Nathan Outlaw has been earmarked by guides and his peers as a chef to watch, with Michelin hinting at a second star accolade for his Restaurant Nathan Outlaw at the Marina Villa hotel in Fowey. He has recently opened a second Cornish restaurant, Nathan Outlaw Seafood & Grill, in Rock. He chats to Joanna Wood about how he views cooking, his restaurants and the challenges they present
View a video of the interview with Nathan Outlaw, plus a demonstration of his turbot dish >>
Your childhood was spent in Kent, you've worked in London, the Cotswolds and central England. Why Cornwall?
It's a beautiful place. A place I always loved as a kid and being able to set up my life here, personally and professionally, has been fantastic. I don't ever see myself leaving. A few years ago I thought about it, but now my children are settled, my wife's happy and the way the business is going, there is no reason for me to go.
Tell us about Restaurant Nathan Outlaw at the Marina Villa hotel.
It's a 36-seat fine-dining restaurant with lovely sea views over the Fowey estuary. We try to keep things as simple and non-formal as possible. We're doing two menus - the à la carte - which is five starters/main/desserts and predominantly fish - and a seven-course tasting menu, again dominated by fish.
Fish is a passion of mine and it's very important to have it on the menu, given where we are. With the restaurant's design, we've tried to get away from the nautical feel which gets used a little bit too much in Cornwall and keep things modern and simple.
I don't want people to come in here and feel like they have to be quiet and hushed. The majority of people come down here on holiday, so it's very important that they enjoy themselves.
What do you think is so special about it?
It's personal. And we're cooking with West Country produce. We take a lot of pride in that. A lot of places champion local produce, but there's a difference between actually saying it and doing it. We're serious.
We've got a very good network of local suppliers and that really does make a difference because I'm cooking what I consider to be very simple dishes, with simple combinations. When you're doing that, the ingredients have to be special.
Can you give us a bit more detail about the produce?
I get the fish and seafood from Looe market. It's a brilliant day-caught market. We've got lovely moorland where all the wild game comes from, plus a few suppliers of lamb and beef and stuff like that. The animals get the sea air coming in on them and on the grazing and it gives the meat a great taste.
Then we've got Cornish delicacies like the Cornish Early potatoes, which I think are better than the Jersey Royals, and fantastic strawberries and berries. There's local asparagus which we have on the menu for just eight weeks in May and June - people come to visit at the same time each year just for that.
The larder's massive and ingredients like these define my cuisine and help to make it different - there's no reason why with the produce I can get in to my kitchens we can't compete on an equal footing with France and Spain.
Are there fish specific to the Cornwall coastline?
Things like wreckfish (or stone bass as it's also known), which we use, are very native to this area. Also cuttlefish, which people don't always use, and some of the shellfish we get from the estuaries - clams, cockles, little soft-shelled crabs.
It's just a case of looking out for ingredients that will make peoples' experience in the restaurant a little different - and make working in the kitchen a bit more exciting for my chefs.
Do you use foraged food?
Yeah, I've got a couple of strange foraging suppliers, lovely people, who go out all over the countryside, hedgerows and estuaries. Cornwall is a spaghetti junction of estuaries, so there's lots of weird and wonderful produce that you can pick up.
This restaurant at the Marina Villa hotel and my new seafood and grill at St Enodoc's hotel, in Rock, are both on river estuaries, so we use a lot of seaweed - sea grass, for instance. It's very, very thin, strands of very small tubes, which if you dry out you can deep fry. But it's important that you dry them out thoroughly before you use them, otherwise they explode when you cook them. Also, there's samphire, purslane and sea spinach.
You mentioned Nathan Outlaw Seafood & Grill, which you opened in May on the Camel estuary in Rock, north Cornwall, the village where you started your restaurant-owning career. Tell us why you went back there.
My wife comes from Padstow [on the other side of the estuary] and we've got lots of family and friends over there, so we've always kept some roots in Rock.
But, actually, the restaurant came about because the guy who owns Line Degree [the company that owns the hotel] was a regular at the Black Pig and he contacted me and asked if I'd consider taking over the food and beverage at the hotel. So it's a very similar situation to what I've got at the Marina with Restaurant Nathan Outalaw.
What's your aim at St Enodoc?
We're trying to champion seafood more than anything. But not everybody is into seafood - and also there's a bit of competition on the other side of the Camel estuary called Rick Stein - so we're not a fully blown seafood restaurant. We're about 80% seafood.
The grill element is about taking really good steaks, really good pork and lamb chops and things like that, and just cooking them simply. It's a different area of food and beverage to what I've been used to, because I've mostly been in fine-dining.
You represented the South-west in this year's Great British Menu. Why did you do the show?
With the credit crunch looming, I thought it was important for PR, and also the appealing thing was that it stands for all the things I do: championing British produce, for instance, and they didn't ask me to cook anything that I don't usually do, which was very important because I don't want to go on television and cook things that aren't mine. It ticked all the boxes and it's done us very, very well. I enjoyed it and if they asked me to go and do it again, I would!
