Nathan Outlaw is undoubtedly Britain’s finest fish chef. He has not just one, but three seafood restaurants and with that he is the proud owner of four Michelin stars between them.
Nathan Outlaw started his career with another famous fish chef the one and only Rick Stein, and to this day he still reveres him and keeps in contact in this corner of Cornwall.
Sally Thomson recently spoke with him where they discussed his business and how much different running his gastropub The Mariners was to his two-star restaurant. They each offer dishes for different types of clientele, plus during the summer season he gets a lot of holiday makers visiting. So effectively he says that he has three or four markets to cater for. He explained that he has found that he needs to be a lot more versatile for his guests.
She asked him why he decided to take on such a challenge. “I love a challenge. Where the pub is we are working with Sharps Brewery and they have the same ethos as ours, making everything the best that you can. We complement each other well.
So at the end of the day you are only one man, how do you do it? You appear to be spinning lots of plates all the time.
Yes, I know what you mean. If I look into my diary it is enough to drive a man crazy, but I have a great deal of support around me. I have loyal guys that work with me. I have a good 20 people who have been loyal to me for a long time. They like me like to work hard at the same time as enjoying themselves, which makes everything a lot easier. It has taken 13 years to build that up – it didn’t happen over night.
So am I right in understanding that you are the only 2 Michelin starred fish chef in the country?
Well, yes there’s never been one before – yeah the one and only so far.
How does that make you feel?
I think it shows just how hard we have all worked together. The Michelin star and all the accolades are great but my aim is to see a full and happy restaurant with people coming back time and time again. They are the icing on the top. I try not to get tied up in that world – they could be taken away from you at any point. I concentrate on having a really good customer base.
Am I right in that cooking is in your blood and that you used to work with your dad?
I have always been interested in cooking since the age of 8. I have been in kitchens and dad works with me now actually. He works in the London restaurant.
So have you always wanted to cook then?
I’ve never really thought about doing anything else. I am quite creative so I looked at doing animation, but I was really honest with myself and thought that I was not going to be good enough. I think that there is still a lot of creativity in cooking.
How did your career start?
I was inspired by my father really. He’s always been very positive and proud about what he was doing. When I stepped into the kitchen as a youngster I just felt that it was right and decided that this is what I want to do. I’ve always felt comfortable.
And you were with Rick Stein for a while?
Yes, I wanted to work for the best fish restaurant in the country.
Now you have the best fish restaurant in the country! Well done you.
Rick is a big inspiration. You rarely get a chance to work for your hero and I had that opportunity. Some people say you should never meet your hero and I did and he delivered so he still keeps that status.
What do you think were the key elements that you learnt from Rick?
Keep things simple and look after the hospitality side of things. His restaurant is a fun place to be. It is not one of those hush hush dining rooms. It is nice and relaxed. After I left Ricks I went and worked for some fine dining restaurants which were a little more like that. I realised that what I saw at his seafood restaurant was what I wanted to do. Mine are a balance between the two as I try and make fine dining a lot more accessible. I try and take away all that ponce; customers need to feel comfortable.
It is so important to make the customers feel comfortable…
Well I go to a lot of top restaurants and have been in the business for over 20 years and I do know my way around a wine list and can feel intimidated at times. We try and make it very down to earth. Here in Cornwall 90% of our customers are here to relax. So it is very important that we accommodate that.
Putting people at their ease especially when they are paying the bill is very important especially in terms of getting them back again.
Definitely. We get a huge number of repeat customers, so I’d like to think we are doing it right. Front of house are all very personable, but professional at the same time. We try to look after you such as if you have any dietary requirements. That’s their job and something we put great store by. They will remember all of that for guests returning. They want to make sure that you feel special.
When did you venture out on your own?
2003 I opened my own place and got the star the next year. Within 8 months of opening.
So how did it feel when you were on your own- flying solo so to speak?
It was quite scary. My wife had just given birth to our son and we didn’t have anywhere to live so we stayed with my brother-in-law in a room in his house. Most people thought I was crazy – hey that still think that to this day! I think that if you believe in yourself you just have to get on with it. If someone tells me I cannot do it and it won’t work – I will try and make it work.
What star sign are you?
I’m Pisces – the right one for running a seafood restaurant.
I’ve seen you quite a few times on Saturday Kitchen, so how do you like cooking to camera?
I just try and do what I do in my own restaurant. It’s good on that programme as they don’t tell you what you have to cook. You are always allowed to do what you want to do. So effectively, you are just doing what you do day in day out. It’s a bit nerve-wracking the first time especially when they say you have 4 million people watching you – don’t swear! I quite enjoy it now.
I have been sent a copy of your latest book, which is delightful. I love reading cookbooks in bed and I would have to say that it is one of the most informative of books. It is fabulous. How did you enjoy working on that?
I like doing it all myself. What you see and read is my writing – the whole thing.
I’ve started to make some of you recipes and they are a joy to cook. We are usually fishy people but we becoming fishy people. Your book is so full of inspiration – it is really wonderful. So if you had to pick 3 of your favourite dishes (I know that this is a difficult question) what would they be?
I like all of the cured section particularly as there are not many books that cover that side of cooking. There is a mackerel that is cured in there with beetroot, that’s a nice one. Then there is one which is a turbot with seaweed breadcrumbs served with Hollandaise. That’s a nice one to do. There’s also a John Dory with asparagus and chilli salad. John Dory is a bit special as fishermen don’t target it, it tends to be caught with other fish, so grab it when you can. John Dory doesn’t swim in big shoals as you get with say bass. If you see it it’s a good idea to buy it.
And finally, whilst you are spinning so many plates what other plans do you have in the pipeline?
Well I am opening up a restaurant in Dubai in the Burg ala Rab. The chef that is going in there has been with me for 14 years. He’s basically me, but a much thinner version. I will be going out there about 6 times a year. I am looking forward to spending some time with the family and some sunshine.