Chatting to Nathan Outlaw, there is a temptation to resort to colonial terminology and speak of an ‘Outlaw Empire’; after an interview perched on a sofa in the St Enodoc Hotel library, I realise however, that his ambitions are nothing of the sort:
“It would be very selfish and wrong of me to just stand in the kitchen and not develop my staff. I’ve got some great people that work with me and I want to provide opportunities for them; there’s a lot of untapped talent in Cornwall and if you’ve got the right people, why not do it?”
As a two-Michelin star chef specialising in fish and seafood, a question about stocks and sustainability is inevitable, even more so after Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall’s recent Fish Fight campaign. Nathan’s thoughts are intelligent and well-informed: “I’m lucky enough to have family and friends that are fishermen and down here in the South West and we get the best of the industry. I have faith in the two to three men crews who fish sustainably, they just don’t have the capacity to do otherwise and I haven’t met many fishermen who want their industry destroyed but the government needs to get behind them.”
He believes in two changes that would make a significant difference: “I do agree with Hugh in creating more conservation zones to feed overfished areas and I think another sensible thing to do would be to have smaller boats, so that they physically can’t bring as much aboard, it’s what all the fishermen are saying.” Interestingly too, he explains how the idea of mackerel and cod being unsustainable is less applicable in the South West: “Hugh is telling us not to eat mackerel anymore but hand-caught is sustainable, he should be saying eat the right mackerel. Cod stocks too in the South West are brilliant. The best advice is to ask questions and if someone can’t answer them then they are probably not the right person to be buying from.”
Spreading the word about his fish philosophy has extended beyond paying customers and probing journalists however; in 2012 Nathan launched Academy Nathan Outlaw in collaboration with Cornwall College. After a rigorous entry interview, students have the opportunity of practical and theoretical workshops, work experience at the restaurants and the opportunity of master classes with other professional chefs while working towards a VRQ level in Professional Cookery.
This will later be extended to a front of house qualification, an area often neglected in the UK and taken much more seriously on the continent: “I want to highlight how important the hospitality industry is and I think Cornwall can raise the standard of service in its restaurants.” His reasoning behind getting involved with young people is simple: “I get a lot from seeing anybody who is enthusiastic about food, and we have a had a couple of students already come on board with our teams; it’s a breeding ground for chefs and a very good course. We aim to add that little bit extra for the students.”
In a similar academic vein, Nathan has been putting pen to paper again. His current book, Nathan Outlaw’s British Seafood, was published in UK in May 2012, and is about to be published in the USA under the title Nathan Outlaw’s Modern Seafood. He’s been commissioned to write a second book of fish cookery, as yet untitled, for UK publication next year. .
It’s not all work work work however. The opening of a new spa at St Enodoc, set up by the entrepreneurial Sara Young who owns River Spa in Wadebridge, sets a new tone for Nathan in 2013: “My new year’s resolution is that doing less is actually more, when I’m not in the kitchen I want to spend as much time with my wife and children as possible. Sundays have become a no-go zone, I try not to plan anything.” The move to incorporate the spa was a “natural” one for St Enodoc and he explains that Sara has the same philosophy as himself: “She has extremely high standards and works hard to maintain these.” Asked if he has yet to experience a treatment from one of the team’s excellent masseuses, he replies that he hasn’t: “ They keep telling me to but I haven’t yet.” I think he deserves a little rest.