Interviewed January 2009
Stephen Harris is chef/patron of The Sportsman in Kent, which has some of the most exciting food in the UK and has a well deserved Michelin star.
Q – How long have you been cooking professionally?
I started cooking for a living in 1996.
Q – Where did you train to cook?
I didn't really train anywhere. When I decided to open a restaurant I worked in places to learn how they worked but not cooking the food I was going to cook. I developed my dishes at home in my own time.
Q – How would you describe your style of cooking?
That is so hard to answer - but I suppose it is cuisine de terroir taken to its ultimate conclusion. Someone called it pre-industrial which I liked.
Q – Is there a secret for a successful restaurant?
I can't speak for other places but I knew exactly how I wanted The Sportsman to be and I didn't let anybody knock me off track - lots of people have tried.
Q – Do you have a “signature dish” or favourite dish you enjoy cooking?
My favourite dish to cook is called a Salmagundy - it is a salad with a poached duck egg, our own ham and then veg from our garden cooked in homemade butter spiked with curry powder. I nicked the idea from Michel Bras' gargalliou
Q – Do you have a favourite ingredient?
I love my own butter. It is so much better than any I can buy in England. I've started to add seaweed to it and use it to cook Dover sole and scallops. Someone asked if I made it for a gimmick but the results speak for themselves.
Which restaurant do you most enjoy eating at on your night off?
On my night off I often go to The Fitzwalter Arms in Goodnestone,Kent. The chef used to work at The Sportsman and he is totally food-obsessed which shows in the quality of the food.
What is your most interesting or fun experience from your time in restaurants?
I love the fact that you get a real buzz from a service that goes really well - luckily that is most of the time at The Sportsman.
What would be your “last request” dish?
As I'm diabetic I would request a great pudding and it wouldn't matter.Maybe Nico's lemon tart or Marco's Pyramid.
Is there another chef that you most admire?
My favourite chef is Pascal Barbot of Astrance. He actually cooks for you! His food is so intelligent and he seems to upset the old guard. which i like.
Any advice you would give to someone wanting to become a chef?
If you want to be a chef be realistic - go to the best restaurant in the country and see if you can imagine cooking to that standard. If you can, then become a chef.
Any final thoughts you’d like to add?
This year is going to be great. We are developing our garden, working with Monkshill farm to see how we can improve our animals (eg.rare breed chickens,feeding beer to the cows etc.), looking for small amounts of seafood which are not viable but which fisherman come across (e.g. local prawns, sea urchins etc.) and improving our foraging and preserving.