Raise a stein to Mu­nich’s famed kneesup at Royal Mel­bourne Ok­to­ber­fest this Satur­day. More than 50 types of Ger­man beer will be on show at Carl­ton’s Royal Ex­hi­bi­tion Build­ing while the snacks will run from pork hock to pret­zels.

Sunday Herald Sun - Stellar - - On Sunday -

It’s hard not to have a soft spot for Rick Stein. The cook’s cook from Corn­wall has a gen­uinely un­bri­dled en­thu­si­asm for new food ad­ven­tures and his pas­sion goes right to the core of what it means to cel­e­brate and share food. It’s in­fec­tious.

Stein has split his time be­tween the UK and Aus­tralia for decades, he’s on our tele­vi­sion screens daily and he has been cel­e­brat­ing Aus­tralian seafood at his res­tau­rant at Ban­nis­ters by the Sea in Mol­ly­mook for nine years. We al­most feel like call­ing him our own.

Now he’s tak­ing his seafood savvy fur­ther up the New South Wales coast to Ban­nis­ters Port Stephens, which opened this month. The prospect of hav­ing a res­tau­rant north of Syd­ney as well as one in the south was some­thing he couldn’t pass up.

“I’m quite taken with the south coast, but some think ev­ery­thing is bet­ter in the north,” says Stein. “It’s very beau­ti­ful and it seemed like a re­ally good idea be­cause it’s a part of the New South Wales coast that has very big fish.

“And I’ve al­ways been slightly ir­ri­tated by so many peo­ple from Syd­ney go­ing north in­stead of south – so I’ve solved that prob­lem,” he laughs.

Stein’s busi­ness part­ner Peter Cos­grove forked out $7 mil­lion to over­haul the for­mer Sala­man­der Shores ho­tel – where Stein’s Aus­tralian wife, Sarah, once stayed in her youth – to give it a lux­ury Hamp­tons vibe, much like its sib­ling in Mol­ly­mook.

The ho­tel has 80 rooms (start­ing at $290 in­clud­ing break­fast), in­clud­ing four lux­ury suites and a penthouse. But it’s the op­por­tu­nity to ex­plore the re­gion’s pro­duce and fruits de mer that’s got him ex­cited.

“I’m a bit of a ro­man­tic,” ad­mits Stein. “I just love look­ing out over the bay at all the lit­tle in­lets – it’s so dif­fer­ent to Mol­ly­mook yet so ex­tra­or­di­nary, too.”

Aus­tralia’s breath­tak­ing coasts were part of the lure that first hooked him on Aus­tralia. He started com­ing here in his early 20s and has been com­ing back ever since.

“The first time I came was a very for­ma­tive time in my life and I re­ally, re­ally liked it here. I didn’t in­tend to stay and be­come an im­mi­grant, but now it’s al­most like a sec­ond home. I’ve al­ways had a soft spot for Aus­tralia and to be mar­ried to an Aus­tralian seems a per­fectly great thing for me.”

On the eve of open­ing his sec­ond Aus­tralian res­tau­rant, Stein was film­ing a new show in France called Se­cret France, ex­plor­ing ar­eas off the usual tourist beat.

“It’s amaz­ing how much coun­try­side there is that’s beau­ti­ful and vir­tu­ally empty. It’s the same as the coast in Aus­tralia,” he says. “There’s so much of it, it’s like get­ting to some­where like Port Stephens – all you can think is, why have I never been here be­fore? And that’s the beau­ti­ful thing about Aus­tralia – there are so many unique and beau­ti­ful places to ex­plore and cel­e­brate.”

As well as his reg­u­lar TV shows, the 71-year-old has a string of Rick Stein restau­rants, a cou­ple of fish and chip shops, a pub and a cook­ery school, all over­seen by his mid­dle son, Jack, the chef di­rec­tor of the busi­ness and clos­est fol­lower in his fa­ther’s foot­steps. Stein’s el­dest son, Ed­ward, is a sculp­tor and he works on the in­te­rior de­sign of the restau­rants along with his mother, Stein’s first wife Jill, while the youngest, Char­lie, is a wine mer­chant and works with his par­ents on the wine lists.

Back in Aus­tralia, the menu at Rick Stein at Port Stephens will be sim­i­lar to Mol­ly­mook’s, but it will have its own iden­tity. Set in a 98,000-hectare marine park, it will have ac­cess to some of the best seafood in the world, which will ap­pear in the likes of fish ta­cos, baked crab with poblano chilli, fish and shell­fish soup and ce­viche, all made with what’s best on the day, of course.

“I was up in Port Stephens yes­ter­day and they’ve got a re­ally good range of fish and ob­vi­ously they’re dif­fer­ent to what you find in the south.

“The east­ern rock lob­sters, the oys­ters, flat­head, snapper, dory, king­fish – it’s al­most a case of you name it, the great seafood of Aus­tralia is there at dif­fer­ent times of the year. So the menu will re­flect what­ever we get in fresh.”

Work­ing with the whim of the sea­sons may have its chal­lenges, but it’s also what in­spires the chef.

“Part of the plea­sure of what we do is the ex­cite­ment of not know­ing what fresh fish is com­ing in,” he says. “When you see fresh fish you get this ab­surd en­thu­si­asm about what you’ll do with it. It’s what drives me and my chefs – the qual­ity of raw ma­te­ri­als. It’s try­ing to do jus­tice to them that’s the chal­lenge.”

Stein’s trade­mark ap­proach is get­ting the best seafood and do­ing as lit­tle as pos­si­ble to it.

“Some peo­ple say ‘ why should I pay this amount of money for that, if you’re keep­ing it simple?’ and I say, well, it’s the best bloody fish in Port Stephens and it’s worth it. Sim­plic­ity with food is one of the hard­est things to get right, but it’s also the most sat­is­fy­ing.”

And when it comes to cel­e­brat­ing pro­duce on the plate, it seems Stein has plenty to in­spire him.

“Like a beau­ti­ful sand whit­ing – a fish I re­vere above all in Aus­tralia. It never ceases to amaze me that a fish that’s called whit­ing in Eng­land is so bor­ing, but it is so spe­cial here.

“A whole sand whit­ing – now that re­ally rocks my boat,” he laughs. “It’s a per­fect meal and all you need.” Join Rick and Sarah Stein and de­li­cious. at Ban­nis­ters Port Stephens for din­ner on Novem­ber 11, $150 plus book­ing fee; book at ban­nis­ or call (02) 4455 3044.


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