activity?
Eating really – I just love eating with enthusiastic people who are also enthusiastic about eating!
And I truly love good cooking, and good produce, and sharing it with other people. It’s incredibly exciting.
What equipment makes you happy?
I’m very into DIY, though I’m not very good at it. I have a theory that one is attracted to things one is not naturally very good at (exception: I love cooking but I do that anyway!).
I am very fond of going to Bunnings (a DIY/hardware chain in Australia and New Zealand). It’s the best shop in the world! If they had a bar, I don’t think I’d ever leave, though my brother pointed out they would need some accommodation too.
What about to drink?
I love chardonnay. I’ve always remained faithful to chardonnay and white burgundy. I like the Aussie ones from the Mornington Peninsula, Western Australia, and Tasmania.
Which projects bring you joy?
Both Bannisters give me great joy – the original, Bannisters by the Sea and Port Stephens. Although I am responsible for the menus, it’s not the same responsibility as the restaurants in the UK. I can enjoy them more. In the UK the buck stops with me.
What’s in the pipeline?
I have to return to the UK in August, but this is giving me the opportunity to make a new TV programme for the BBC: Rick Stein’s Cornwall. It will be an uplifting programme based in Cornwall and should be fun. It’s not strictly cookery though; there will be more on what Cornwall means to me, how it’s changing, what’s challenging, my mates, how many artistic creative people live there and more. We’re shooting in August and it will be on air in January.
Is there anything you’ve never done, that you’d love to do?
I would love to go to South America just to look around with Sass [his wife]. I won’t be doing tango lessons but I will enjoy the wines and getting fed up with beef! I’d like to go to Peru too.
What are some of your happiest moments?
The birth of my first child was incredible, so overwhelming.
I had a lovely weekend with my youngest son in Paris 15 years ago.
Also having grandchildren – you can’t believe how much thicker than water blood is – they are a great bringing together of people.