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Brothers in business

Words by Bethany Allen

The Stein’s name is evocative of delicious fresh fish enjoyed by the water; of beautiful seafood restaurants, numerous television series and a resoundingly successful business.

Jack and Charlie, image courtesy of Robin Goodlad

Rick and Jill Stein opened The Seafood Restaurant in Padstow back in 1975. From humble beginnings, the business now employs over 600 passionate people and includes 12 restaurants, 40 hotel rooms, self catering accommodation, four foodie shops and a cookery school. While Rick and Jill are both still at the helm, their three sons – Ed, Jack and Charlie – are all closely involved in the business and it’s fair to say, the Stein family passion for fresh fish, simply cooked, is stronger than ever. Ed is the eldest and works closely with Jill and his wife Kate to plan and design the interiors. Jack is the middle son and Chef Director of the Stein’s business, overseeing all the menus at every restaurant, and youngest son Charlie looks after all things wine, designing and developing the business’ wine list and beverage offering.

Jack and Charlie are involved with the running of the restaurants; both brothers dedicate time to forging relationships with producers and suppliers, with Charlie visiting France and other countries around the world to liaise with wine suppliers. Thanks to Cornwall’s exceptional local produce, Jack doesn’t have to travel as far and it wouldn’t be out of the question for you to find him traipsing around a local farm looking for new produce.

Combined, the brothers’ skills in the food and beverage industry forms a match made in heaven. When discussing how they collaborate as a team Charlie remarks: “We collaborate very well, even though we’re five years apart we’re pretty similar. We recently filmed a series called Wine, Dine and Stein in South Africa about food and wine, that’s just aired in Australia and that definitely brought us closer.” Jack’s ears prick up at the mention of their South Africa trip and he adds: “It was amazing, we went to twelve vineyards around Cape Town. Charlie would go and select the wine and I’d speak to the chef who was there, then we would figure out a menu and finish the tour with a big dinner.”

Rick Stein, Porthleven

Image courtesy of James Ram

It’s evident that both brothers are extremely passionate about their chosen industry. In response to this statement Charlie laughs and says: “I just love wine, it’s what I’ve grown up with, and it’s the matching of food and wine that really fascinates me, having come from a foodie family.”

For Jack, his love of the food industry and decision to pursue a career within it, not only stems from being around food his whole life – it also rides on the fact that when he was completing a degree in Psychology and a Masters degree in Ancient History at Cardiff University, it became evident to him that a lot of his peers were driven to go to London afterwards because there wasn’t the industry in place at home. Comparably, Cornwall’s food industry was booming, allowing Jack to move back home. “I got to a crossroads when it was time to make the decision of moving home or moving on and I thought, this is where I’m from, this is where I was born, I love the lifestyle down here, I love the beach, it’s the perfect place to be.” His eyes light up and he says: “There are very few places in the world where you can be cooking for lunch, go for a surf in your split and then go back to work. So that’s the real reason, that’s my passion – it’s for Cornwall.”

Rick Stein’s Cookery School, Padstow

Image courtesy of James Ram

To showcase their mutual love for food and wine as well as providing another opportunity for them to spend time together, Jack and Charlie have set up wine dinners, which take place in all the restaurants out of Cornwall (in Barnes, Marlborough, Winchester, and Sandbanks) and in the Cookery School in Padstow too. “People can be quite nervous about making the right choice when pairing food and wine – we want to eradicate that and help people see that once you have a think about it, it can be quite easy,” says Jack. The other aspect to the dinners is that they allow Jack and Charlie to connect with customers. “I don’t work on the floor anymore and Jack oversees the running of all our kitchens,” Charlie comments, “so it’s a great chance for us to engage with our customers.”

The main goal for the dinners is for them to be a fun, laid back and enjoyable experience for customers, allowing them to utilise the information that the brothers provide in a relaxed environment. “Hearing me and Charlie ramble on about life and the universe is a good opportunity for customers to connect with us and our story, we talk about the family and express our views on food and wine. Predominantly we want to promote interesting wine and food pairings, but it’s also a great opportunity to have a few drinks with our customers and have a laugh.”

