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Food and Travel Review

Food and Travel Review January 2014It's no secret that Rick Stein's influence reaches far and wide in the pretty Cornish fishing village of Padstow. In addition to his three restaurants, fish and chip shop, deli, fishmonger, patisserie, gift shop and three hotels with 40 guest rooms, there's the Padstow Seafood School. But this isn't a mediocre institute academy, albeit with nary a Stein in sight (other than the gentle reminder from the staff that Jill Stein does all the interiors).We're booked in for Classic Seafood Dishes day, which our instructor Keith translates as 'butter, butter, salt and butter' day. (Keith is witty. This is an important quality when it comes to holding our attention for seven hours, for five of which we're drinking wine.) He starts with a demonstration on how to create a classic fish soup with rouille and croutons, then we split into pairs to do it ourselves. The pattern for each dish is demonstration, cook, eat. Every step we do ourselves and we eat what we prepare (a rarity in some classes, where you might get stuck peeling an onion while someone else gets the interesting job), and there's plenty of opportunities to ask questions and take in Keith's bountiful seafood knowledge while sipping on a glass of chilled white. I start to wonder if there's anything this man doesn't know about fish. Even as a reasonably keen cook, I hadn't realised, for example, that most flat fish are at least seven days out of water when you eat them (otherwise they will be stiff and chewy) or that female lobsters take longer to cook, that white mussels are male, or that the harder it is to get the meat out of a crab claw the better, as it means it's been longer since the crustacean moulted and so the flesh will be finer.Under Keith's watchful eye I skin my first Dover sole ('A bit of a waste as the skin's full of flavour,' he tells us, 'but it's classic for a meunière'.) We learn the proper way to tronçon a turbot, and how to make a velvety hollandaise to drizzle over its over-browned flesh. We cook a lobster, then transform it into a moreish, decadent (read: more butter) thermidor. The class climaxes with a plateau de fruits de mer, with Keith demonstrating how to cook crab, cockles and clams, and open oysters. Having used prime ingredients all day long, eaten like kings and honed invaluable seafood cookery skills, even at £198 the course is a bargain. Indirectly, Rick has given us yet another reason to visit Padstow. AM.

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