With a legendary chef for a father, it’s no surprise that Jack Stein, middle son of Rick, was drawn to the kitchen. His dad did his best to steer Jack on another path, despite helming a restaurant empire that today extends from the picturesque Cornish village of Padstow to New South Wales’ south coast, home to the famous Rick Stein at Bannisters. Stein never taught his son how to cook, but it rubbed off.
“I listened to him but I didn’t actually put it into practice,” Jack says. “I think when dad started cooking, the industry was very different. I don’t think I would have gotten into cooking if it required having to deal with the state of food in England in the 80s.”
The young Stein recalls eating oysters with his family in Brittany, aged four, while his parents pulled them out of school to travel through Europe sourcing inspiration for their restaurant. It was the last holiday of its kind before the family kicked off their regular Aussie seaside escapes when Jack was five, travelling from WA’s south-west to the far east of the country.
“If I hadn’t been competitive with my brothers, I probably wouldn’t have liked it [the oyster]. “But I pretended to like it, because dad did.”
By the noughties, when Jack had wrapped up a psychology degree and began his career in food, there were plenty more suppliers and producers and people “who were turned on by eating and really understood food” around. Then, Heston Blumenthal opened The Fat Duck in Bray, gaining notoriety and Michelin stars at a record pace - and all with a very different approach to cooking. It was the beginning of what Jack calls the country’s largest restaurant shake up.
“He [Blumenthal] really demystified the old school French system, which was, “Do what I say!”, and lots of shouting. It became much more of a university.”
A string of global fine dining apprenticeships followed, including time at Tetsuya’s in Sydney where he worked under then head chef and fellow Brit, Darren Robertson of the Three Blue Ducks.
“Still to this day, some of the things that Darren did in the kitchen, I do now. He had a great sense of humour – he ran an incredibly high-end kitchen but with a smile on his face. Which just goes to show how far food has come – I never saw him get angry or shout at anyone; it was always done in a kind of manner that I’ve come to emulate.”
By the time he arrived at France’s three Michelin star Michel Bras, Jack had honed his cooking style; realising the apple fell closer to the tree than he thought.
“I realised my parents were right and that my style of cooking wasn’t ever going to be that Michelin style. But when you’re 25-26, you need something to hang your hat on, I think.”
Get the recipe for Jack's pork belly with burnt lettuce and apple here.
A growing appreciation for the honest, local, produce-led food that his father had built his empire on drove Jack back home to Padstow.
“I came back to the company and decided that I didn’t have any aspirations rather than to work for my parents. Dad’s a legend – he’s been teaching this simple produce-driven food his whole career and I wanted to be a part of that.”
"Dad’s a legend – he’s been teaching this simple produce-driven food his whole career and I wanted to be a part of that.”
Today, Jack has been charged with the day to day running of the Stein family’s nine restaurants, as Rick's itinerary continues to lead him around the world, a film crew often in tow. It’s a full family operation with Jack’s mum, Jill, and older brother Ed focusing on the design side of things, while his younger brother Charlie works in wine. He concedes that working with family can be challenging, but the pros outweigh the cons.
"You have your disagreements, but they’re your family at the end of the day, so it’s always resolvable. It's just wonderful to work with them and see how professional they are - watching both my parents work is a joy."
Rick is currently on the road filming a Mexican series, relying on his son to keep him updated on the business, both from a food and an HR perspective.
"Because I’ve done a psychology degree, dad relies heavily on me to understand the personal dynamics of the people within our business. Not like I’m psycho-analysing them, because I couldn’t possibly do that! We rely on each other for different things.”
With his new show, Jack Stein: Born to Cook Down Under, he’s continuing in his famous dad’s footsteps once more. From finger lime orchards to famous breaks and everything in between, he's winding through WA’s south west and meeting the producers who are behind the region’s foodie revolution.
“Margaret River has had the spotlight in that south west Australia area through Gourmet Escape. But it was fascinating to go to Augusta and see the abalone farm down there. For us in England, abalone is something we hear about – we’ve all heard the stories about the sharks attacking the abalone divers. You really get to see how that whole south west is really expanding in a foodie sense off the back of Margaret River.”
Just about every culture has their own version of a dish like this, probably because it's a light, bright, party pleaser. Browning the butter in the anglaise (vanilla cream) gives this tart warmth, richness and a slight nuttiness - the perfect pairing for the gooey figs.
Just about every culture has their own version of a dish like this, probably because it's a light, bright, party pleaser.
Browning the butter in the anglaise (vanilla cream) gives this tart warmth, richness and a slight nuttiness - the perfect pairing for the gooey figs.