Did you get any reaction after appearing on the show?
The hits on the Restaurant Nathan Outlaw website were massive. I think we were averaging about 200 a day before and for the week I was on the programme we went up to 2,000 a day.
When you do the show, people stop you and talk to you about it when you're just walking down the street - it's nice to be recognised for whatever you do, but when people turn round and say, "well done for using that Cornish asparagus or those Cornish duck eggs", it really makes you take pride in what you're doing.
How did you feel when the judges on the show rubbished your main dish?
It felt a bit like a kick in the balls. But to be honest with you, I respect Matthew Fort and I can also understand that it's the fourth series of the show, and they've got to make good television.
Since the show went out, chef friends and customers who've eaten the dish have come up to me and said, "they don't know what they're talking about", so at the end of the day that's good enough for me.
I understand that the Marina hotel is up for sale. How will that affect you?
The hotel is on the market - but from my point of view, it doesn't make much difference. In these current times, it might not even sell for a long time. My plans are unchanged. I'm still committed to what I'm doing and we're doing very well, so there's no point in changing it. My ideal scenario would be to get an owner who would lease me the site. But you never know where the future takes you - someone might buy it and want to turn it in to their private house we'll just have to see.
How's business at the Rock restaurant?
It's doing very well, which is really good, because you always worry when you open up these restaurants about whether the public is going to get what you're trying to do.
You've got a big outside eating area there haven't you?
Yes, with a lovely view over the Camel estuary. When we had the fantastic weather in June people sat out there all night. Al fresco dining is something you probably can't get away with at the fine-dining restaurant in Fowey, although we do have a few outside tables on a balcony, there.
I'd like to do some barbecues next year at Rock, so people know that when the weather is good the barbecue'll be lit.
The Rock and Fowey restaurants are about 45 minutes drive apart. How do you split your time between the two?
My time is spent mainly at the Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Fowey. I need to be there - because that's where I cook. At the Seafood & Grill, I'm more of a restaurateur. I don't cook. The only influence I have over it is in menu development and ideas.
Pete Biggs, the head chef there, has been with me a long time and knows exactly what I want. He's a champion of simpler food and a more casual dining scene. It works perfectly for both of us. Obviously I'm involved a lot at the Fowey restaurant, we're open seven days a week there, and I've got two young children as well so that's quite a challenge.
Have you got any new projects in the pipeline?
There are always lots of things being talked about and going on - but really it's about time and I haven't got any at the moment. I want to take the Restaurant Nathan Outlaw as far as I can take it. I want it to be recognised, not just nationally, but internationally as somewhere fantastic to eat.
You've found the time to do a bit of TV, though?
I've done Saturday Kitchen [BBC1 with James Martin], and Market Kitchen [UK TV Food] and Great British Menu [BBC2]. They all worked for me because of their timescale - they were all recorded in my off season: we're so seasonal in Cornwall, in the summer I can't do anything for anybody, because it's just too busy. But the wintertime is when we can work on the business side of things and TV helps a lot to keep the business profile up.
Will we ever see Nathan Outlaw ice-cream on the beaches?
Yeah, there's all sorts of things I could do... but it's one step at a time, and I'm very aware the Fowey restaurant is my main source of income and without that, the rest of it would fall apart. So I'll just keep some ideas bubbling under and you never know, in the future when I get a bit bored and have more time, I may do one of them.
One final thing. If you were an ingredient, what would you be?
I dunno I think it would have to be something like a potato. Something that could be fantastic or quite simple. Something that could be quite versatile and used anywhere. Nothing glorious. A Cornish potato, naturally - although maybe a Kentish-Cornish potato, because I've got to keep my Kent roots connected.
NATHAN OUTLAW - THE ESSENTIAL INGREDIENTS
Kent-born Outlaw, 31, began his culinary career at a tender age: the son of a chef, he learnt to cook at his father's apron strings.
Following early college training in Kent he moved on to learn his trade in the late 1990s at some prestigious London kitchens - including those of Peter Kromberg at the Inter-Continental London, Gary Rhodes at City Rhodes, Eric Chavot at Chavot in the Fulham Road - before gradually moving westwards.
Periods with John Campbell - first at Lords of the Manor in Lower Slaughter, Gloucestershire, then at the Vineyard at Stockcross in Berkshire - were interspersed with a Cornwall sojourn at Rick Stein's Seafood Restaurant in Padstow and Ripley's St Merryn.
In 2003, Outlaw opened his first restaurant, the Black Pig in Rock, netting a Michelin star in 2004. He repeated that feat after moving on, in 2005, to head up the kitchen at St Ervan Manor, and again, after the latter was turned back into a private dwelling by its owners, at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Fowey's Marina Villa hotel, to which he decamped in late 2006.
