Loving life in hospitality: Jack Stein
Jack Stein is chef-director of the Rick Stein Group and the middle son of celebrity chef Rick Stein. He speaks to Katie Pathiaki about his first experience with oysters, being bitten by crabs in Australia and his upcoming recipe book
What was your first experience with food? I remember trying oysters in Britanny when I was four. I thought they were so weird but my brother goaded me into eating one.
When did you know that you wanted to be a chef? In our family the Seafood Restaurant was ever-present; it is and always will be part of the family. Both mum and dad told me I should go and do something different to cheffing, so I studied psychology at Cardiff. During that time I realised I'd learned a lot from being surrounded by food my whole life. I had always worked in restaurants as a kitchen porter and waiter, so I decided to finish uni and go in as a commis.
What is the biggest lesson you have learned over the years? I think watching my parents and how little they have changed their basic philosophy about hospitality. The best raw ingredients, in a buzzy atmosphere, simply done. Over the years trends have come and gone, but theirs is timeless.
What are the key fundamentals to operating a successful business? Making sure your staff are respected and well looked after. I think this is where mum has had the most impact. People see someone who has been doing it for 43 years and ask how she has managed it. I think she has huge empathy for our staff; she really encourages everyone to think about how the team are treated and developed.
We shot it in Western Australia, which is an area blessed with fantastic natural resources and produce. There it's about getting to know the producers, why they have chosen that particular product and making amazing things with it. I have a pretty bubbly style, I get bitten by crabs and generally make lots of mistakes, but I like the honesty of admitting when you do - I'm not a perfectionist.
Would you like to have a TV series in the UK?Born to Cook was shown on UKTV and is set for a repeat in March, I believe. I'd love to do another series so watch this space!
Also you've got a cookbook coming out soon? I have. I'm very lucky to have travelled a lot, so for the book I used all my experiences to create great world dishes with fantastic British produce. Dishes like gado gado, which is Indonesian peanut sauce, with vegetables, Brussels sprouts and kale, or a black pudding larp, a really amazing meat salad originally from Laos. It's called World On a Plate and it's coming out with Absolute Press in the summer.
Have you always wanted to release a cookbook? Yes. I have a slightly meandering style of writing, but I enjoy it; plus, as it says in the introduction, it is in no way a purist book. I take what I like from any cuisine and use it. I'm not much for rules.
What's the most inspiring day you've had in your career? Cooking my first Saturday night on the sauce section at the Seafood Restaurant. Everything, including all the sauces, are done to order and all the fish is braised on that section - it's a lot of pan work. It was also the section dad worked on. I was pretty proud I didn't go down, but my chef de partie said it looked like it had been carpet-bombed.
Who do you think is the best ambassador for the hospitality industry and why? There are so many. The likes of René Redzepi and Massimo Bottura look outside the box and try to think about things that aren't just related to high-end cuisine. And anyone working to give back to the community, like Action Against Hunger, which uses its voice to bring important issues to the table. Our industry needs to make sure we give back.
What are your plans for the rest of the year? My girlfriend Lucy and I are expecting our first child in the summer, which means I'll get two weeks off in July. That's pretty much my focus, then it's back to the restaurants and to filming.
Have you achieved your dream? I have a great life - I really can't complain. I love to surf, so I'd like a big frontside barrel ride somewhere tropical.
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