A Law onto himself
In the first of a series, Emma Deighan looks at internationally-renowned hospitality figures providing a source of inspiration to the local trade
Nathan Outlaw has generated a global reputation for specialising in fish dishes. Here the restaurateur, celebrity chef and acclaimed cook book author chats with Emma Deighan about his inspirations, challenges, the NI culinary map and what’s coming next
Becoming a chef wasn’t in Nathan Outlaw’s original career plans. As a child, he wanted to be a Disney animator when he grew up but later believed his geographical positioning in Kent made a job of that nature somewhat unreachable. Instead, his natural ability for cooking and working alongside his father in an “industrial kitchen” from the age of eight saw him become one of the most respected chefs of our time.
“I really liked the teamwork and banter in the kitchen and the building excitement as service approached,” says Nathan, when asked what the single most important influence was in drawing him into the industry. “When I told my parents I wanted to be a chef, they tried to talk me out of it but it obviously didn’t work.”
His parents are probably glad their powers of persuasion fell on deaf ears as, to date, Nathan’s success has been immense for his 38 years. He runs his self-titled two Michelin starred-restaurant, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, in Port Isaac, Cornwall. He has appeared on television shows such as BBC’s Great British Menu and Saturday Kitchen, and has released numerous cook books snapped up by chefs and cooking enthusiasts alike.
While he believes passion and “a willingness to learn” was the backbone to becoming a successful chef, Nathan says a classical, theoretical background helps to prepare aspiring chefs for the industry. This belief has also seen him become involved with Cornwall College, where he works alongside young chefs, although he confesses that colleges still have a lot of work to do to safeguard the trade.
“Colleges need to keep up-to-date with the needs of the industry and make sure that young chefs leave prepared for the ‘real’ kitchen,” he says. “They need to start with the basics before progressing on to more complex dishes and techniques.
“It’s about the industry and education talking to each other and designing courses accordingly. At the end of the day, putting some effort into young chefs means we’ll have a highly skilled workforce in the future.”
Among his own mentors Nathan can count Rick Stein, Gary Rhodes and Eric Chavot – names that no doubt assisted in catapulting him to fame, alongside his own efforts, of course.
Nathan opened his first restaurant in May 2003 named The Black Pig. He was awarded his first Michelin star in the following January at the age of 25 and, in 2006, he took over the restaurant at the Marina Villa in Fowey, Cornwall, opening his self-titled Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in 2007.
Then, in 2009, the Good Food Guide included Nathan’s self-titled restaurant at the 11th position, and described the chef as making “discreet but powerful waves” in the industry. He opened his second restaurant, the Nathan Outlaw Seafood Bar and Grill, at the St Enodoc hotel in Rock, Cornwall in May during the same year.
Nathan cites Rick Stein as one of the biggest influencers behind his fish dish preference. “At the time, Rick Stein was just making it big on TV and he was the person I decided I wanted to work with,” he says. “I’d been to Cornwall on family holidays and knew I liked it there so I applied for a job. The rest is history.”
His new cookbook explores food beyond the sea, with meat dishes and desserts also featuring but his passion for what he’s most famously known will never wane. “I love that each piece of fish is different so you never really know what’s going to happen,” he says. “Each fish will react differently to cooking dependent on where it’s been swimming and how active it’s been. It’s always a challenge.
“Sustainability is something I take very seriously. After all, if we continue to use just one or two species, there will be a time when there is nothing left. I think we have a responsibility in the industry to introduce and encourage the use of different species of fish.”
Having been prestigiously awarded Michelin stars, AA rosettes and Good Food Guide accolades from an early age, Nathan is quick to point out that the consistent flow of titles that he beckons aren’t solo achievements but recognition for his whole team.
“I’ve never gone out specifically to gain any awards,” he says. “I just do what I think is right and, luckily, it seems that others like it.”
And people more than like what the chef has created over the years, so much so he is one of the most-watched celebrity chefs hailing from England; exposure that he believes can only benefit custom and something his contemporaries should consider.
“I don’t think in this day and age that you can survive by just being in the kitchen and doing your thing. The media and social media is a fact of life and to have any amount of success these days you need to be able to relate to people. Luckily, I quite like getting out there and meeting the public but I know others who are not so keen.”
While it would appear that his achievements have been somewhat effortless, a man of Nathan’s credibility still has his challenges, creating a work/life balance being the biggest hurdle and one that he has yet to overcome he confessed.
Nathan met his wife Rachel while he was working for Rick Stein and together they have two children, Jacob and Jessica.
Beyond the kitchen, college, TV and home life, the chef is also busy penning cookbooks to spread his knowledge. His latest literary and visual treat is Nathan Outlaw’s Home Kitchen; a book he says caters to cooks of all abilities.
“My new book is what it says in the title Home Kitchen,” he says. “It’s a collection of recipes I’ve been cooking with or for my family for years. It’s a book that you could give someone just starting out on their own but there are also some recipes for those who are more experienced.
“I have a massive collection of cookery books and it occurred to me that very few would be suitable for the novice cook so I decided to set down a collection of recipes that I could give my children when they go off to college or wherever in a few years’ time. I cooked all the dishes for the photoshoot on a domestic cooker in an ordinary kitchen so I know they will work at home.”
Unexpectedly the book features meat dishes and desserts as well as Sunday roasts “just to prove that I can cook more than fish. That’s something that comes as a surprise to some people.”
Just recently, Nathan visited Galway as part of Chef Swap Aniar – a new project that has innovation, education and strengthening of Irish food at its centre. “That’s about sharing experiences and learning new things from each other,” he says.
And although the trip only saw him based in the south, he has his eye on Northern Ireland, describing the restaurant scene here as ‘vibrant’.
“I’ve been over several times now and each time I come I’m impressed with the passion of the chefs and the produce that is available locally,” he says. “Those two elements mean that things there are bound to get even better as time goes on.”
So what’s next for the man who is literally balancing a thousand plates? “Who knows. It’s going to be a busy year but I don’t plan too far ahead. I like to wait and see what comes up and if I like the look of it, I’ll find out more.”
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