Stéphane Delourme on maintaining the Rick Stein brand
Padstow’s famous Seafood Restaurant, opened by Rick and Jill Stein in 1975, is getting ready to celebrate its 40th birthday next year.
Internationally famous for the quality of its fish and shellfish, the Seafood Restaurant’s kitchens have been managed for the past 16 years by head chef Stéphane Delourme and his team, who create simple seafood dishes using Rick’s recipes, and serve more than 70,000 customers each year.
The restaurant is also famous for spawning an international TV and writing career for Rick Stein and an empire, which now extends to a hotel and guest accommodation in Padstow, along with a bistro, café, fishmonger, patisserie and deli, fish and chip shop and a cookery school. Spin-off Rick Stein restaurants were opened recently in Falmouth, Winchester and Porthleven, with plans to expand this side of the business during 2015 overseen by Rick’s son Jack Stein, who is following in his father’s footsteps and making a name for himself in the seafood business. Stéphane Delourme, a native of Brittany, France, arrived with a fine pedigree from working in a series of top rated and Michelin star restaurants, including Restaurant Patrick Guilbot in Dublin.
“I have a passion for working with seafood and love working in a small kitchen, so I was really happy to take over at the Seafood Restaurant,” said Stéphane.
“When I arrived there were only seven in the kitchen, but now we have 30 chefs here in the summer and the wider company has grown from 50 people to more than 400!”
Stéphane explained that Rick Stein remains very much involved in the business, although he currently lives and works in Australia. “Rick is the main influence on the menu. He is in constant contact with the restaurant and is also a frequent visitor, ensuring that we maintain the brand he has worked hard to build up. As executive chef for the business, Jack also works closely with us,” he said.
Rick’s influence is clear on the extensive restaurant menu, which features dishes from his series of seafood recipe books.
“Many people come here to eat because they want to try the dishes they see Rick cook on TV. For the past 3 years, since his tours of India and the Far East, fish curry has been the most popular dish! We always have one and usually two curries on the menu, and use monk, bass, squid, prawn, stonebass and gurnard in these — fish that stay firm when cooked and are good at taking a flavor,” explained Stéphane.
He admits that keeping a large menu running throughout the year is one of his biggest challenges. “Customers expect to have a wide choice, from mussels, oysters, scallops and razor clams through squid, crab, lobster and langoustine, to Dover sole, John Dory, cod, brill, mullet, halibut and turbot,” he said.
Ninety percent of the seafood used in the restaurant is landed in Cornwall. “We use as much as possible from day boats, most of which is sourced through our excellent fish wholesaler Matthew Stephens in St Ives, and he buys from fishermen all around the Cornish coast and the markets in Newlyn and Plymouth.”
“We also buy direct from half a dozen local fishermen who sell to us despite fierce competition from the French and Spanish, who send vivier lorries to whisk brown crab, spider crab and lobster over to Europe.”
Sea bass and mackerel are freshly landed to the door during the season, while farmed salmon, always a popular menu item, is sourced from Loch Duart, and tuna, a perennial favorite with U.K. diners, comes from Sri Lanka.
With more and more customers asking questions about the provenance of their seafood, Stéphane ensures that he is kept up to date on what should and shouldn’t appear on the menu, and items including dogfish and skate have been removed.
“We have made it our business over the past few years to learn about sustainability. We also make sure that waiting staff are well informed, to enable them to answer customers’ questions,” he said.
One big change Stéphane has noticed over the years is that fewer people like to use their fingers to pick away at fish on the bone in dishes such as Bouillabaisse. “We have changed several recipes to use fillets, because people don’t want to get messy, although we still have dishes such as Singapore crab, and our famous plat de fruits de mer which include whole shellfish, but we warn customers in advance!” he laughed.
As well as cooking at the Seafood Restaurant, Stéphane also prepares private dinners at the nearby Seafood School, where he loves to experiment and challenge people’s taste buds, and diners enjoy watching their food prepared before them.
He also enjoys charity work, and for the past three years has organized a Seafood Marathon, in which he and a few chef friends visit all the Celtic countries to cook dinners for up to 200 people. “This is great fun,” he said. “Over four months this summer we cooked in Wales, Scotland, Ireland, Isle of Mann, Galicia, Brittany, and Cornwall, and fed a lot of people. And this is what I do to relax!”