A Blue Room Book Review – Under a Mackerel Sky – Rick Stein

under a mackerel sky

I am so blessed. One of my DLP’s (Darling Loving Partner) many talents is the fact the she is a kitchen goddess. She produces delectable meals, always thoughtfully presented. She has a knack for turning fridge leftovers into flash tucker with, unlike your scribe, not being a slave to a recipe. I am no match for DLP in the culinary stakes, although I enjoy putting together a meal and I do have to force myself to not buy endless cooking books/magazines.

Another aspect of my darling lady is that she likes the same type of foodie programmes on the tele as I do. Neither of us are into the hoopla of Master Chef or MKR – no, we delight in great cooks telling us mere peons how it is done. Keith Floyd was the first I personally took a shine to; it being a tad saddening reading of the pretensions of his later years in ‘Under a Mackerel Sky’. Nick Nairn, The Hairy Bikers and Two Fat Ladies have also been favs in the past. I cannot abide swearing for swearings sake so Gordon Ramsey has largely past me by, but in those shows where he moderates that predilection he can be quite entertaining. Nor am I a huge fan of Heston Blumenthal’s excesses, although I admire his ‘out of left field thinking’. My current preferences largely reside in the SBS stable – Maeve O’Meara and her Good Food Guide, Peter Kuruvita, Luke Nguyen, Shane Delia and the Gourmet Farmer, Matthew Evans. I am also partial to the enthusiasm of the ‘Two Greedy Italians’ – Gennaro Contaldo and Antonio Carluccio. Then there’s Poh – very delicious herself (can’t wait for a new show) – and the ‘River Cottage’ guy Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstal. The only difference DLP and I have in all this is that we do not see eye to eye on the attributes of Nigella.

Both of us are attracted to the work of Rick Stein, perhaps I marginally more so than DLP. I enjoy his style on the small screen, the relationship he has with the camera and therefore, by definition, his viewers. He seems very human, with human foibles like all of us – foibles he is not afraid to leave unedited. Whereas Floyd liked to quaff a fruity red whilst he taught the world to cook, Stein is just as likely to recite poetry or quote the classics. He is as attached to Cornwall as I am to my beautiful island in the southern seas, particularly to ‘Padstein’ (Padstow). His commentary on any part of the world he finds himself in for a series is always worthwhile – naturally there is always something to enthuse about with the local tucker – something he can adapt for his own purposes back in his own kitchens. He is now getting on a bit, but he’s one of these people you hope that, in a Cohenesque manner, can keep going on forever – as with the likes of David Attenborough, Clive James, Willie Nelson – those that make our globe so much the richer for their presence. How I’d love to visit his Cornwall. Once upon a time I nearly got there. I guess it will not happen now – but a man can dream.

‘Under a Mackerel Sky’ is Stein’s evocative memoir – the word ‘evocative’ apt for those early chapters on his upbringing in post-war UK and his formative years in Oz. Now he is almost one of us, marrying an Aussie lass later in life and living for as much time as he can squeeze in on the southern New South Wales coast where he owns an eatery with his partner.

rick and sass

I found the book to be largely delightful. He is not a great wordsmith, but is as earnest in his scribing as he is expounding the glories of regional cuisine in France, Spain or anywhere that has a coast and a fishing boat. It is a given that a familiarity with his television work is a prerequisite. This gives his grand tales a context. Like most who look back on their earthly endeavours in written form, this is largely a vanity project and Stein is no exception. He is not backward in coming forward and quoting those who sing his praises. In his own words, though, he seems a genuine, genial enough fellow who possesses mundane doubts and insecurities despite his success in building his culinary brand. It is refreshing to know he does have a temper – seemingly that goes with the territory – and for Stein to be an exception would be a stretch.

His writing is at its best when describing his Cornish coast and its people – a populace he clearly adores, reserving a special place for the original and fast disappearing Cornishman (and woman). Then there is Chalky – his beloved canine who became an integral part of so many of his adventures. No Stein series was complete without the feisty terrier stealing a scene or two, being a natural in front of the camera. We all felt for Stein when he announced Chalky’s demise to the world. A mini-review of the book in the Age describes it as being somewhat melancholic in tone. Certainly his father’s supposed suicide casts a constant pall. His self doubt is emphasised – although it is hard at time to match this with the larger than life man on our screens. He writes of his early sexual exploits with an innocent frankness, but once he met the right woman, in the form of Jill, his career spiralled ever upwards.

rick and jill

She does seem to be the loser in all this – but then we can never be privy to the inner workings of a marriage and the author understandably is not overly forthcoming in what went wrong. He never disses her, but one suspects that in his effusiveness for how gloriously happy he is with his Aussie Sass would not be music to Jill’s ears – but who knows? Reading on-line, it seems Jill was initially very incensed about the new woman in her man’s life. Hopefully she has now moved on to a similar state of ecstasy to his as well.

The added photographs are charming as well as revelatory. I especially enjoyed his forthcomings on the goings on behind the scenes on his shows, particularly when applied to his good mate/producer David Pritchard. With so many years behind him, he has so many stories – they all being eminently readable. Let’s just hope the story itself doesn’t end for some time yet.

My beautiful DLP is doing one of her signature dishes for our evening meal. She weaves magic with a piece of Atlantic salmon. I am salivating at the thought. I doubt if even the great Rick Stein could match what DLP will soon be doing with that piece of fish!

Jill’s take on the breakup of the marriage = http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-1082231/Why-I-hit-woman-stole-husband–gave-slap-Rick-Steins-wife-reveals-truth-split.html


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