Chef, au­thor and TV pre­sen­ter Rick Stein

Chef, restau­ra­teur, au­thor and TV pre­sen­ter Rick Stein shares his love for wine and food, and his long-time pas­sion for cook­ing with seafood.

Halliday - - Contents - IN TERVIEW by AMELIA BALL

What keeps you ex­cited about the work you do? Very few peo­ple in hos­pi­tal­ity ever go through what they might con­sider a dull mo­ment. It’s stress­ful, ex­haust­ing, fre­quently highly emo­tional, oc­ca­sion­ally bad-tem­pered, but dull it is not. On the other hand, it is of­ten mas­sively ex­cit­ing, re­ward­ing and, above all, the sort of in­dus­try where you value every­one’s ef­forts. That’s just for starters, but, if you’re lucky, you also get to taste food from around the world and, in the words of With­nail, “the finest wines avail­able to hu­man­ity”.

What do you love most about cook­ing in Aus­tralia? This coun­try, with its di­verse cli­mate – from south­ern Tas­ma­nia to the trop­ics, not for­get­ting desert and moun­tains – and a re­fresh­ingly open mind about the best ways to grow a par­tic­u­lar crop, pro­duces some of the best-tast­ing food and drink any­where. Ev­ery­thing here is in abun­dance.

What was the first Aussie wine that made you take no­tice? In the ’80s, my good friend Ed Ifould pro­duced a bot­tle of red from his par­ents’ cel­lar one Christ­mas Day at Bayview [on Syd­ney’s North­ern Beaches], poured me a glass and asked what I thought. I couldn’t see a la­bel, took a big gulp and was com­pletely over­whelmed by its power. I wouldn’t say I fell in love with it there and then – it was too un­com­pro­mis­ing – but I re­mem­ber say­ing, “Bloody hell, what on earth is that?” It was the 1976 Pen­folds Grange Her­mitage. My friend’s mother said, “Ed­ward, that’s a lit­tle bit spe­cial, go easy on it!”

What’s the one seafood dish every­one should be able to cook? Mus­sels. They are ab­surdly easy. For me, it would be moules mariniere. Sweat off some finely chopped shal­lots and a lit­tle gar­lic in but­ter, throw in cleaned mus­sels and a gen­er­ous glug of dry white wine, put a lid on and steam them open briefly, shak­ing the pan a lit­tle and stir­ring with a serv­ing spoon. As soon as they’ve opened, throw in a hand­ful of pars­ley and a driz­zle of cream, if you like. You don’t need to sea­son with salt be­cause there will be plenty in the mus­sel liquor, but I like freshly ground black pep­per. This process of cook­ing some aro­mat­ics in but­ter or oil, throw­ing in the mus­sels, open­ing them and fin­ish­ing the dish can ap­ply to any cui­sine – black beans and Szechuan pep­per for Chi­nese; lemon­grass, chilli, fish sauce and a pinch of sugar for Thai; or chopped ser­rano ham, gar­lic, pi­men­ton and saf­fron for Span­ish.

How do you tend to choose wines? Un­less you’re very lucky, price is a most im­por­tant con­sid­er­a­tion. In a bot­tle shop, I tend to go for wines of a sim­i­lar price to bench­marks in the same cat­e­gory. And I know it’s a bit lame, but if it’s got a gold medal from some wine com­pe­ti­tion, Mickey Mouse or not, it should be good. My son Char­lie is a wine buyer for a suc­cess­ful com­pany in London, and when I’m out with him and choose a bot­tle, he’ll say, “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Dad!”

