5 Min­utes with... Rick Stein

For his lat­est ad­ven­ture, TV chef Rick Stein re­traces his first big trip – when he wound his way up through Mex­ico in the ’60s. He talks to us about chang­ing tastes, all things fishy and why the UK is on the verge of a food rev­o­lu­tion…

Wanderlust Travel Magazine (UK) - - Contents -

The chef eats his way from Mex­ico to ’Frisco Bay

Your lat­est TV se­ries cov­ered Mex­ico and Cal­i­for­nia. What fas­ci­nates you about the food of those des­ti­na­tions?

I first went to these places in 1968 as a 21-yearold. I jour­neyed all through Mex­ico and as far as San Fran­cisco, USA. It was a for­ma­tive part of my life be­cause I’d never tasted ex­otic, for­eign foods be­fore. I think the rea­son I’ve trav­elled a lot since and en­joy tast­ing dif­fer­ent cook­ing is be­cause of that early ex­pe­ri­ence. In the se­ries, I went back to see how they had changed over the last 50 years.

What did you find?

Cal­i­for­nia has changed a great deal. When I was in my early 20s, I wasn’t that into the lo­cal food in Cal­i­for­nia; the only thing I re­mem­ber from that time was the Dun­geness crab I had in San Fran­cisco. As far as Mex­i­can food goes, it hasn’t changed a lot. It’s a more es­tab­lished, slow-mov­ing so­ci­ety in terms of the coun­try.

Hav­ing said that, I think what is much more no­tice­able this time around is how light and fresh a lot of Mex­i­can food is these days. It’s quite a healthy diet if you keep off the Oax­a­can cheese and tacos.

What spe­cial­i­ties did you try?

In places like Puerto Val­larta – made fa­mous by Richard Bur­ton and El­iz­a­beth Tay­lor – and the re­sorts along the Pa­cific Coast and Baja Cal­i­for­nia, you’d be sur­prised by how good the fish is. They do a lot of ce­viche- style fish dishes – in other words, raw fish cured with lime juice – and light fish stews. I think its food would be an eye-opener for peo­ple.

What about the street food?

Mex­i­can street food is among the best in the world. Some stands have been there for gen­er­a­tions, and it’s such a part of life there be­cause the weather is so good! I had this thought that the rea­son we don’t have as much street food in the UK is that it’s too wet and rainy. That’s why places like Thai­land, In­dia, or in­deed, Mex­ico have them.

You say food is ‘a way of life’ there – how vi­tal is it for trav­ellers to try lo­cal dishes?

I re­mem­ber go­ing to Pe­nang in Malaysia, and it would be un­think­able if you weren’t eat­ing on the street ev­ery night. It’s just the same in Mex­ico. If you want to be like a lo­cal, wait­ing in a queue for a tamale or a taco is what you do, and it’s so en­joy­able.

What des­ti­na­tions should be on my foodie bucket list?

In An­dalucía, Spain, head to Cádiz for re­ally good seafood restau­rants on the beach. The same goes for Lis­bon, which has seafood ev­ery­where. In South-east Asia, you can’t go wrong wher­ever you are, whether it’s Viet­nam Thai­land or Malaysia. And if you go to Venice, Italy, look care­fully for its au­then­tic eater­ies; they’re still there and don’t all cost the Earth.

The other place I would rec­om­mend is the Bri­tish Isles. Dis­cov­er­ing the food of where you come from is one of the great joys.

Talk­ing of Bri­tish cook­ing…

So much has changed here – if you gave me a few hours, then I could give you a re­ally fan­tas­tic restau­rant in any re­gional UK city. I think the rea­son is that Lon­don used to be the Mecca of food rev­o­lu­tion, but peo­ple want it in their own ar­eas now. There’s a thirst lo­cally for good cook­ing, and I think that will be the next food rev­o­lu­tion.

On a re­cent book tour I went to Bath and I was amazed by how many good restau­rants there were, while in a lit­tle place called Oswestry in Shrop­shire there was a re­ally good food shop, fish­mon­gers and butch­ers, and I had a lovely meal in the ho­tel. There are cities and mar­ket towns all over the na­tion that have got a pride in what they’re pro­duc­ing. It’s a very ex­cit­ing time to be into food in this coun­try, I think.

Do you have any re­gional faves?

In Bath, I loved a dish that not many peo­ple know, called ‘Bath chaps’, which is made from bits of pigs’ cheeks. And I think the smoked fish in Yar­mouth, East Anglia, is sec­ond to none. We prob­a­bly do smoked fish bet­ter in this coun­try than any­where else.

Is there a des­ti­na­tion whose food you’re des­per­ate to ex­plore fur­ther?

I’ve been to China twice – to Shang­hai and Guangzhou – and both times I’ve re­alised how in­cred­i­bly di­verse its cui­sine is. I would love to make a se­ries go­ing across the whole of China, par­tic­u­larly vis­it­ing Shan­dong and Sichuan, and try­ing Huaiyang cui­sine (one of China’s four main cook­ing styles), which orig­i­nated from Yangzhou and Huai’an.

Rick Stein is ap­pear­ing at Des­ti­na­tions in Lon­don (see ‘UK Events’). The DVD (£23) and book (BBC Books, £26) of The Road to Mex­ico are out now.

‘I re­mem­ber go­ing to Pe­nang in Malaysia, and it would be un­think­able if you weren’t eat­ing on the street ev­ery night. It’s the same in Mex­ico’

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