In May 2009, he opened Nathan Outlaw Seafood & Grill at the St Enodoc hotel in Rock.
Restaurant Nathan Outlaw
Black bream, rosemary potato dumplings with lemon & olive oil sauce, £12; wreckfish, mussels and saffron with peppers and olive, £27; beef rump, hazelnut and tarragon with mushroom pearl barley, £27; duck, pistachios, cherries and potato cake, £26; chocolate mousse, mascarpone ice-cream and black olive, £12; pineapple tart tatin, muscovado sugar ice-cream and cardamom.
Nathan Outlaw Seafood & Grill
Porthilly mussels and Cornish beer, £7; monkfish tail, claim & samphire, £16; pork t-bone steak with apples and beetroot, £14; lemon tart, English raspberries, £5; Cornish strawberries and cream, £5.
VANILLA CREAM WITH CORNISH STRAWBERRIES AND VANILLA CRUMBLE
Created by Peter Biggs, head chef at Nathan Outlaw Seafood & Grill, St Enodoc hotel, Rock
For the crumble
For the vanilla cream
Mix crumble ingredients together until breadcrumb consistency is achieved. Bake in oven at 140°C until golden brown. Remove from oven and set aside.
For the cream, put cream, milk, sugar and vanilla seeds in a pan and bring to the simmer. Remove from heat and add the gelatine.
Allow the mixture to cool and place in the fridge until semi set - this allows the vanilla seeds to suspend in the cream instead of sinking to the bottom. Pour into glasses and allow to finish setting.
To serve, chop up strawberries. Add 50g sugar and mix together. Place the strawberries on top of the set cream. Sprinkle with the crumble and serve.
BEETROOT CURED SALMON
Created by Peter Biggs, head chef at Nathan Outlaw Seafood & Grill, St Enodoc hotel, Rock
For the salmon
For the horseradish cream
Cure the salmon by blending the beetroot with the other ingredients until smooth textured. Cover the fish with mixture and refrigerate for 30 hours. Wash off marinade and pat dry. Make the horseradish cream by whipping cream until risen but still soft, then add the horseradish and lemon juice. Season to taste.
To serve, slice salmon, place on small oblong plate and garnish with baby beetroots and amaranth leaves.
TURBOT WITH POTTED CLAM SAUCE, SAMPHIRE AND BROAD BEANS
Created by Nathan Outlaw, Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Marina Villa hotels, Fowey
For sauce base (enough for about eight)
For the turbot
For fish fingers
For sauce garnish
For final garnish
For the sauce, place egg yolk, vinegar and mustard into a bowl. Whisk for one minute then slowly add the olive oil, taking care not to split the mix. Season with a little salt and you have a mayonnaise. Season with the spices and lemon juice to taste. To finish the sauce, add the double cream to the mayonnaise. Heat up your fish stock and whisk it in to the mayonnaise bit by bit until you have a consistency that just coats the back of a spoon. Reserve until ready to serve.
Heat a non-stick pan and add some oil. When the oil is hot, add the fish fillet, presentation side down, and season with a little salt. Cook gently until the fish has a light golden edge. Carefully flip the fish and remove from the heat. This will allow the gentle residual heat to finish the cooking process. When cooked, remove from the pan ready for serving.
For fish fingers, take fish trimmings, flour, then coat with the egg and roll through the breadcrumbs. Deep-fry until golden. Season with a little salt.
When ready to plate, heat the mayonnaise sauce base to bain-marie temperature and add garnishes. First, add the lettuce, then clams, samphire, potatoes and broad beans. Heat through for one minute.
Finally, add the parsley and season to taste. The dish has to be served immediately the sauce has been finished.
To serve, take four warm bowls. Place the sauce and garnish in the centre of the bowls. Place the fish on top. Garnish with the lemon oil and the fish finger. Serve immediately.
DON'T MISS CHEF CONFERENCE 2009
If you're an aspirational chef looking for culinary inspiration, don't miss this year's Chef Conference. Taking place on Monday 28 September at London's Jumeirah Carlton Tower hotel, it's a chance to rub shoulders with Europe's finest and some of the UK's most exciting chefs.
Spain's Elena Arzak - one of an elite band of three-Michelin-starred female chefs - will be cooking live at the event.
There's also three-starred chef Heston Blumenthal, as well as two-Michelin-starred chefs Michael Caines, and Martin Burge, the 2009 Cateys Chef Award winner Angela Hartnett and Knorr National Chef of the Year 2008 winner Simon Hulstone. The event concludes with lunch at one of three of London's most prestigious two-Michelin-starred restaurants - Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley, Phil Howard's the Square or Alain Ducasse at the Dorchester.
If you have a burning question that you want to ask any of the chefs, then Table Talk is the place to be. If you leave your questions on Table Talk, Caterer will field them to the chef on your behalf.