Stephen Harris and Massimo on the music that made them
New BBC radio documentary looks at the relationship between great chefs, their kitchens and record collections
When chef Stephen Harris created his famous dish, slip sole in seaweed butter, he and his team weren’t absolutely convinced it was finished. The recipe was deceptively simple: take a slip sole fillet, add a spot or two of Harris’s seaweed butter, and grill it for four minutes.
Unconvinced that good cookery could be so simple, Harris and the brigade at his restaurant, the Sportsman in Seasalter, on the Kent coast of South East England, tried to improve on the dish. Yet as he told the BBC’s Dan Saladino in a recent edition of the Radio 4’s Food Programme, “in the end, when you added something you lost what the dish was about.”
Harris used to play in a moderately successful punk band, The Ignerents, and, as he tells Saladino, he learnt to play the guitar just as he learnt to cook: not through any formal training, but by copying the pros, from Paul Weller to Pierre Marco White. So, to solve his slip sole problem, he turned once again to music. Harris compared the dish to one of his favourite punk rock songs, the 1978 hit, Ever Fallen in Love (With Someone You Shouldn't've Fallen in Love With) by Manchester band, Buzzcocks. At just two minutes, 40 seconds, it’s hardly overly long, yet, like the slip sole recipe, its strength lay in its brevity.
“When the Buzzcocks finished Ever Fallen in Love, I’m sure they didn’t think, ‘Shall we add another verse or some Mellotron?’” Harris reasons. “They thought that was over with.” So too was this recipe.
Of course, not every chef places such a premium on succinctness. Saladino also spoke to the acclaimed Italian chef Massimo Bottura about his love of the pioneering 20th century US jazz pianist, Thelonious Monk.
Bottura says his 17,000-disc-strong record collection contains everything Monk ever recorded. He even invented a dish, Tribute to Thelonious Monk, to honour the musician. Its white Alaskan cod and black, squid-ink broth brings to mind a piano keyboard. Massimo tells the BBC that it is truly an homage to the jazz musician, thanks to the way that it pushes a diner’s perceptions, by looking monochromatic but packing in a huge range of flavours.
Monk developed idiosyncratic, angular, dissonant improvisatory techniques, pushing jazz far beyond the conventional styles of the 1940s and 50s. Chefs, says Bottura, should try to be more like him.
“Be different,” Massimo advises those entering the profession. “This is very important for the young generation; if your idea is a good idea you’re going to be recognised." Of course, what you listen to while you do that is totally up to you.
To read more of these chef's winning ideas buy a copy of The Sportsman here and Never Trust a Skinny Italian Chef and Bread Is Gold here.