Restaurateur and television personality Rick Stein tells Reader's Digest the good, the bad and the often hilarious memories that have helped shape his life.

I Remember....

Rick Stein tells Reader's Digest some of his greatest memories

 

…sitting in pub car parks while my parents enjoyed a drink 

My younger sister Henrietta and I would wait in the back of my Dad’s pale blue Jaguar getting bored with our ginger beers and crisps. Or we’d lurk by the door until they came out and the exotic waft of beer and cigarette smoke would billow forth. My parents weren’t alcoholics; they just enjoyed the pub atmosphere. Those memories are one of the reasons I now own a pub myself, The Cornish Arms in St Merryn. 

 

…learning to cook 

I picked it up from my mother. She used to make spaghetti bolognaise, which was pretty radical in those days. She did really nice puddings; apple charlotte and wonderful crumbles and bread-and-butter puddings. My parents were friends with the food writer Elizabeth David, and I remember first editions of her cookbooks lying around.

Rick with his mother and sisters outside the pub he now owns

…holidays in Cornwall 

It was the best place on earth. We had a house on Trevose Head, about five miles from Padstow. It had huge curved windows around the sitting room. There was a Cornish slate patio where we’d all lounge in the sunshine and enjoy the spectacular views over the Atlantic.

 

…fishing with my father 

He was bipolar and I was a bit scared of him; he found it hard to connect with people. But fishing was something we both enjoyed. I think boys and their fathers often find it easier to do some activity together. Shortly before he died he was going to take me fly-fishing in Scotland and I was very excited. When he cancelled it—probably because he was too ill—I was terribly disappointed. 

 

…my first sex-education lesson

I was about 12 and things were stirring, but the information we got from library books was woefully inadequate. As a dare, a couple of friends and I went to our headmaster and asked him to explain what it was all about. We were stunned when he obliged and told us how babies were made. We missed a whole other lesson and had to explain to the teacher where we’d been. I said, “We’ve been to a lecture, sir,” and he asked, “What sort?” I said, “A sex lecture, sir,” and was overcome with embarrassment.

 

…becoming a road sweeper

I hadn’t done well at school. I’d got a job as a management trainee in The Great Western Royal Hotel in London, but I had a few months to kill before it started. I was taken with George Orwell, particularly his book Down and Out In Paris and London, and I thought I should experience the real world. But I was disturbed by the odour of my fellow sweepers—stale alcohol and general unwashedness. And it was cold and rainy. I got a little depressed.

Rick Stein working as part of a track maintenance gang while in Australia

…being told my father had died 

I was sweeping the road outside the Natural History Museum when my friend Tim Dale drove up and told me to get in. When something momentous happens, every part of your surroundings become etched in your memory. For me, the grey skies, the green seats of Tim’s Land Rover and the brown raincoat I was wearing are as clear as the moment Tim said, “I’ve got something to tell you. Your father has died.” I didn’t know then that he’d committed suicide. Tim said that he’d been blown off the cliffs during a storm. Nothing was ever the same after that.

 

…moving to Australia 

Maybe I was running away, maybe I just wanted to be somewhere sunny. But the two years I spent in Australia were life-changing. I took a variety of jobs, including a stint as a fettler—someone who maintains the railway tracks—some 50 miles from Alice Springs. I worked for five months with a group of petty criminals and I loved it. One day there was a stand-off between myself and Billy. He was incredibly fit and had been in and out of prison for robbery and violence. We went outside to fight, but in the end neither of us made the first move! Billy was fiercely intelligent and we became unlikely friends.

 

…winning best restaurant in England 

...in 1984 and my first book English Seafood Cookery being voted Glenfiddich Cook Book of the Year in 1989. Getting my OBE for Services to Tourism in Cornwall was great too, because of the years I’ve spent building up four restaurants in Padstow and the pub and restaurant in Falmouth.

The Seafood Restaurant staff in the early 1990s

…asking my son Jack to read my memoir Under a Mackerel Sky 

I said to him, “It’d be nice if you would,” but he replied, “The thing is, I don’t want to read about my Dad having sex”. I suppose that’s fair enough.

Under a Mackerel Sky is out this month in paperback, while Rick’s new cookbook Rick Stein’s Fish and Shellfish is published on August 14. 

Read the full article in the August edition of Reader's Digest, buy here.

Shop Rick Stein DVDs here and discover the culinary delights of Spain, France and India.

Read more articles by Caroline Hutton here

Related Posts