The Sportsman’s winning ingredients: A punk rock attitude

How punk musician turned award winning chef Stephen Harris turned a grotty pub into a true team GB champion
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Stephen Harris beside his Jamie Reid poster, I Hate French Cooking (2005). As reproduced in The Sportsman
Stephen Harris beside his Jamie Reid poster, I Hate French Cooking (2005). As reproduced in The Sportsman

In 1976 Stephen Harris was a 16-year-old rock fan, growing up on the Kent coast, and growing increasingly dissatisfied with the British music scene. “Most live music had gone from the small clubs to massive stadiums, and the stars felt so distant as to make them irrelevant to us,” he recalls in his new book, The Sportsman. “We didn’t want triple albums of abstract noodling, we wanted three-minute, fast, catchy singles, so when punk came along we were ready.”

 

Stephen Harris tuning his Epiphone guitar in 1976
Stephen Harris tuning his Epiphone guitar in 1976

Harris dug into the back catalogue of proto-punk bands such as the MC5, The Stooges, the Pretty Things and the Downliners Sect, went to see punky pub rock bands including Eddie and the Hot Rods and Dr. Feelgood, and eventually formed his own punk band, The Ignerants, playing his own, small part, in reshaping British culture.

A little over two decades later, Harris, having worked as a history teacher and a financial adviser, developed at first an amateur then a professional interest in food and restaurants, just as British culture was entering another inflection point.

“The feeling I had about music in 1976 was similar to how I felt about restaurants in 1998,” he says. “Why was it so expensive to open a restaurant – surely all you really needed was a building and a stove? Just like the music industry in the late seventies, the restaurant industry had begun to feel bloated and disconnected. If you stripped away all of the unnecessary stuff it could just be about what was on the plate – the food version of a perfect three-minute pop song.”

 

The Sportsman in Kent
The Sportsman in Kent

Harris stripped away quite a lot from The Sportsman, his award-winning, Michelin-starred restaurant, after he first chanced upon it in 1998. This seaside pub was something of a dump: a sticky floored, near-empty establishment rendered dingy by chipboard and frosted glass. Harris ignored the surly glances of the handful of regulars, and, in November 1999, acquired the keys to the place, thanks to a loan from his brother, Skint record label owner, Damian Harris.

Steven began the process of ripping out the “layers of crap” that had accrued in a place which had once seen better days, first as a hotel for shooting parties (hence the name), than a hostel for caravanning tourists.

 

Scallops in seaweed butter, as reproduced in The Sportsman
Scallops in seaweed butter, as reproduced in The Sportsman

He threw out all the grim instruments of ghastly British cuisine, including the deep fat fryer and by shopping abroad and acquiring imperfect seconds from high-class retailers managed to kit out the place immaculately. It was, admittedly, a bit more than a building and a stove. Yet Harris retained the same back-to-basics pragmatism that served British music so well in the late 1970s, to turn The Sportsman into a world beating British restaurant, where all the attention was focused on simple, perfect, popular dishes.

Check back soon to find out more about another ingredient that makes up The Sportsman, and to learn more about Harris, his outlook and his dishes, order a copy of The Sportsman here.

 

The Sportsman


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