Wrapped in among the rabbit and chicken paella were stories about trips to Mississippi and the blues; the differences between the Spaniards and the Italians were tucked into the anchovy egg salad and throughout the hake and clam recipe were revelations about star gazey pie, “it’s too rich, all that cream, but I haven’t tried it, so maybe I will, I’ll do a piece on it.”
This is a man whose mind skips, stutters, reveals, uncovers and explores food before your very eyes. And it is a little disarming, comforting perhaps, that the Padstein emperor is just a bloke who forgets what he’s chatting about mid-sentence like the rest of us. What can’t be denied is his passion for his subject. From the Spanish women who fillet anchovies in Cantabria to the fish filleters of St Ives, Rick reveres them all.
Our evening was loosely structured around three recipes:
1) crisp lettuce, anchovy, egg and crouton salad with a creamy vinaigrette
2) hake with clams, asparagus, peas and parsley
3) paella with chicken and rabbit, white and green beans, tomatoes and paprika.
The salad? Simples, you may say and he did seem a little embarrassed. But it was brave and the point was to showcase the exceptional Spanish anchovies which he described as “perfection”, as well as demonstrating an imaginably delicious dressing that was almost a mayo. The hake with clams was my kind of dish, pretty much an all-in-one job that looked and smelt like any secondo on an Italian riviera terrazza. And finally that Spanish classic, the paella: chicken and rabbit which was dished out to the audience at the end. Salty and tasty with earthy notes from the saffron and paprika which Rick stubbornly refers to as pimentón.
So what next for our man in Padstow? Having revealed how he’d pitched his French barge series on the back of a tablecloth in a restaurant in Bristol, it looks like he may be pitching a series on Australian food, Eastern European food or even America and country music.
All proceeds from the event were donated to The Poly, a stunning total of £6035. He may well lose his train of thought while gulping down a glass of Rueda, but Rick Stein is consistently supporting local causes, in particular those of the men who furnish his starched restaurant tables with the very hake and clams used in the demo. He’s honest, can talk at length about oven temperatures, loses his way in the smells and the chopping and without his sous chef James I’m not sure we would have had a show at all. But it was entertaining, it was real and it was very very human.