The Sportsman: Stephen Harris talks shop

By Daniel Woolfson

- Last updated on GMT

Stephen Harris and brother Phil took over the pub in 1999
Stephen Harris and brother Phil took over the pub in 1999

Related tags Marco pierre white Dishware

Daniel Woolfson talks to the Budweiser Budvar Top 50 Gastropubs winner 

What impact has winning the Top 50 had on the pub so far?
There’s been a lot of stuff in the press – I was in the Telegraph, the Mail and local press. We’ve had an awful lot of emails and bookings for more heads than normal but then again we do usually fill up anyway! It’s been crazy for the front of house.

What concepts/restaurants are inspiring you at the moment?
I loved Noma, I wouldn’t have gone six times otherwise. I’ve always been into Alan Passard. He’s a French guy who has his own farm and grows his own produce.

What are some of your favourite ingredients that you use at the moment?
We grow our own veg – but I don’t want to be a farmer. There are certain things you can’t improve on if they’re picked that day, ingredients that need to be super fresh.

What would be your advice to young chefs entering the industry?
I never had any lessons - I’d only worked in a few restaurants before I set up the Sportsman. You should follow your own path. I taught myself to cook by going to people like Marco Pierre White’s restaurants and eating there. Then I’d go home and try to copy what I’d eaten. You have to be self-analytical about your own abilities.

What are some of your favourite dishes you have featured on the Sportsman’s menu during the past 15 years?
The slip sole in seaweed butter is one that I think it a modern classic. That sounds a bit big headed but I’ve had lots of people agree with me. Sometimes everything just clicks and a dish really works. It’s a small Dover sole that’s been part of cooking in this area for a long time as well as in classical French cooking.

What do you think are some of the biggest crimes against food?
It’s often a question of style: I’m quite minimalist and I hate people chucking everything from the kitchen at a dish like putting powders round the rim or trying to draw attention with crockery as if serving it on a square plate is going to make the food better. Unnecessary garnishes – why would you put something on a plate that people can’t eat? Use your intelligence.

What is the best business advice you’ve ever been given?
I don’t think anyone ever gave me any good advice. A lot of it is meaningless stuff like “cooking with love”. I don’t want to cook with love, I just want to know how I can afford a Thermomix. I guess it depends on where you are in your career. There are hundreds of ways to do any single thing – come up with your own ideas.

A full feature-length version of this interview can be found in this week’s Publican’s Morning Advertiser.

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