With the opening of a fourth restaurant in Looe – Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen – comes the temptation to resort to colonial terminology and speak of an ‘Outlaw Empire’; chatting to Nathan however, perched on the end of the sofa in the St Enodoc Hotel library and I realise it is nothing of the sort:
“It would be very selfish and wrong of me to just stand in the kitchen and not develop my staff. I’ve got some great people that work with me and I want to provide opportunities for them; there’s a lot of untapped talent in Cornwall and if you’ve got the right people, why not do it?”
Outlaw’s Fish Kitchen in Looe is a refreshingly PR-free venture, relying instead on social media and blogging to spread the word. More commonly associated with informal events such as pop-up supper clubs, this method of PR reveals a new direction and tone for brand Outlaw: “It will be a casual environment but with that same sense of professionalism we’re known for. There’ll be communal tables and everyone is responsible for everything which means you’re just as likely to be served by chefs as you are front of house staff. Everything will be centred on a kitchen table, we’ll have old-fashioned chalkboards with ‘catch of the day’ and the food will be small tapas-style dishes which means you can choose large or small plates.”
While Nathan acknowledges that as his fourth restaurant, there is a sense of pressure in maintaining the exacting standards associated with St Enodoc and The Capital, he’s making no compromises: “I’m a great believer in not rushing things, it’s much better to get it right. “ Joining him on the journey and head chef of the kitchen in Looe will be Paul Ripley, an old friend and colleague from his Stein days: “Paul was the main man at Stein’s while Rick was doing his TV shows, we’ve always been friends and he jumped at the opportunity; if he’d said no I wouldn’t be doing this.”
Looe may not seem an obvious choice after Fowey, Rock and London, but Nathan has other thoughts: “It’s a picturesque place with huge potential, I always intended to buy there and in the early days, I put an offer in for a place called Trawlers, but that fell through. The opportunity of something right on the quay, next to the fish market was ideal and it fits what we believe in.” What’s more, Looe based fish merchant Tim Alsop, who has been supplying Nathan with fish and seafood since his days at The Black Pig, will be official fish buyer for the Kitchen.
With the intention for 99.5% of the fish and seafood served at the Kitchen to be locally landed and as a two-Michelin star chef specialising in fish and seafood, a question about stocks and sustainability is inevitable, even more so after Hugh Fearnely-Whittingstall’s recent Fish Fight campaign. Nathan’s thoughts are intelligent and well-informed: “I’m lucky enough to have family and friends that are fishermen and down here in the South West and we get the best of the industry. I have faith in the two to three men crews who fish sustainably, they just don’t have the capacity to do otherwise and I haven’t met many fishermen who want their industry destroyed but the government needs to get behind them.”
He believes in two changes that would make a significant difference: “I do agree with Hugh in creating more conservation zones to feed overfished areas and I think another sensible thing to do would be to have smaller boats, so that they physically can’t bring as much aboard, it’s what all the fishermen are saying.” Interestingly too, he explains how the idea of mackerel and cod being unsustainable is less applicable in the South West: “Hugh is telling us not to eat mackerel anymore but hand-caught is sustainable, he should be saying eat the right mackerel. Cod stocks too in the South West are brilliant. The best advice is to ask questions and if someone can’t answer them then they are probably not the right person to be buying from.”
Spreading the word about his fish philosophy has extended beyond paying customers and probing journalists however; in 2012 Nathan launched Academy Nathan Outlaw in collaboration with Cornwall College. After a rigorous entry interview, students have the opportunity of practical and theoretical workshops, work experience at the restaurants and the opportunity of master classes with other professional chefs while working towards a VRQ level in Professional Cookery.
This will later be extended to a front of house qualification, an area often neglected in the UK and taken much more seriously on the continent: “I want to highlight how important the hospitality industry is and I think Cornwall can raise the standard of service in its restaurants.” His reasoning behind getting involved with young people is simple: “I get a lot from seeing anybody who is enthusiastic about food, and we have a had a couple of students already come on board with our teams; it’s a breeding ground for chefs and a very good course. We aim to add that little bit extra for the students.”
In a similar academic vein, Nathan has been putting pen to paper again. His current book, Nathan Outlaw’s British Seafood, was published in UK in May 2012, and is about to be published in the USA under the title Nathan Outlaw’s Modern Seafood. He’s been commissioned to write a second book of fish cookery, as yet untitled, for UK publication next year. .
It’s not all work work work however. The opening of a new spa at St Enodoc, set up by the entrepreneurial Sara Young who owns River Spa in Wadebridge, sets a new tone for Nathan in 2013: “My new year’s resolution is that doing less is actually more, when I’m not in the kitchen I want to spend as much time with my wife and children as possible. Sundays have become a no-go zone, I try not to plan anything.” The move to incorporate the spa was a “natural” one for St Enodoc and he explains that Sara has the same philosophy as himself: “She has extremely high standards and works hard to maintain these.” Asked if he has yet to experience a treatment from one of the team’s excellent masseuses, he replies that he hasn’t: “ They keep telling me to but I haven’t yet.” I think he deserves a little rest.