Leading Light…
Nathan Outlaw

Nathan Outlaw is the only chef to hold two Michelin stars for a seafood restaurant in the UK. His eateries include Restaurant Nathan Outlaw and Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen in Port Isaac, The Mariners Rock public house and Outlaw’s at St Enodoc Hotel in Rock, and Outlaw’s at the Capital Hotel in London. We fished for the details of his unrivalled success…

Your dad is a chef. Was he your inspiration? Do you believe that cooking can be ‘in your blood’?

My dad was inspirational in that both he and my mum taught me a work ethic but the cooking didn’t really come until I took a Saturday job in a kitchen because it was the only thing available and people began telling me I was good at it! Saying that, all my family on both sides cook in some form or other so I suppose it is in my blood. I think this industry is something you either love or hate…and you know which very quickly!

You’ve worked with some amazing chefs. Who influenced your career the most and why?

The two famous chefs who most come to mind are Rick Stein, who taught me so much about fish and fish cookery, and John Campbell who taught me how to run a kitchen efficiently. Mind you, there are many other chefs I’ve worked with who have influenced my career. Some of them taught me what not to do!

Can you remember how you felt when you were awarded your first Michelin star? Did your second feel even better?

I didn’t realise I was even in the running for my first Michelin star. It was a complete surprise and a bit surreal really. Obviously, for a young chef it was an enormous boost to my confidence but also a bit scary too. The second one was brilliant but for different reasons. I’ve never really been one to look for Michelin stars, I just do what I think is right and stick at it. I was more aware of what Michelin recognition meant by the time the second one came along. It was a fantastic feeling and also a real acknowledgement of all the hours of hard work put in not only by me but also my team.

Why do you think the British are so nervous about seafood?

I think a lot of the trouble is with bad experiences of fish during childhood. Dry or greasy fish which is not at its best and has been overcooked is not a good memory! Now, with better refrigeration and transport, there is no excuse for anyone having to experience fish past its best. Of course, that also accounts for people having a dislike for the smell of fish but fresh fish smells ‘ozone-y’, not fishy!

What tips and advice can you offer professional chefs to help them improve their seafood offering?

I’d encourage them to be brave and offer different varieties to their customers. Also, trying out different techniques for cooking stops it becoming boring and opens up a whole new range of dishes for the menu. As with everything, the dish may not turn out right the first time but that isn’t a reason to give up!

How does running a pub differ from a fine dining restaurant?

In a pub you need to be more versatile and be prepared to change things according to your customers’ likes and dislikes. The pub is more demanding because it’s less predictable. Getting staff is also more difficult, the staff in the restaurant tend to see it as a career whereas in the pub they are more likely to see it as a job. It’s also more difficult to make a profit as there is a definite ceiling to what people will pay for pub grub.

What did winning the Chefs’ Chef of the Year 2014-5 at the AA Hospitality Awards mean to you?

I was amazed. I didn’t have a clue right up until my name was called out. I heard my name and then looked around to see who would stand up, then I realised it was me! It means all the more because it’s voted for by other chefs, my most critical audience. I suppose I must have been doing something right!

This month (October) you have been charged with creating a menu for your contemporaries at the 2015-6 awards night. Are you feeling the pressure?!

I’m not under pressure as such. I’ll cook the food I think will work for 1,200 people. I usually cook for a maximum of 24 per service so it did take some thinking about. It will be a representation of what I do so I hope it’s ok.

How rewarding is having a Chef’s Table? What do you as a chef gain from the experience?

Having a Chef’s Table has meant I’ve been able to learn lots about the customers. I can gauge their reactions immediately as they eat and talk to them about the food and their experience of it. As a result of this, I think our food has got better because we’ve been able to re-evaluate and refine things almost instantly.

And now for three questions that we ask all of our Leading Lights…

What are your three kitchen secrets?

1. We keep a lemon and a lime in the freezer, it makes it easier to grate the zest.
2. We salt all our herring once a year when they are in season then keep it under oil for up to a year until the next vintage comes in.
3. We have over 20 suppliers of fish and seafood – it pays to shop around!

What is your favourite ingredient and why?

Salt, without it wouldn’t be able to cure fish, a favourite way to prepare it at present.

Please could you share your favourite recipe, along with your reasons for choosing it?

My red gurnard soup with samphire and orange from my new book Nathan Outlaw’s British Seafood. This is my take on a soup I tasted years ago, which was made with a whole red mullet. The flavour was amazing, though personally I thought it was a waste to pulp the fish flesh for the broth. Click here for Nathan’s delicious recipe!

Read of the rest of the October issue of Stir it up here

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