Under A Mackerel Sky by Rick Stein (Claire Central City Library)
Having really enjoyed Rick Stein’s numerous cooking/travel programmes I looked forward to reading his recent biography. I was pleasantly surprised to find that he wasn’t all I’d assumed him to be.
Growing up in the 50’s in rural Oxfordshire & North Cornwall his childhood seems idyllic. One of five children with unconventional parents, his memories of home-made food, fishing trips to Cornwall and the mischievous antics he got up to as a lad paint a picture of a pretty enjoyable and secure childhood. The dark side was his father’s depression (bipolar). “I merely knew that my father was someone to be scared of.” His father had a magnetic personality and like his son loved a good party but when Rick was 18 he killed himself by jumping from a coastal cliff onto the rocks below.
Teenage-hood was spent listening to Radio Luxembourg and Rock and Roll. (The book is peppered with song titles linked to places and memories). Sex rears its ugly head and numerous first attempts at ‘getting off with girls’ are described. Rick discovers a flair for organising parties. “I now realise that I enjoyed setting the scene and making other people animated.”
After a stint as a larder chef in a hotel he catches a boat to Australia. Here he stays for two years, gaining life experience and working at manly occupations in a slaughterhouse and on the railways in the outback.
Then it’s back to England, an English Literature degree at Oxford (explains referrals to and quotes from his reading), running a mobile disco and then a club (lots of fighting) which eventually became his first seafood restaurant in the fishing port of Padstow.
Now he owns so many properties in the town it’s known by the locals as Padstein! I thought that seemed a little bit greedy but he’s obviously quite chuffed by it.
I won’t tell you anymore except that it’s a really engaging read by someone who’s had an interesting life. I particularly liked hearing about his dog Chalky, a Jack Russell who became a hero in Rick’s cooking series, often stealing the show.