Do you have a favourite wine re­gion? My first in-depth knowl­edge of any wine re­gion was the Hunter Val­ley, which came at about the same time I tasted that Grange. The same fam­ily sug­gested I call on [Aus­tralian wine pioneer] Len Evans if I was in­ter­ested in wine. I said I couldn’t pos­si­bly as he was far too fa­mous, but they said, “He’s Aus­tralian! Go and call on him!” So I did that with my good friend Johnny and I think the first night [with Len], we prob­a­bly drank at least four first-growth Bordeaux, not to men­tion an in­tro­duc­tion to Hunter Val­ley semil­lion, chardon­nay and shi­raz. It started a friend­ship with Len un­til his death in 2006, dur­ing which time I be­came very fa­mil­iar with the Hunter and a lover of the great wine re­gion. What’s your ap­proach to pair­ing wine and seafood? My rule of thumb is that the more del­i­cate the seafood, the lighter and dryer the wine, and, con­versely, the sweeter and rounder the dish, the fuller-bod­ied the wine. I par­tic­u­larly like young semil­lon with oys­ters – a min­er­al­ity in both brings out the best in each. I love any sim­ply grilled fish with a sauvi­gnon or semil­lon, ries­ling or tart chardon­nay like Ch­ablis. For richer-flavoured fish like blue-eye or ha­puka, I pre­fer a full-bod­ied white or richer pinot gris. And for shell­fish like prawns, crab and lob­ster, or any creamy dishes, it’s got to be full-bod­ied chardon­nay. For fish dishes with spice, I like gewurz­traminer and, para­dox­i­cally, sharp sauvi­gnon, which can deal with the heat. Turn­ing to reds, some­times I like a light, chilled pinot noir with grilled fish. Re­cently in Bordeaux, I had a de­li­cious bowl of mus­sels made with gar­lic and Bay­onne ham and had a full-bod­ied Graves with it – a match made in heaven.

Is there a wine style you can’t learn to love? Not me, but my three sons just don’t get sparkling shi­raz. Each year I bring back bot­tles from Aus­tralia to the UK, no­tably of Rock­ford and some very old shi­raz from Tower Es­tate, which I used to co-own.

It’s be­come a tra­di­tion to have a bot­tle or two on Christ­mas morn­ing, but they pre­fer Cham­pagne. Per­son­ally I love the stuff. What’s your all-time favourite food and wine match? It’s very ob­vi­ous from a seafood cook, but lob­ster with chardon­nay. My love for it started in the ’70s in Pad­stow [at his UK venue The Seafood Restau­rant], with the lo­cal blue lob­ster and Louis La­tour Marceau. I was so en­am­oured of this match that I even once took a pic­nic ham­per of cold lobsters with may­on­naise and this wine on a flight to Lin­dos in Greece. In those days, no­body minded you tak­ing your own grub on board and I’ve never had bet­ter food on a plane. These days, it might equally be East­ern Rock Lob­ster with Bro­ken­wood chardon­nay.

My son Char­lie is a wine buyer for a suc­cess­ful com­pany in London, and when I’m out with him and choose a bot­tle, he’ll say, “I don’t think that’s a good idea, Dad!”

Any wines you never used to like, but now love? In 1978 I bought a book called Dis­cov­er­ing French Vine­yards and set out to visit as many French re­gions and con­sume as many sam­ples as pos­si­ble. I was con­founded in the Jura re­gion by the yel­low wine and sav­agnin grape – all the wines tasted of sherry, and I thought the yel­low­est of all, vin jaune, was the worst of the lot. But I’ve been back this year, hav­ing be­come very keen on all types of sherry, and re­alise Jura wines are some­thing dif­fer­ent. The white grapes, a lit­tle ox­i­da­tion and the ter­roir work to­gether to cre­ate wines that go with the lo­cal food so in­com­pa­ra­bly well. What would a glass of vin jaune be with­out a piece of aged comté? Or a glass of Cote du Jura with­out the lo­cal Poulet Bresse cooked with vin jaune, cream and mor­rels?

What ex­cites you most about the new Ban­nis­ters Port Stephens [bou­tique ho­tel and din­ing near New­cas­tle, NSW]? We’ve had great con­ver­sa­tions with fish sup­pli­ers in the area. Apart from the lo­cally farmed Syd­ney Rock oys­ters, I’m look­ing for­ward to cook­ing with lo­cal king prawns, yel­lowfin bream and flat­head. I’m never hap­pier than when I’m work­ing with lo­cal seafood.

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