The Australian - Wish Magazine - - MOTORING W - MI­LANDA ROUT NIC WALKER

Rick Stein was so des­per­ate to fit in when he came to Aus­tralia as a wide-eyed 19-year-old, he started wear­ing shorts, play­ing sport and even at­tempted the lo­cal ac­cent. This was on the ad­vice of the fam­ily friend who met him off the boat in Syd­ney in 1966. “‘We are out­doors peo­ple, we love sport and haven’t got any time to sit around in cold win­ters read­ing po­etry’,” Stein re­calls. He didn’t know un­til later that this friend’s fa­ther was a li­brar­ian – so he may have been tak­ing the mick. “I was ap­palled. And so I was de­ter­mined to do ev­ery­thing: I did surf­ing, played some rugby, started wear­ing shorts, which in the 1960s was a bit odd for an English­man. I tried to put on an Aus­tralian ac­cent be­cause I didn’t like be­ing called a Pom all the time.”

The Pom from Ox­ford­shire we now know as a chef, restau­ra­teur, au­thor and TV star mar­ried an Aus­tralian, trav­elled ex­ten­sively for his books and cook­ing shows, opened his first restau­rant here in 2009 – at Ban­nis­ters By The Sea re­sort, Mol­ly­mook on NSW’s south coast – and has just opened his se­cond restau­rant at a new Ban­nis­ters in Port Stephens, 200km north of Syd­ney.

“I was orig­i­nally in­flu­enced to come here by a lot of life­guards from NSW who were em­ployed on the beaches of Corn­wall [where Stein hol­i­dayed as a child],” the 71-year-old tells WISH over cof­fee at his home on Syd­ney’s lower north shore on a sunny win­ter’s day. “I was a bit in awe of them be­cause they were gen­er­ally fit and tanned and good at drag­ging peo­ple out of the wa­ter. And the lo­cal girls were keen on them. So I thought it would be a great place to go.”

His par­ents’ love of Aus­tralia in­flu­enced Stein to travel, but it was their love of seafood that set him on his path to­day: he went from be­ing the 20-some­thing op­er­a­tor of a night­club on the verge of col­lapse to a restau­ra­teur, thanks to the skills he learnt watch­ing his par­ents cook good seafood. It was in 1973 when Stein re­turned from two years in Aus­tralia (his trav­els had also been mo­ti­vated by a de­sire to get away fol­low­ing his fa­ther’s sui­cide) to Ox­ford Uni­ver­sity where spent the next few years get­ting an English de­gree. He did not know what to do fol­low­ing his grad­u­a­tion but he liked par­ties so he set up his own mo­bile disco called the Pur­ple Tiger. (An art stu­dent mate painted his van, so the logo looked more “small dog want­ing to go for a walk” than ma­jes­tic jun­gle beast).

“I just quite liked dis­co­ing,” Stein says of his un­usual start in the work­force. “It wasn’t that I was a good dancer, but I took the same sort of vi­car­i­ous plea­sure in dis­co­ing as I do in cook­ing. I can see the con­nec­tion re­ally, it is de­light­ing other peo­ple and mak­ing other peo­ple happy.” In 1974, Stein took his love of the disco to the next level by buy­ing a pur­ple-car­peted night­club in the Cor­nish sea­side fish­ing vil­lage of Pad­stow. He bought it with his best mate and with £14,000 he had un­ex­pect­edly in­her­ited from a “Ger­man great-un­cle who I didn’t know ex­isted”. But it was a dis­as­ter, with fish­er­men get­ting into fights and po­lice shut­ting it down be­cause of the vi­o­lence.

“It was a very tough fish­ing com­mu­nity, not a lot of money but a lot of booz­ing,” he says of Pad­stow in the early 70s. “I wasn’t in­tend­ing to be a chef but I opened a restau­rant af­ter the night­club failed. I was lucky that my mother and my fa­ther were good cooks – not in any ul­tra-keen way, but my mother par­tic­u­larly cooked a lot and she cooked a lot of seafood. My fa­ther was an ama­teur fish­er­man and he put some money into a fish­ing boat so we had plenty of par­tic­u­larly good shell­fish: lob­sters, cray­fish and tonnes of fish. So I started eat­ing re­ally good fish from a very young age when we were on hol­i­day. So when the club closed, I opened the restau­rant. I never re­ally think things through. It just hap­pened to be a good fish avail­able.”

By then he had mar­ried his first wife, Jill New­stead, and the pair spent years build­ing up The Seafood Restau­rant. It is still there to­day along with a num­ber of other res­tau­rants, cafes, bak­eries and shops owned by Stein (Pad­stow has been nick­named “Pad­stein” by lo­cals). “I think what saved us is that even in the 1970s, Corn­wall had a tourist sea­son – it was only 10 weeks, but there were enough peo­ple from back­grounds that were quite used to eat­ing out and who ap­pre­ci­ated what I was do­ing,” he tells WISH. “And what I was do­ing was not very fancy. It was tak­ing a lob­ster and grilling it or tak­ing a Dover sole and grilling it. They ap­pre­ci­ated the fact that I didn’t do any­thing with it but I didn’t do any­thing with it be­cause I didn’t know how to do any­thing with it.”

Stein took the next big step in his un­in­tended ca­reer when he agreed to ap­pear on a lo­cal cook­ing show in 1985 with the late Keith Floyd as a guest chef. He wasn’t that in­ter­ested but needed the public­ity for the restau­rant and get more lo­cals through the doors. “It was lucky be­cause the two se­quences I shot were with David Pritchard [Floyd’s long­time ex­ec­u­tive pro­ducer] and I got to know David as a re­sult of that,” he says. “Then when in­evitably David and Keith fell out in the full­ness of time, David asked me whether I wanted to do some film­ing. So it wasn’t re­ally about work­ing on tele­vi­sion, it was be­ing with David. He was just larger than life and

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