Rick Stein is such a delight to listen to. Some might take his videos as too much banter of an old man but I personally enjoy absorbing all his quotes and quirky anecdotes, how he reference certain lines in a book to mirror the food, lifestyle, people or scenery at the place he’s shooting. Talk is cheap but good words are hard to find. Listening to him monologuing his thoughts, I felt not only stimulated intellectually but deeply enriched.
Rick Stein could be the last breed, or dare I say, almost dying breed of chefs and food travellers that speaks fairly well in several languages and very well-read. I know it sounds rather prude and to an extent, even off-putting but look at it this way, it doesn’t take a lot of brain matter to blurt out profanities, what for the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Anthony Bourdain, both brilliant chefs, no doubt. But it does take a lot of thought to be able to word your perceptions and word it in such a way that captivates the listener. And to do it flawlessly only stems from experience, conversing with people of substance, good books and dashes of humility. If I were to sit down for a meal and draw inspiration from my guests, I’d pick the likes of Rick Stein and Keith Floyd anytime. Of course, I’d have to have several crates of wine ready.
Stein, much like his friend, Keith Floyd, approach life and food with a raw, no-nonsense attitude. If it’s good, it’s good, regardless if it has a Michelin star or not. He has no qualms poking fun at the Brits and discovered sadly that British cuisine fame has been much reduced to fish and chips. He claims he’s constantly being watched by the salt police because he seasons his food generously but makes no apologies because the honest truth is, we all need salt, it’s just how much.
I’m currently enjoying his videos and wish to ‘pen’ down all my thoughts before I lose them (the bane of anyone that writes), if I have to pin down my favourites, it would be these two;
Rick Stein’s French Odyssey
(click here for episode list)
This series caught my attention because of their mode of travel when filming these episodes. Rick and his crew chose to travel in a barge, a sort of houseboat where you cruise along the canals of France at 4 miles an hour. To some, it might seem madness because the pace could very well be made up by trains, cars or ferries, but I like that they took their time and the barge itself looks awesome.
They had to spend 8 weeks living in the barge but I still think it was a clever choice because you save on gas, you save time finding a parking lot, you save money on hotels and you actually save money travelling to the places you wish to go.
His descriptions and his superlatives for the French lifestyle and simple French food makes you an immediate convert. It averts one’s thinking that everything about the French is posh and pompous. After watching his videos, I came to this rather personal conclusion that the French just know how to enjoy life, not to mention they love wine with everything. And who wouldn’t when you’ve got that beautiful sun, the still-life landscapes and gorgeous, delicious food. Drinking wine would almost be an understated way of celebrating.
It tickles me profusely the way he makes light jokes about the eating habits of English people, even gently nudging at the fact that they can be a bunch of ignoramus. As he was making a dish of beef tartar, he describes an amusing speculation about how French waiters would warn him that it’s raw whenever he orders it. Yes, he knows it’s raw….but he concludes that perhaps so many English customers would’ve sent it back to the kitchen exclaiming, ‘It’s RAW!’
Although it started on an apprehensive note, nevertheless it ended with a lasting memory. French food…..Très Bien!
Rick Stein’s Spain
(click here for episode list)
I like the Spanish lifestyle of lengthy siestas, tapas, wine and dancing. It just feels like a party all the time there. I really love this segment because I am a huge, huge fan of chorizo sausages. Although, if you can believe it, I have never eaten an actual Spanish chorizo before. I tried to look up what goes into a chorizo but Wikipedia basically groups any sausages that has a myriad of spices in it as chorizo. So it was pretty awesome to see someone make them in this series.
The main important ingredient in chorizo is the pimenton, their hot paprika. All this time I thought any ordinary paprika would do but to achieve that amber colour of a Spanish chorizo, you need this pepper. The rest in pretty simple combination of minced pork, fat, salt and pepper. When you cook chorizo sausages in hot oil, they will release that red colour into the oil and that is what makes it so delightful.
The Spanish use a lot of chorizos in their cooking. You could say this is their flavour base as how bacon is to most dishes. Spain is also well known for Iberico ham (pic below). A gourmet ingredient that is on par with truffles and caviar. The ham, when sliced properly, melts away in your mouth leaving behind an ethereal sensation. A leg of Iberico ham can cost up to 3,000 Euros.
Another great ingredient from Spain is the delicate saffron (pic below). Originated from the stamen of the crocus flower, they have to be harvested manually by hand. This is what gives paella that lovely golden, yellow colour.
I think with Span, they consider their food or dishes to be somewhat of an art and some…a dying art that needs to preserved with great urgency. They have food festivals that celebrates just one dish but an entire village would participate in excessive revelry because they understand what it means as a heritage and as a representation of the country.
Kudos to the Spanish people, who hold great pride in their food and cooking and I think with all the availability and convenience of supermarkets and instant food, it is good to pause and appreciate food in all its original glory and that everything tastes better with wine!
Watching his videos and listening to his narration makes me want to start a collection of his books but alas, as always the case, foreign books in this country cost a bomb! They’re like RM180 a pop. I wonder why books have to be sooooo expensive here. Is it the tax value? They shouldn’t make life so difficult for people who wish to indulge in a good read. If I were to rule this country, that’s the first thing I’d do, abolish tax on books. I’m sure college and university students would appreciate more affordable books. I digress.
I leave you with Stein’s quote and his approach to cooking, something I am going to adopt myself;
‘A recipe should be a tune in which you can sing your own song.’