Stein stories – tales from Jack Stein
21st Apr 2020
My earliest memories are of Mum and Dad going away every night. I was about three or four, and my brother Ed would lie about where they were going. He’d say they were off to Japan or Paris. They were at home the next morning. I just thought Mum and Dad travelled a lot. The restaurant became our second home, or even the first. I grew up in and around a kitchen. There was something incredibly exciting about that existence – being a young kid and being with chefs and waiters and waitresses. They were like my older brothers and sisters. For a child, it was fun – in a restaurant there is always something happening, the environment is packed with energy.
When I was about seven, one of the chefs introduced me to the Beastie Boys, the American pop group whose fans knicked VW badges and wore them around their necks. The chef was pinching the emblems from our customers’ cars and making me wear them, which certainly didn’t go down well. I remember the regular Sunday walks with the family. One day we came back to the Restaurant and Rick made us eat lambs’ testicles. He said, ‘They’re sausages.’
I mentioned travel, and my early years were coloured and gloriously enriched by lengthy family holidays in far-away countries and continents. The restaurant would shut down during the winter – actually Cornwall would shut down in the winter – and my parents would take me out of primary school and we’d all go away. By the time I was ten I had been to Australia three times and India twice. I’d been to Thailand, Singapore, Hawaii, and California. My mum’s brother-in-law was a travel agent, which helped, and Rick was developing his love for world repertoire. I suppose we all were.
When we went abroad, my brothers and I were led not to fancy restaurants but to the places where the locals ate. My parents called themselves enthusiastic amateurs. I remember in northern Spain there were all these famous Michelin-starred restaurants but we’d go to tapas bars. We felt comfortable to go and eat in these places, rather than in expensive dining rooms. When I was about seven, we came off the plane in Bangkok and went to a night market. We were sitting there eating chilli crab and all that stuff you get, and there was a psychedelic quality to the experience. The noise and the smells . . . and with your parents leading you through the market, we could see how excited they were about food. There was something quite scary, but we knew the food was going to be good.
It was 1992 when I began work at the restaurant, as a kitchen porter and on basic preparation of food. That’s when I started to see a different side to the restaurant; to see the hard work that’s involved. I went to university to study Psychology but the lure of the kitchen was too strong and irresistible.
I am immensely proud of The Seafood Restaurant. Throughout my life I have known the chefs and front-of-house people go off to open their own restaurants all around the world. I was at Noma and René Redzepi came out of the kitchen. He said, ‘We had a chef who worked here and he told me the best time of his career was when he worked at The Seafood Restaurant.’ What a lovely thing to say. You see, it’s the legacy of the restaurant; the restaurant lives on. I go into work every day with a smile on my face. Worst comes to the worst, I can go into the sea for a surf, and then everything is fine. Friends feel intimidated about cooking for me. They say, ‘I can’t cook for you. You’re a chef.’ And I say, ‘The act of you giving me food is enough for me.’