Table Talk: Nathan Outlaw
Known for his love of seafood, Nathan Outlaw trained under the wing of Rick Stein and, until March, ran the two Michelin-starred Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Port Isaac, Cornwall. Prior to working for Stein in Padstow, Outlaw learnt his craft from Gary Rhodes and Eric Chavot, beginning his culinary career at the InterContinental on Park Lane. He opened his first restaurant – The Black Pig – in 2003, and won his first Michelin star a year later, aged just 25. His eponymous Restaurant Nathan Outlaw followed in 2007, and in 2009 he opened the Nathan Outlaw Seafood Bar and Grill in Rock. In 2011 he won his second star at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw. Having launched Siren at The Goring in London last year, his latest venture is Outlaw’s New Road, an informal seafood venue. He also runs the Michelin-starred Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen in Port Isaac.
Describe to me your earliest food memory….
I remember my Dad, who is also a chef, bringing home a live lobster and all the kids in the road coming into the kitchen at home to see it running about before it was cooked! Children are curious about these things. I can’t remember eating it though. Fish fingers were my limit in those days.
Did you always dream of becoming a chef or did you fall into it?
It just seemed like the right thing to do. I was the only boy in cookery class at school and it was something I was good at. Having been around food all my life what with Dad and both sets of grandparents being involved in catering, somewhere along the line, it was the obvious choice of a job. My parents tried to talk me out of it because they knew all about the unsocial hours and poor pay, but it made no difference!
What is the dish that you have created that you’re most proud of?
The lobster risotto that appeared on the menu at my first restaurant, The Black Pig in Rock, and still appears on menus in some of my restaurants from time to time. Whenever it does, it’s the most popular dish on the menu. I created it because I wanted to offer something luxurious but couldn’t afford to buy whole lobsters and waste them if they weren’t ordered.
What is your ultimate food and wine match?
Fish and chips with Champagne. It’s seems like a strange match at the opposite ends of the scale, but it’s actually ideal because the bubbles cut through the fried food and make it less rich. As they say, opposites attract.
What is the most memorable meal you’ve ever had in your life?
I’ve been fortunate enough to eat at Henne Kirkby Kro in Denmark several times. It’s a bit of a trek to get there, but the place is wonderful and Paul Cunningham is doing amazing things in the kitchen. The most incredible meal I’ve had there was a plate of Danish langoustine accompanied by a glass or two of Chassagne-Montrachet – heaven.
What’s the weirdest thing you’ve eaten while on your travels?
Raw sea anemone on a trip to northern Spain. Never again.
Who is your culinary hero and why?
Rick Stein. He is the master of seafood as far as I’m concerned. I came to Cornwall to work with him as a young chef having seen him on TV. He taught me so much about food, cooking and the business in general. That was nearly 25 years ago and he’s still as passionate about food and cooking as he was then. The man’s a legend!
What’s the biggest blunder you’ve made while on the job?
Not really my blunder but one made in the kitchen several years ago when some bright spark put a dish on the shelf in the fridge but didn’t check that it was sealed or that it was upright.
I came in the following morning to find my beautifully prepared mackerel fillets on the shelf below swimming in the contents of the dish above. However, it turns out that the mackerel had cured in the liquid and it was really good. Since then we’ve had the cured mackerel dish on the menu, so it was worth the blunder being made.
What is your favourite season for food and why?
Spring, without a doubt. All those lovely young vegetables appearing is so welcome after the horrible, long winter. I grow my own veg now, so seeing it come up is really exciting. I can’t wait to see what has come up each day and work out what I can do with it in the kitchen to really do it justice.
What single ingredient do you rely on most in the kitchen?
Seafood! Without it I wouldn’t be able to open my restaurants. I also rely a lot on all sorts of vinegar. It’s great for seasoning and often gets overlooked. Flavoured vinegars can add a real depth of flavour to a dish.
What is your guilty pleasure food?
Cheese on toast. It was my ‘go to’ when I came in from a long shift as a young chef and I still love it to this day. It’s best with good quality white bread cut into thick slices and Davidstow extra mature Cheddar.
What is the best bottle of wine you’ve ever drunk?
I have several. It’s difficult to name just one. I really like Grolleau Gris, our house wine. It goes with everything we serve so well. Also, Picpaul de Pinet – the minerality of the wine matches so well with oysters and seafood. I’m also a fan of classic Chablis, but if I’m ever stuck to match a dish with wine when I’m eating out, I’ll go with a nice Champagne. I like Ruinart.
If you had to only eat one country’s cuisine for the rest of your life, what would it be and why?
I adore Indian cuisine. I like the diversity and the regionality of it. Most people don’t realise how regional Indian cuisine is. Having worked closely with a number of Indian chefs over the years, I’ve found all of them to be passionate about what they do and extremely humble about their ability. I’ve learnt a lot from them along the way. The imaginative use of vegetables in Indian cuisine is more than we would ever see in European cuisines. Also, their knowledge of spicing and seasoning to add layers of flavour without losing any of them is unbelievable.