Rick Stein

Debashine Thangevelo

Until now, Rick Stein’s manic schedule has made it impossible for him to attend any of South Africa’s Good Food & Wine Festivals. However, this is his third visit to our shores.

Aside from coming once for a holiday, he was here more than a decade ago to promote his book, Rick Stein’s Seafood Odyssey.

He shares: “They have been asking me to attend for a number of years, but it just didn’t tie in. The reason why it has worked now is that I used to spend all of October in Australia with my wife and we have moved back to the UK so I could do it.”

At 68, he is the picture of good health. And, when it comes to food, he speaks with unmistakable passion.

He has scoured many lands in search of great food and recipes. Where he truly shines is in his gracious manner to soak up as much as he can from the locals and his ability to effortlessly blend in to any environment.

Stein isn’t one to explore the elitist cuisine. He likes it unpretentious, with a homely feel.

He sheds light on the special quality of his next series, Rick Stein: From Venice to Istanbul, which will only air in South African on BBC Lifestyle next year.

“It’s a mixture of things,” he points out. “I did a series called Mediterranean Escape about five or six years ago. It was just about different cuisines from the Mediterranean. We finished in Turkey. I really liked the Middle-Eastern Turkish food, which has a lot more spices in it. Lots of kebab cooking and tandoor cooking in the oven. I just wanted to investigate further… Then somebody said: ‘Why don’t you go to Greece?’ And I have been very keen on Greek food most of my life, even though some people think it is very one- dimensional. I don’t. So I thought about doing Greece, Turkey and then Istanbul, but I also wanted to start in Venice to bring in the Italian food and there are a lot of influences from the Byzantine Empire. It all came together as a journey.”

Interestingly, his previous show in India was a huge hit. Even the book has outsold all his previous ones.

He recalls: “I have been to India a few times. So I wasn’t fazed by the fact that there is a lot of poverty, chaos and noise. It’s all a part of it. It’s funny, we were in Calcutta and had this local fixer who said we weren’t to film any cows, goats or buildings with trees growing out of them. But that was impossible because anywhere we put the camera, you saw that. I believe it is important to give someone a sense of what it is actually like. For me, it was the most fabulous sensation to be there. And also to see people who live so close get along so well.

“A lot of Indian people have been gracious about my cooking book. But I’m only scratching the surface – you only get some general concepts of spicing. But the sophisticated stuff is beyond me,” he adds.

He was also humbled by people sharing their family recipes with him.

Of the interesting cooking techniques he has come across, he shares: “I think, lamb/ goat cooking in that part of the world (meaning Greece, Turkey and Croatia). I think using yoghurt as a flavour is very important there. It’s a small portion of barbequed or slow-cooked meat, vegetables, yoghurt and flatbread. That is such a homely way of cooking.”

As for his wish list for future shows, he says: “Well, South Africa, of course. It’s a very visual country, the climate is superb. Other than that, I would love to do something in South America – the only deterrent is that there isn’t enough interest (from a producing aspect). The other one is China, there is also a bit of reluctance on that idea.”

And for this weekend’s festival in Durban, Stein has amalgamated a few recipes for his latest show and his India series. Oh, and he promised to try out a bunny chow, too!

For those not in Durban for the Good Food and Wine Festival, catch repeats of Rick Stein’s India series on BBC Lifestyle (DStv channel 174) from today until Nov 5. Times vary, so check your schedule.