The Cookery School’s open and interactive layout

Image courtesy of James Ram

When it comes to how the brothers set up the menus for the events, they tend to stick to a theme that revolves around the provenance of the wine and then Jack chooses food to complement this. “If you go to France, Italy or Spain the winemakers create their wine to be served alongside local foods,” says Charlie. “For example, if you go to Burgundy in France and order the Coq Au Vin, it will be paired with a local wine to elevate the dish and this stands as a rule of thumb with most regions and dishes.”

The most recent wine dinner took place at the Cookery School in Padstow on 3rd July, which I was fortunate enough to be invited to, and as we climbed the steps to the reception room, we found ourselves guided through to the glass-fronted cookery room overlooking the harbour. Sipping our champagne (Beaumont des Crayères), we began mingling and getting to know our fellow guests, before being shown to our tables – laid out in a very sociable horse shoe shape. Taking our seats, we were welcomed by Jack and Charlie, and it wasn’t long before they introduced us to the first of the five courses – Oysters Three Ways.

Charming throughout, the brothers deftly guided us through a tapestry of flavour – the food courtesy of Jack; the perfectly balanced wine list curated by Charlie – and so the evening flew by. Highlights (if I had to do the impossible and choose!) included the initial course of oysters, paired perfectly with a 2017 Muscadet Sevre-et-Maine Sur Lie from the Loire Valley; and a half lobster served with thin-cut chips and mayonnaise. Expertly matched with ‘Ava Marie’ – a 2016 Chardonnay from Hemel-en-Aarde, South Africa – Charlie told us: “South Africa is the most exciting country in the world, the best for producing wine.” As we sipped our chardonnay, he explained that only 5,000 bottles of it are made and that he only gets about 45 of them. “I don’t get to try this often, so I will be enjoying some with you today!”

The Cookery School is an extremely important part of the business, offering day courses and workshops for people to learn how to cook the freshest fish and shellfish, as well as being used for the in-house apprentice scheme, internal training and wine dinners. It encourages people to have a hands-on approach to food. “We are so disconnected from food these days,” Jack muses. “Everything comes from a packet, even on a small scale – to take a whole fish and fillet it brings you closer to a process that we’ve become estranged from.”

“It’s a great venue,” continues Charlie. “The space is interactive thanks to the open layout – when you’re at a restaurant everything is behind closed doors whereas at the Cookery School, Jack can do demonstrations and we encourage people to ask questions, talk to each other and talk to us.”

When discussing the aspirations for the Cookery School’s future, Charlie explains: “We want to get people closer to the produce. Cornwall is an amazing place for produce, from the veg, to the fish, to the butchery trade. There are so many small producers doing amazing things. It’s great to get guests closer to the story of produce, to take customers on a journey regarding where food comes from, where wine comes from and how to prepare fish and food in the right way. It gives people the opportunity to learn about the food and beverage industry as a whole. Expanding on the experience and genesis of food and wine.”

With this being said, Charlie is taking the concept one step further by instigating guest trips to wine regions so they can experience the wine in the vineyard it’s come from. Similarly, Jack is hoping to introduce culinary tours of Cornwall to the Cookery School next year. “I want to show people what we as chefs get to experience all the time, which is how wonderful Cornish produce is and how wonderful the suppliers are. If you really love food, for me that’s the next step for keen foodies – to actually experience what the chefs experience when they source food from local suppliers.”

It’s clear that both Jack and Charlie are fascinated by the provenance of food and wine and want to share this fascination with their customers. It seems like this is a natural progression from the wine dinners – to actually go to the country the wine is from and see the produce growing in the fields.

Rick Stein’s Cookery School

Image courtesy of James Ram

The next dinner is taking place at the restaurant in Winchester on 17th October and will be an exploration of Spanish food and wine. Keep an eye out for upcoming dates on the Rick Stein website and experience the brothers’ love for food and wine first hand. “Everything we do as a company is built around the customer experience and if we can deliver a carefully selected wine list and good recommendations that go with food, it’s useful for everyone to know.” The dinners therefore act as a microcosm for the Stein’s business as a whole, and this is what it all boils down to: indulging in the shared experience of enjoying great tasting food and drink among friends.


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