Stephen Harris: ‘You’re not necessarily going to just nick dishes wholesale, although I have’

By Amelie Maurice-Jones

- Last updated on GMT

Inspired cooking: Harris shares the ideas and inspiration behind his award-winning menu
Inspired cooking: Harris shares the ideas and inspiration behind his award-winning menu

Related tags Gastropub Food Stephen Harris

The chef-patron of The Sportsman in Seasalter Kent, widely acknowledged as one of the UK’s best gastropubs, revealed his award-winning menu was inspired by eating out, travelling and his back garden.

The Sportsman has held a Michelin star since 2008, has topped the Estrella Damm Top 50 Gastropubs list for the past five years, and was crowned the UK’s number one restaurant for 2016.

Harris said that, like many cooks, he gets much of his inspiration from eating out. He added: “There's nothing better than going to some really good restaurants.

“And you know, you're not necessarily going to just nick dishes wholesale, although I have.”

The history-teacher-turned-chef continued: “I try and filter them through what I've got round here. I travelled a lot, before I had my son. And we'd go, me and my partner, go to eat in Denmark and Sweden and all those countries. This was continued to go to America, Japan.”

Autumnal innovation

Harris said his garden and local landscape were his biggest inspiration. He said: “Especially at the moment: there's still signs of the end of summer, but it's obviously becoming autumn.

“The ingredients change, the colours change. So, all those things inspire me.”

Harris gave his top considerations when putting together a menu. Balance, he said, should always come first.

“Obviously the difference between coming up with an individual dish, and a whole menu is to get the balance right, the balance between light, more robust, all that kind of stuff,” he said.

Harris’ next consideration was seasonality. “We've been cooking seasonally ever since we open so you know, that’s like breathing to us,” he said.

He added: “You just want to try to always try and find the best ingredients you can find, whether it’s a red cabbage or sea bass.

“I work just as hard, probably harder getting the vegetables and things like that than I do the main kind of things like fish and meat.”

Inspiration begins at home

The third consideration, said Harris, was locality. He said: “We like to cook what's around us, not because of any reason other than we've got great farms and ingredients to forage.

“We got great fish, we got great grain, you know, it's all here in Kent.”

Harris opened the Sportsman in November 1999, abandoning a career in finance to pursue his passion for cooking.

He was not formally trained, and had previously worked as a history teacher and punk musician.

In 2019, Harris told BigHospitality​: “There’s almost an orthodoxy [to cooking] that I dislike. I want to grab a chef sometimes and say ‘don’t do what everyone else is doing, do something different. Why do all your dishes look the same?’

“But then I think I just copied people and wanted to make my food like it looked in their books.

“It’s a difficult one. I like it when people break away.”

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