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Steven Saunders: Serving up a fresh look for Mediterranean restaurants





What has celebrity chef Steven Saunders - renowned for his Cambridgeshire restaurants - been up to? He shares his stories with us exclusively - and serves up a great Italian duck salad for summer.

I was once asked in a TV interview ‘Do I rate myself as a great chef?’ I replied that I think that I am a great specialist.

Steven Saunders and his girlfriend
Steven Saunders and his girlfriend

I specialise in the kitchen, of course, but also the front of house.

I can do the front of house as well as the back of house and I love people, so it’s easy for me to be involved everywhere. But that also means that I move around a lot, because very few people can do that. They either specialise in the kitchen or the front of house, but not both. Someone once described me like a whirlwind. I arrive, create a storm, create a fabulous restaurant with great staff and then I move on. Maybe that is true.

Two years ago I relaunched my brother’s restaurant in Woodbridge in Suffolk, A Listers. He watched me recreate, recruit, train and launch new menus and new concepts. He told me one night how proud he was because he had never realised that I was so talented! He’s never said anything nice like that to me before. It really touched me.

Then more recently I helped reset Olivia’s restaurant in La Cala, Spain, owned by Elliot Wright, which had lost some popularity. After nine months of hard work, we could see great success and so he asked me to look at the other restaurant in his group, called Eduardo’s in Villa Martin in Alicante, on the east coast of Spain.

I love a new challenge and so I grabbed the idea. I walked up to Eduardo’s for the first time and I saw a pretty restaurant in a beautiful plaza but it was totally unloved.

A voice came to me and said Ciao bella…make me Italian. It was the obvious choice: visions of lemons, limes, flowers, basil everywhere and friendly staff came to mind. I was delighted when Elliott said, ‘I love you, it’s a great idea’.

So, I moved to Alicante with my baby dogs, dropped them in my open top car, leaving everyone behind, even my lovely girlfriend, who understood, but was obviously not too happy.

The launch day was amazing, we had Channel 5 follow me literally all day (the show is to be transmitted in February 2024), local radio stations did interviews and newspapers from all over arrived. The press coverage was huge.

Elliot arrived and we both gave an emotional speech and then we enjoyed the launch party together. The restaurant had taken off immediately and bookings were now flying in.

But after the launch I felt very down. Sometimes that happens when you have been so high with excitement, but also by now I was starting to miss my home, my girlfriend, my friends and La Cala.

My home in Alicante is very different. I call it the Bronx! It looks over houses with guys with no shirts, dogs barking at night and cats whining. The heat there is so intense as it is several miles away from the coast. It’s not where my heart is.

I love my home here in Southern Spain. I love to wake up with the sea breeze coming from the terrace over our bed - the terrace is always open. I love the sound of the birds who are so happy every morning. It is always so warm and the tropical gardens here are truly beautiful.

The sun arrives every morning at 7.30am, it sets at about 10pm - it’s a long day. The weather is amazing, but we have a cool breeze from the coast which we don’t have in Alicante. I have two beautiful Chihuahuas and they love it here. They sleep on our terrace and wake me up every morning at 7am with kisses.

So I am home back in La Cala and ready to write and create new ideas again.

One of my most famous dishes is a crispy oriental duck salad. I do an Italian version in Alicante using Italian apples, basil, balsamic and Italian tomatoes. The recipe is rather amazing. Enjoy it.

Ciao bella!

Steven’s crispy duck salad, Italian style, with apples, San Marzano tomatoes, basil and balsamic

This stunning dish could be a starter or a main dish - just increase the amount of duck and add a little more salad for a main dish. It has been an incredibly popular dish, a twist to my classic duck salad that you all know and love.

From left, Steven’s crispy duck salad, Italian style; Steven with his girlfriend; their two Chihuahuas in his car. Behind is La Cala, Spain
From left, Steven’s crispy duck salad, Italian style; Steven with his girlfriend; their two Chihuahuas in his car. Behind is La Cala, Spain

Ingredients for two (starter size)

Approximately 150g of cooked duck meat shredded
1 tablespoon of cornflour
Mixed leaves - look for an interesting mix (2 generous handfuls)
1 bunch of fresh basil
1 apple (It doesn’t have to be Italian but it needs to be sweet like Braeburn or golden delicious)
50g of unsalted butter
1 tablespoon caster sugar
100g of icing sugar
150ml of regular balsamic vinegar reduced in a small saucepan until a syrup
Approx 5/6 San Marzano or Piccolo cherry tomatoes, cut in halves
1 sprig of thyme or rosemary (or use dried)
Juice of 1 lemon
50ml of good quality olive oil
1 tablespoon of sweet chilli sauce
1 flat tablespoon of honey
Maldon salt

Method

1 Firstly, prepare the tomatoes by sprinkling each half with a little Maldon salt and some leaves off the thyme or rosemary.
2 Put on a tray in a preheated oven 150C for about 10 minutes
3 Remove tomatoes and sprinkle with a little of the icing sugar and let them rest
4 Peel the apple and cut into small cubes 1cm or smaller or better still use a small Parisienne scoop.
5 Melt the butter in a saucepan and add the apple and the caster sugar and cook until the apples are soft and tender but not mushy. Remove from the heat and drain on tissue. Keep the liquid.
6 Now prepare the dressing by mixing the olive oil with the juice of 1 lemon and the remaining icing sugar, whisk until smooth and finally add the honey and whisk in.
7 Wash the salad leaves and the basil leaves.
8 Toss the prepared cooked duck pieces in the cornflour and deep fry at 190C for 30-45 seconds or until crispy. If you don’t have a deep fryer you can use a wok and wok fry the duck in a little oil until crispy, drain on tissue paper.
9 In a clean bowl add the duck with the sweet chilli sauce and stir well to coat the duck.
10 Into that add the leaves, the tomatoes, the fresh basil (lots) and the apple. Keep the apple juices in the fridge for something like cooking fresh vegetables.
11 Drizzle over the lemon dressing and drizzle over some balsamic reduction.
12 Serve with a glass of ice cold Italian white like Gavi or a Pinot grigio.

Follow Steven on Instagram @saunderschef

Email Steven at chefsaunders2020@gmail.com

Coming soon…Steven visits Australia and finds some amazing new ideas for recipes.



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