Review of 'Under a Mackerel Sky: A Memoir'

Under a Mackerel Sky: A Memoir by Rick Stein

rick-stein.jpg As with many people I have watched Rick Stein's television shows over many years now. I have been taken with his fairly practical approach to cooking and NOT talking too much like a chef as you see on other programmes. I have seen his passion for fish despite him having been born land-locked on the edge of the Cotswolds in Chipping Norton, Oxfordshire. His heart well and truly is in the fishing village of Padstow in Cornwall where he now has five places to eat and a number of flats he rents out - No wonder it has been known as “Padstein”.

It was not always about food, as this book relates. Stein originally was involved in DJing then owning a nightclub (no prizes for guessing where) that eventually turned into “The Seafood Restaurant” for which is most famous. The DJ work came as a bit of a surprise for me and evidently he was quite good at it - It is where he first experienced success that helped fuel his later enterprises. He did not originally even want to cook as was happy to be simply the owner/operator of the restaurant but through hard work and sticking to his principles of simplicity and freshness he has built up his “empire” to where it is today.

Growing up things were not really that easy for Stein and he was always seemed to be an outsider to both his family and his community. His father committed suicide by throwing himself off a cliff in Cornwall which really shook his early days leading him to one of his first jobs in the Great Western Hotel in London where he admits that he was not very good at cooking but he learned a lot. Seeking to find himself he was drawn to Australia by seeing the fit and healthy Australian lifeguards working in Padstow and thought that the Australian lifestyle would better suit him. Even now, he has maintained a connection with Australia with spending about half his time there. Sarah, his current wife, is from Australia and Stein now owns a restaurant on the coast in Mollymook, New South Wales.

After wandering aimlessly around Australia he eventually moved on to briefly spend some time in New Zealand then across to the United States. In his travels he learned a lot about human nature, and, of course, food which he was beginning to realize was critical to understand if you were interested in a particular culture - Understand the food, understand the people.

In his life he never really seems to have taken school very seriously even though he obtained an English degree from Oxford University. It is interesting here to note that Stein never really was formally trained in cooking when his restaurant career started to take off only studying later in France.

He seems to have stumbled across cooking which makes his presentation style on television that much more realistic - He is really just an ordinary bloke who likes what he likes and calls it as he sees it. It is on his television career that the later portions of the book concentrate on beginning with his first appearance with Keith Floyd eating on the deck of a trawler in a wavy Camel Estuary then onto a number of television series often featuring his lovable dog Chalky who I remember always used to steal the show - Never quite doing what he was meant to be doing. This helped reinforce Stein's lack of perfection which I feel is part of his attraction to his many fans - He makes mistakes in his shows which viewers can related to - He is “one of us”.

This book is written much like the way Stein speaks - Normally, basically, which also means it is often a bit difficult to read as the details of his life are spread out before us. Sort of a very long monologue to camera…or, here, to paper. I can't say the book is terribly literary but it does seem to come from the heart as he talks about his life - warts and all. If you would like to learn a bit more about the man, this is a very good place to start. As for the quality of the writing: It is readable but really here it is for readers who are fans of the man and wish to learn a bit more about him.

Further to Rick Stein, please see my Review of 'Rick Stein's Fish & Chip Shop' from a few years back.

Rating: “Really good but I have some issues”

Review Date: 2016-06-25

Genre: Autobiography

Publisher: Ebury Press

Publication Date: 2013

ISBN: 9780091949914