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Chefs Get Personal

22 Jun 2021

an interview with Nathan Outlaw

Chef Name: Nathan Outlaw

Age: 43

Title: Chef/Restaurateur

Awards:

2021: 1 Michelin Star Outlaw’s New Road

2021: Honorary Vice-Patron, The Fishermen’s Mission

2020: 1 Michelin Star Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen

2019: 2 Michelin Stars Restaurant Nathan Outlaw (closed in 2020)

2018, 2019, 2020: Waitrose Good Food Guide, No. 1 in the UK Top 50 Restaurants. Cooking score 10/10 for the past 3 years

2017: Chef of the Year, Food & Travel Awards (voted for by readers).

2017: Restaurateur of the Year, The Catey Awards (voted for by those in the industry)

2014 – 2015: AA Chefs’ Chef of the Year

How old were you when you started cooking professionally? 

From the age of eight I started going into in a professional kitchen with my Dad, who was Executive Chef for a large industrial catering outlet. I was allowed to tray up sausages and make toast. I then began cooking at a local pub and golf club when I was 15. After college, my first real professional job was at the InterContinental at Hyde Park Corner, under the late Peter Kromberg. I was just 18.

What’s your earliest and fondest first memory of food? 

Family Christmas events. The traditional fare was always on offer and celebrations lasted from the 23rd Dec (my brother’s birthday) right through to New Year’s Eve, with various sit-down meals and buffets being served by different family members, and which were always amazing. 

Which chefs inspire you most and why? 

Rick Stein. I left London to work with him because I wanted to learn about seafood cookery.  It was a natural choice and one I’ve never regretted. His knowledge and enthusiasm still inspire me now. 

I’ve drawn inspiration from every chef I’ve ever worked with, however. I made specific choices in terms of the kitchens I worked in, because I wanted to work with the named chefs there. But I’ve also drawn inspiration from other chefs I’ve worked with. Each one has influenced the chef I’ve become. 

Of course, the original inspiration was from my Dad. He’s a brilliant chef, and grew his own vegetables before it was fashionable to do so. It was him who instilled in me that great produce is key.

What are your two favourite cookbooks and why? 

English Seafood Cookery, Rick Stein. It’s the first book Rick had published, and still the best seafood cookery book out there. 

Nose to Tail Eating, Fergus Henderson. The cookery here is inspirational and showcases respect for ingredients and an ethical approach to cooking.

Which two ingredients could you not live without?

Good vinegar. I often use vinegars to season and balance my cooking rather than the traditional salt and pepper.

Good British cheeses. I love the unusual ones made using traditional methods. The range of flavours and textures we have access to in Britain never ceases to amaze me. 

What is your favourite comfort food to cook at home?

I love traditional dishes like Shepherd’s Pie and Toad-in-the-Hole. They evoke happy memories of my childhood, and also of family meals with my own children. Dishes made with love.

If you could eat at any Michelin star restaurant in the world today, where would it be and why? 

Asador Etxebarri, just outside San Sebastian, Spain. I love this place. The whole ambience is amazing, and they serve no-nonsense food which is seemingly simple, but always incredible.  The menu here is all about seasonality. I’d like to eat there every couple of weeks as the seasons change, just to see what they are doing. They also have their own buffalo and make fresh mozzarella every day.

And who would you take as your guest?

I’d have to take my wife, Rachel. She’s fed up with me going on about the place and just wants to experience it for herself. I’d also take my executive chef, Pete Biggs, for the same reason.

What do you look for in a good chef?

A passion for both cooking and eating. Open-mindedness, so they have no pre-set ideas about how things ‘should be’ rather that how they might be. A willingness to listen; it’s the only way to learn. 

I tend to employ chefs with little experience so they have no pre-conceived ideas and can be introduced to and excited by new concepts.

What advice would you give to chefs starting their career paths now? 

Look, listen and learn. Try to experience different cuisines and take ideas from each one.  Remember that it’s the producers and growers who bring your ingredients to you, so make sure you visit them and understand what they are doing. You can’t become a good chef by just staying in the kitchen! Finally, if you find yourself in a kitchen where you are not learning or where there is a regime of bullying, no matter whose kitchen it is, leave. There are plenty of better places to nurture your skills.

How has the pandemic affected your restaurant? And how did you adapt and evolve throughout?

The pandemic has affected us dramatically. Our first decision was to close the 2 Michelin-starred ‘Restaurant Nathan Outlaw’ for good. We ran a takeaway for the summer months of the first lockdown, but although it was enormously popular with customers, it was very difficult to run – partly because we’re not set up for a takeaway operation, but it also wasn’t very cost effective. We’ve re-invented our main restaurant as ‘Outlaw’s New Road’, a completely different concept; still offering the very best fish and seafood available to us along with first class hospitality, but much more accessible and even more ethically minded than the fine-dining restaurant. We’ve managed to reduce waste to a very minimum, both in terms of food and staff time – not something that can be done with fine dining. We’ve managed to keep Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen open too.

Can you share any wisdom from the experience so far with others? Have you changed? Has your cooking changed?

Never think you have things in the bag. There’s always a chance that something completely out of your control is just around the corner. Luckily, we’ve always done our own thing anyway, so changing how we do things wasn’t a huge concern. I believe in doing what you do because you enjoy it, and not putting up with people who don’t appreciate it. At the end of the day, some will and some won’t. As they say, ‘you can’t win ‘em all’. I’m also of a mind that whatever you create, it should be in an environment that is fun for all involved. If there’s no joy in what you do, what’s the point? 

Chef Nathan Outlaw is Head Chef and Owner of Outlaw’s New Road and Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen

Website: www.outlaws.co.uk

Address: 6, New Road, Port Isaac, Cornwall

Telephone: +44 (0) 1208 880 896

Instagram: @nathanoutlaw & @outlawsnewroad & @fishkitchen

Twitter: @OutlawsNewRoad

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