Nathan Outlaw on his latest book Fish Kitchen

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th May 2014
Fish Kitchen Nathan Outlaw’s second cookbook, Nathan Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen, came out last week. Following on from the great success of his first book, Nathan Outlaw’s British Seafood, the two-Michelin-starred chef decided to write a book categorising recipes based on the cooking technique used, from old-fashioned pan-frying to steaming to barbecuing and even raw preparations that the home cook can easily master. The Staff Canteen caught up with him to find out how he writes his cookbooks and where all the ideas come from…   When did you start the book and how long has it taken?  I had ideas for Fish Kitchen as soon as I’d finished the first book. There were a lot of recipes I couldn’t fit in the first book, so the publisher said, basically keep them to one side and if the first book fares well, you’ll be able to write another one. After three months of the first book coming out, Quadrille, the publisher, said, if you want to put an idea for another book in front of us, we’ll be happy to sign a new deal. I started writing Fish Kitchen about a year ago. I travel to London every week and I’m on the train for four hours so, give or take a couple of sessions at home, I’ve pretty much written the whole book on the train.   What was the concept behind the second book? I had the idea that the first book was very much about the species of seafood we can get around the British coast so I wanted to do one that was more about the techniques of cooking fish. The idea was to encourage people to not just do the safe pan-fried or grilled methods, but that there’s other ways of cooking seafood.   Where did you gather all the recipes from for the book and how many were new creations? There’s an element of every recipe in the new book that I’ve done before, not always a complete dish but always elements. What I really wanted to do with this book though was to make sure that every recipe was original. There’s a lot of recipe books you find which have generic recipes like fish curry or fish soup; what I wanted to do was a bunch of recipes that were unique and people hadn’t really seen before. I always had to bear in mind though that us chefs can get a little bit ‘cheffy’ and cheffy doesn’t sell in terms of cookery books. I like things that are much simpler anyway so it felt quite natural to write a book with simpler recipes but using a chef’s experience to help out a home cook. So ultimately, from a chef’s point of view there would be lots of stuff in there that is unique and new but I wanted it to be simple enough for people to do at home.   How much do you have to simplify the recipes, especially the ones that are used in the restaurant? Turbot, bacon, pea - Photo ©DAVID LOFTUS There’s a cured brill recipe in the book which will go on the menu at the restaurant as soon as the peas are good enough; there’s also a recipe in the raw chapter – the raw queen scallops, which was on the two-star menu and that’s not changed at all for the book which just shows you that a lot of my food is about the actual sourcing of the ingredients and the technique. I don’t go too complicated even at the two-star restaurant; it’s much more about unique ingredients.   What makes Nathan Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen different from other cookery books? I’ve actually cooked and edited every recipe myself. Nobody else, no home economist or anybody like that is involved. I’ve done everything so that I have the peace of mind that I know it works, which I did with the first book as well. It does take a lot more time from my point of view but it does give you peace of mind that they work.   Where did you actually cook the dishes for the book? I cooked a lot of them in my kitchen at home and some at the restaurant as well, then literally, the photographer, David Loftus, took the picture as soon as I’d finished cooking it, so everything you see in the pictures is real-life hot or cold as it should be. Smoked lobster with saffron and basil mayonnaise -Photo ©DAVID LOFTUS   Is writing a cookbook something you actually enjoy doing or does it feel a bit like homework? No, I really enjoy writing; when I’m an old man and my chef’s knees give out, I’ll have to have something to do, so hopefully I’ll get a chance to write about what I’ve been doing. Hopefully I’ll get a chance to write another one after this; to be honest with you, I’ve probably got enough ideas to do a couple more.   What are the bits you enjoy most about writing and which bits less so? I think the fact that you have deadlines and meeting those is sometimes a bit of a negative – I missed every deadline! But I think publishers are pretty much used to that from chefs. The fun bit is cooking 80 dishes in four days off the cuff!   Breaded plaice -  Photo ©DAVID LOFTUSIn the book you mention how the mackerel cured in cucumber and oyster sauce came about by a lucky accident when the oyster sauce got spilled over the mackerel in the fridge; is that kind of ability to adapt to circumstances a strong element of your creativity? I would say that probably 50 per cent of what I know has been from mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes; they might not admit it, but they do. I always say to the guys: “Your only mistake is doing it twice.” With the mackerel in oyster sauce that was just one of the moments where something magical happens from a genuine mistake. I did really go off on one at the time though!   You mentioned that you’ve got lots of ideas for books still in you; what are some of those ideas? I've still got lots of ideas for more books.  Like last time, there's dishes I'd have liked to include but there wasn't enough room.  Then there's the ideas I've thought of since I finished writing.  That's the problem, the more I do the more I think up!  Anyway, I don't think it would be a good idea to tell all in this interview, do you?  You never know one of my chef mates might nick my ideas!   Don't forget we also have a live Q&A on Twitter with Nathan on the 20th May at 3pm. Tweet your questions to @Nathanoutlaw using the hashtag #asknathan and find out about his latest book or ask his advice on cooking fish. If you can't make it at 3pm then tweet us your questions and we'll ask Nathan for you.
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th May 2014

Nathan Outlaw on his latest book Fish Kitchen