I was delighted to see there was a new series of Rick Stein’s Cornwall on BBC2 last week: 15 half-hour episodes over three weeks. I really enjoyed the first series last year and it gave me some great information for my holiday in Cornwall last September, especially leading me to Jack Doherty’s pottery in Penzance – which Rick had visited in one episode – and I had a great time talking to Jack, looking at his work, and buying a beautiful pot to bring home.
Last year, with so many people staying in the UK for holidays, Cornwall became the top destination for holidaymakers. It’s always popular but was more so than ever before. This led to a number of TV programmes with various celebrities taking to the Cornish towns, coastal walks and beaches. Some were terrible, perhaps inevitably, most were good, but Rick’s was excellent. He packs a huge amount into each half-hour episode. Of course there is an emphasis on food but a there’s a lot more.
I once said to someone that I like Rick Stein’s food programmes because he always throws some history and literature – often poetry – into the narrative. They thought it was a bit put on but, No, I said, Rick did an English degree at Oxford University – Rick’s love of literature and poetry is real.
In the 5th episode of the current series, Rick spends time with award-winning Cornish artist Sue Reid, and also tells the story of Thomas Hardy meeting his wife in Cornwall and the sad history of their marriage. He reads some Hardy poetry aloud for us and as he walks along a clifftop looking out to sea, says, ‘Everywhere I go, I just think that literature and paintings add so much to one’s own experience of going somewhere.’ This so much resonates with my own way of enjoying somewhere I’m visiting – reading novels set where I’m staying, visiting art galleries – and famous potters! – that this is much of the appeal of the series to me. And of course I like to hunt out the best places to eat and sample food like Rick too.
In the first episode of the new series he devotes quite a bit of time to telling us how he became a chef and opened his famous restaurant in Padstow, crediting the marvellous Keith Floyd with giving him a break and encouragement. It makes for an entertaining story and will be a good background to any future visit to the restaurant.
Rick visits favourite pubs, food producers and of course cooks up a few dishes. He walks through an Atlantic temperate rainforest with Gillian Burke, better known as one of the presenters of Springwatch. In St Ives he follows the history of artist Alfred Wallis and in another looks at the tale of the Mermaid of Zennor. I think most of us like to experience a variety of things on holiday and Rick does this for us. Rick talks of holidaying in Cornwall as a child and he moved there in 1971, opening The Seafood Restaurant in 1975. He may not be Cornish, but he probably knows Cornwall better than most non-Cornish people and it’s a delight to have him share his knowledge and obvious love of the county with us.
Well, I’ve got ten more episodes of the new series to look forward to, which is going to keep me very happy TV-wise for the next couple of weeks.