Rick Stein is most known for his seafood cookery, but recent journeys across the UK and France have seen him get to grips with some of the destinations’ most interesting food and the people who behind the dishes, produce and restaurants. Here, he talks to hellomagazine.com about his most recent trip to discover the diverse and delicious cuisine of South East Asia for his new TV show Rick Stein's Far Eastern Odyssey.
In the book The Odyssey, Odysseus faces a number of challenges on his journey home – what challenges did you face on your trip?
Generally it was just a dream. For a British cook the temperature can be a bit of a challenge – I’m a little embarrassed looking at the TV program that at points I’m absolutely sweating! We started in Cambodia and for the first week we all had rather tender stomachs from all the chilli. But you so quickly get used to that sort of food.
Your restaurant cooking and your TV focus has always been mainly European. Why choose South East Asia?
I have a personal, enormous enthusiasm for South East Asian food and it’s now beginning to flow into Great Britain because people like hot, spicy food. Everybody loves those combinations of hot, sweet, salty and sour.
What had your previous experience of it been?
I’d been on holiday in Thailand quite a few times, Indonesia a few times and Malaysia quite a lot. Of late it’s become part of my life. It’s somewhere you want to return to time and time again.
What similarities in cooking did you find? Was it the simple way we now treat our produce?
The problem is that you have to go into a different world cooking-wise. Yes, all the food in South East Asia is really simple to cook, but you’ve got to get your basics. You have to buy certain essential ingredients.
How is people’s relationship with food different in South East Asia to here?
It’s simply because they’ve quite rightly always realised that food is the most important thing in our lives. People over here still go to restaurants for special occasions, whereas in South East Asia people just eat constantly – in Vietnam they probably have five meals a day. It just seemed to me how it should be. Food doesn’t have to be difficult – you don’t have to subtle.
Did you find anything that shocked you?
The Russian Market in Cambodia was quite the dirtiest market I’ve ever been in my life but I loved it. It was dark and smoky; it’s a covered market and everything is black from the wood smoke.
Is there one dish that sums up your adventure?
Vietnamese pho (a noodle soup). I still think it’s a fabulous dish and the Vietnamese talk about pho like they talk about their country. It’s the heart of Vietnam. I just love those big bowls of noodles and broth and vegetables. Every country has a dish like that – laksa in Malaysia, duck noodle soup in Bangkok.
Will any of the dishes you discovered be making their way onto your restaurant menus?
Funnily enough there are dishes already in Padstow (Where Rick has four restaurants). We’ve got an Indonesian seafood dish in the main restaurant. We do it with an Indonesian salad of crisp garlic, crunchy green beans and grated coconut. We’ve got a couple of vegetarian curries in the cafe from Sri Lanka; I’m going to bring loads more on.
If you had to up sticks and move somewhere other than Cornwall, where would you go?
I think I’d probably go to somewhere near to the Canal du Midi, where we made the French series. The French just get on with their own lives, perfect climate, fabulous raw materials, great restaurants and lovely scenery. And good cheap wine!
Do you try out dishes on your family?
I think we were going through the Thai recipes and the kids just said to me that this is the real thing, not like Thai restaurant food. Before we went on the trip, we went to a number of restaurants in London and they were all just rubbish!
You're soon to be married to your Australian fiancée Sarah. Will you be having South East Asian food at the wedding and will you be cooking it?
I probably won’t actually – it’s a very low key wedding and we’ll probably just have steak frites!
Given the recent news about depleted fish stocks in our oceans do you have any recommendations for fresh water fish and how we should prepare them?
There’s a Cambodian salad in the book with hot smoked trout. You fry the trout to get it crisp and then you make a salad with green mango, but you could use Chinese leaves or bean sprouts – you just need something crisp. It’s got chilli, lime juice, fish sauce, lime leaves, red onion – that’s on in the seafood restaurant too.
Rick Stein’ Far Eastern Odyssey is out now published by BBC Books priced at £25. It accompanies the BBC series of the same name. To watch a video of Rick talking about his new journey, click here