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Food

Rick Stein's Mediterranean tales

Rick Stein tells of an amazing but dangerous fishing adventure during the shooting of his latest BBC food series, From Venice to Istanbul. It finds him bobbing about in the middle of the Bosphorus in a tiny dinghy dodging massive tankers all for the sake of some fresh blue fish.

“It was one of those times where you have to see food through the eyes of the locals,” Rick says when we sit down for a chat about the series and the book of the same title at Bondi Icebergs on a sunny afternoon.

“I was with Mesut, a retired fisherman and a great character and he had taken me to catch blue fish, which is the fish in Istanbul. But it wasn’t any old fishing trip – it was right in the middle of the Bosphorus, which, as you know, is the strip of water between Asia and Europe.

“There is so much shipping going through there. There is a container ship every minute passing you and we are in this tiny little boat, right in the middle of the shipping lanes – there are bloody great tankers going either way.

“The photography for it was fantastic because the cameraman was so far away on land with a telephoto lens, so it looks like we are about to be split in half!

“We went back to this little fishing harbour just on the edge of the Bosphorus and it was just Mesut and his mates, just hanging down there; it is like they might just get up and go down there as if they are going to work. And he made this amazing fish stew with the blue fish.”

A charmed life

This is just one of the colourful stories behind the 100-plus delectable recipes featured in the latest book, and the way Rick tells it, bringing such life, charisma and energy to the tale is one of the reasons the affable English chef has been so popular as a television presenter.

Alongside his TV adventures, he has published a pile of best-selling cook books, as well as run six acclaimed UK restaurants, plus Rick Stein at Bannisters on the New South Wales south coast. 

Despite all this, he is polite, generous with his time and almost apologetic for living such an enviable life.

“I feel so privileged,” he says of his food presenter role. “I keep saying to people – you think I’m really enjoying this all the time – and I am, but it’s not like I’m on holiday, we still have to work.”

Byzantine discoveries

For his latest adventure he has tackled a veritable encyclopaedia of produce and ingredients beginning in Venice, travelling through the mystical heart of Hellenic cuisine, wading into the beguiling flavours of Croatia and on to the exotic food of Turkey. It is almost too much for one book.

“I have to confess to just dabbling really, it is just the flavours of the area,” says Rick. Looking through the vast array of dishes, though, you get the feeling that he is being overly modest; garlic shrimps with soft polenta, Albanian baked lamb, Dalmatian fresh fig tart. Yum.

“I have spent plenty of time in Greece and Italy over the years so this trip taught me a lot about the food and flavours of Croatia and Turkey, so I hope I have given a delicious enthusiast’s view of the food and flavours of the area.”

From Venice to Istanbul is out now (Random House, RRP $55).

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George Calombaris' Hellenic heart
Words by Mark Hughes on 17 Nov 2015
It is not surprising to learn that as a young boy George Calombaris loved food. He was obsessed by it. As we sit down for a chat at his Hellenic Republic restaurant in Brunswick, a very fit-looking George (he is almost equally obsessed with his regular gym routines these days) recalls a couple of prime examples as to how much food was always on his mind. “Dad had an independent supermarket and our job on a Saturday was to sweep the floors. While my brother was stealing cigarettes; I was stealing tubes of condensed milk,” he says. “I remember going to an uncle’s house and while my cousins were out the front kicking the footy, I was standing at the barbecue stealing charred bits of octopus while no-one was looking.” It was almost ordained therefore that George would become a chef. Although he never cooked at home as a child “there was no romantic story of me with my hands in the bowl beside mum because we weren’t allowed in the kitchen”, what is somewhat surprising is the fact that when he did start manning the pans, he wanted to cook anything other than Greek food. He learned French cuisine through an apprenticeship at the Sofitel Melbourne, then the same at Fenix before taking on the head chef role at Reserve Restaurant in Melbourne’s Federation Square. It is here he turned heads, being awarded Young Chef of the Year and two prestigious chef’s hats from The Age Good Food Guide. But it all came to a grinding halt when the restaurant went bankrupt. It is perhaps due to George’s indefatigable charisma that he was able to turn adversity into a pivotal moment in his career, and at the same time, find his Hellenic heart. “I was out of a job, distraught, 26 years of age, and that made me go and do a lot of soul searching,” he recalls. “I asked, who am I? Who am I as a cook? Suddenly, a light bulb went off and I went, ‘Hang on, I know what my culture is, I have lived and breathed it all my life.’ I could see a massive hole in the market being all things Greek – from fast food to fine dining. From that, The Press Club was born. Nine years on, it has been an incredible ride to where we are now.” Changing food culture Now, George is one of the most recognisable faces in the Australian food industry. As co-host of the super successful MasterChef TV series, he is projected into lounge rooms across the globe. For George, the overwhelming positive from it all is the fact that it has got people thinking about food. “What has happened has been incredible,” he says. “I remember getting a call from a friend who works at the local Bunnings and he says, “Mate, what did you cook last night, because we have sold out of blow torches?” We had done crème brulee. The show influences everyone from young kids to adults. I walked down the street the other day and a tradie showed me pictures of macaroons that he made with his daughter. That, for me, means we are winning.” Away from the small screen, George is at the helm of a Melbourne restaurant empire serving everything Greek from street food at five Jimmy Grants outlets, casual wholefoods at Mastic cafe, contemporary fare at Hellenic Republic and Gazi, to top shelf dining at the Press Club. Plans are also afoot to launch into the Sydney market with a Greek restaurant in Surry Hills. Stay tuned. Cooking the books In addition to all of this, George has published five cookbooks. His most recent, of which he is proudest, is simply titled Greek , and features the recipes that mean most to him. Ones that his family has passed down to him, fellow chefs have shared and even recipes that he makes with his children. “Great cookbooks are not about the recipes, they are about the story,” says George. “It’s about the influences other chefs have played in my life, my mother,   even my kids. There is a recipe in there for vegemite and avocado cruskit – you don’t have to be a genius to make it, but it is not about that – it is about the experiences that we share that make us who we are.” There is even a whole chapter in the book about pasta. Given the name of the book is 'Greek', it begs the question, why? “A lot of people don‘t know that my dad’s mother is Sicilian,” reveals George. “My dad migrated from Egypt, my grandfather was Greek, my grandmother Italian. On my mum’s side my mother, grandparents are Cypriots. Of course, Cypriot food is Greek influenced but also very influenced by the Ottoman Empire – Turkish flavours, Middle Eastern flavours. So when I was young, I was getting fed everything from falafel to moussaka to pasta and ricotta. I was so bloody lucky. “So this book is about everything that has influenced my life, from a souvlaki at Jimmy Grants to a Hills Hoist at The Press Club and everything in between. This is, for me, where I am right now. “I set out on my journey to do all things Greek for all people,” he says. “It’s taken me a long time to get here, 19 years with mistakes along the way. But I’ve loved every minute of it. Now we’re ready to go even harder and I hope there are another 19 ahead. I am just starting. I’m at the beginning of what I wanted to do.”  
Two Blues Sauvignon Blanc 2014
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