Stein stories – tales from Charlie Stein
21st Apr 2020
As a small child I was drawn to the hustle and bustle, smells and noises of the Seafood kitchen. I remember walking from the calm serenity of Padstow quay through the back door of the kitchen and into a crazy, frenzied world. Always on the lookout for a shark fin, or to stare at the lobsters in their tanks always knowing that later they would be boiled alive.
I feel extraordinarily blessed to have had a childhood that was so entwined with food and drink, in the restaurant, at home and when we travelled. The dinner table at our house was a place where life happened, good and bad. It’s no wonder so many cultures hold food and the sharing of food in such high regard, and the experiences I’ve had at home (as well as the knowledge I’ve learnt) have helped me forge a career in the wine world. They say that a great wine shows a ‘sense of place’: it’s more than simply the characteristics of its particular grape variety; it is in fact singing of its particular place on the planet. When trying a new wine for the restaurant, I like to think that it has another sense of place, and I think back to all my experiences and know that this wine’s place is at The Seafood Restaurant to be enjoyed with all that wonderful food.
Of our travels, the market in Andjuna stands out. India in the nineties was a place less travelled than it is today and to a ten-year-old boy Andjuna market was a wonder to behold. It reminded me of the scene in Star Wars when Luke Skywalker first walks into the Mos Eisley Cantina. It seemed to be almost like a sensory overload of colour, noise and smell (mostly bad). I walked around thinking I was on another planet, unable to relate anything that was happening around me to my previous experiences. On one of our trips to India, Dad became obsessed with a beautiful, ancient red spice grinder machine, which had two big granite wheels that were turned by an old motor. I think he was taken by the romanticism of this machine, something that could only be made by the very practical Indians. Unfortunately, this machine wasn’t particularly small or light and had to be transported back to England at great stress to everyone in the family. David Pritchard, the producer of his shows, thought it would be a great idea to film with it, and they started it up and as Dad was adding the ingredients to make a paste it unceremoniously spluttered, clogged and broke down, much to the amusement of the crew and the old man. It’s a great bit of TV but it was also instrumental in my lifelong love of gadgets and machines.
There is no place in the world I’d rather be than eating with friends at table number . . . I’ve forgotten the number, but it’s the round one by the old kitchen doors. If I could be there now, I’d start with half a dozen oysters and langoustines with a starter sashimi. There’s something magical about the Cornish light that pours in from those big windows and almost illuminates the food in front of you, bouncing off open oyster shells and cascading over plump platters of fruits de mer. This would all be washed down with a couple of glasses of crisp, fresh Sancerre. Then onto the main event, Turbot and Hollandaise with a magnum of Puligny-Montrachet, or a muscular Meursault. In my mind, there is no better fish in the ocean, and no better match than the richness of the hollandaise – the perfect partner for the buttery fatness of the Burgundy.