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Interview: Jack Stein

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Alongside copies of his new book, Jack Stein works quickly, confidently and with warm humour throughout a packed-out cooking demo at West Dean’s Chilli Fiesta.

Jack Stein, the Executive Chef of Stein Restaurants, is becoming an increasingly recognised name in the food world; in addition to his book, Jack Stein’s World on a Plate, he has also recently opened the Cook with Jack Stein cookery school. He sits down with The National Student between demos at the Chilli Fiesta to chat about the festival and life in the food industry.

Jack Stein

Jack Stein, West Dean's Chilli Fiesta

With food festivals like the Chilli Fiesta continuing to grow in popularity, variety and accessibility, Jack says, 'Every year it’s getting better and better.'

He describes the Chilli Fiesta as 'massive'. Based in the expansive grounds of West Dean College in West Sussex, there’s an incredible selection of shows to see, gardens to explore and spicy foods to try. The festival attracts people of all ages, particularly families.

'I’ve just had a kid of my own,' he says. 'This is the kind of place I would want to bring him.'

As the son of Rick Stein, Jack grew up surrounded by good food.

'When your parents are fascinated by food, and you’re around food all the time, you kind of just vicariously become interested in it,' he says. 'Going to food festivals and farmer’s markets and making [food] a part of your life that’s really key - it makes your children appreciate it.'

Having grown up with a food-loving childhood, Jack decided to pursue a career in cooking while studying at university in Cardiff.

Jack Stein

Jack Stein, West Dean's Chilli Fiesta

'Once I went to university,' he says, 'I was there making all of my sauces from scratch and things - that didn’t seem weird to me. But people would be like, "why are you doing that when you could buy it?"'

Believing that shop-bought products couldn’t compare to fresh home cooking, Jack says, 'I think then I realised'.

Offering advice for foodie students, Jack jokes, 'I mean, obviously get a really good cheese toastie machine.' (We agree.)

'But I think also, find your local food markets, find your local deli and things like that,' he adds. 'I used to go down to the fish market in Cardiff where I was at university.'

Although he recognises that buying local, high-quality produce can be more expensive and difficult to do all of the time, he says that, when you can, it's 'worth it'.

Jack considers one of the benefits of buying from local food sellers to be the direct interactions that you have with people in the industry. 'Once you start talking to people who sell you food and are passionate about food, you become passionate about food.'

Chatting to Jack about food is testament to this; his evident love for cooking is infectious.

'Being a chef is a fantastic thing to be,' he says. 'Our industry has absolutely no barriers to entry for men and women. We’re a very, very open industry, but it is hard work.'

The job may be hard work but, he says, 'it’s not a hard industry – it shouldn’t be'.

'Our restaurants certainly aren’t. We don’t shout,' he says. 'Actually, a really well-run kitchen has the best camaraderie, and compared to working in an office, it’s a million times better.'

Having been through the process of working his way up as a chef since university, Jack Stein recognises the hard work and dedication required to make it in the industry. But, talking so highly of his profession and industry, he presents it as completely, entirely worth it.

For more information about West Dean College and the Chilli Fiesta, visit their website here.

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