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Steven Saunders: The shock that made me give up my executive chef’s job - plus a superfood recipe





This week celebrity chef Steven Saunders gets a wake-up call and changes his lifestyle. He cooks wild salmon which is great tasting, seasonal and healthy.

Steven Saunders. Picture: Keith Heppell
Steven Saunders. Picture: Keith Heppell

I walked into The Willow Tree restaurant in Bourn on a typical Sunday, tired because it was the end of the week. Just another normal week at the Willow Tree, or was it?

On that Sunday the temperature was over 40C in the kitchens. 70-plus hours a week is normal for someone who is committed - and it’s totally necessary, because the young chefs don’t want to do the hours. Since Brexit, hospitality is struggling to find staff.

But this week I felt more tired than usual - I was totally exhausted.

Feeling short of breath I finished up earlier than usual and went home to shower. That night I had a temperature, I couldn’t sleep, and my heart was beating through my chest.

I got up early the next morning and went to see a cardiologist at The Cambridge Spire Lea Hospital as I have often suffered from arterial fibrillation and I was concerned.

The beautifully-appointed Cambridge Lea has service like a five-star hotel! I was invited into a room where they took an ECG test.

“Mr Saunders,” they said. “Your ECG is unreadable. We will need to take it again.”

So they took it again but it was still unreadable. Third time lucky: they used an old machine and got a reading.

The cardiologist, Dr Sarah Clarke, knew of me from my restaurants and also from mutual friends.

“Steven,” she said, “your heart reading is very irregular and very fast and that is why the ECG struggled to detect it. You know that you have AF (arterial fibrillation)?”

“Yes, sure” I said. “I have had it for years, but it has become more debilitating lately.”

She said: “You really must look at your lifestyle and diet.”

“Diet is what I often write and talk about,” I mumbled.

“But,” she said, “do you follow your own advice?”

It’s a fact that hairdressers never have their hair cut, shoemakers never have nice shoes and chefs never eat their own food! Thinking about it, she had a point.

I don’t eat all day then at 11pm I go home and open a bottle of wine and eat some junk food. I leave behind fresh crab, fresh scallops, beautiful beef, Suffolk chickens etc.

Steven Saunders at the Willow Tree, Bourn. Picture: Keith Heppell
Steven Saunders at the Willow Tree, Bourn. Picture: Keith Heppell

She told me that unless I stopped working immediately and took time out, I was at risk of stroke or heart attack.

Concerned, I returned home and packed my things, deciding to move back to my family home in Suffolk for a while.

My family live in a beautiful town called Woodbridge, near Felixstowe, which has the UK’s largest port.

[Read more: Princess Di and a famous crispy duck salad recipe]

My father’s house was much the same as when I lived there 45 years ago. Same ornaments, same pictures on the wall, same furniture, same oven in the kitchen, same slippers under the bed. It was as if I had never moved out.

My mothers’ clothes hang in all the wardrobes, although she passed away nine years ago. It seems as if she is still living there. Of course, I wish she was.

So I have had to make a massive life change, given up my executive chef’s job and given up the wine, except for the odd glass here and there.

I will be back soon with a vengeance: you can be certain of that.

I told my father: “The medication I am on is amazing and I am starting to feel normal again.” “Normal?” he said.“You’ve never been normal!”

  • www.theodessaproject.com ( Helping Ukrainian refugees find homes)
  • Email: thechefsaunders@gmail.com
  • Instagram theodessaproject
  • Instagram @saunderschef

10 superfoods that are good for your heart and health

A selection of superfoods rich in antioxidants including avocado, kale, blueberries, chia seeds, coconut, broccoli, different nuts, salmon, sardines, pollen, quinoa, hemp seeds, seaweed, cocoa, olive oil, goji berries, flax seeds, kiwi fruit, pomegranate and ginger
A selection of superfoods rich in antioxidants including avocado, kale, blueberries, chia seeds, coconut, broccoli, different nuts, salmon, sardines, pollen, quinoa, hemp seeds, seaweed, cocoa, olive oil, goji berries, flax seeds, kiwi fruit, pomegranate and ginger

  1. Leafy greens like spinach and kale
  2. Whole grains like quinoa, barley, oats
  3. Berries like strawberries, blueberries, raspberries
  4. Avocados
  5. Oily (fatty) fish like salmon, sardines, mackerel
  6. Dark chocolate (in moderation)
  7. Garlic
  8. Tomatoes
  9. Edamame beans
  10. Olive oil

Steven’s wild Alaskan salmon, quinoa, edamame and vierge dressing (serves 4)

Steven Saunders' wild Alaskan salmon, quinoa, edamame and vierge dressing
Steven Saunders' wild Alaskan salmon, quinoa, edamame and vierge dressing

Wild salmon is available until the end of August

  • 4 salmon fillets each weighing 130/150g, skin on
  • 50ml of olive oil
  • 75g pea shoots or micro cress optional as garnish
  • A little horseradish mixed with thick double cream
  • Maldon salt
  • Ground white pepper

For quinoa

  • 200g of ready to eat quinoa
  • small bunch chives, chopped
  • 50g cooked red peppers, chopped finely
  • 50g pitted black olive chopped
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • Juice of 1 lemon
  • Seasoning

For the dressing

  • 150ml olive oil
  • 3 vine tomatoes de seeded peeled & chopped
  • 2 shallots chopped finely
  • 2 cloves garlic peeled and chopped finely
  • 100g of cooked edamame beans
  • Fresh basil finely chopped.
  • Seasoning
  • Juice of 1 lemon

Method

  • Firstly, prepare the sauce by mixing all the ingredients together and allowing all the flavours to infuse. Add the green herbs and the edamame beans at the final stages but you can warm the sauce gently before which will improve the flavours. Season well.
  • Mix all the quinoa ingredients together and season well. Warm gently in a pan (or in a microwave) on a low heat.
  • Put a frying pan on a high heat and add the olive oil. Now fry the salmon skin down, for about 3 /4 minutes and season well, cook until the skin is crispy. Reduce the heat to low, turn the salmon over and continue to cook in the pan another three to four minutes.
  • Serve the salmon on the quinoa and then warm the dressing and finally add the herbs and the edamame beans. Serve around the salmon and serve a small quenelle of horseradish cream on the top - see the picture.

This dish uses many healthy properties from my list above. If you Google the 10 ingredients listed above you will see that this could be the dish to help keep weight down, to improve your cholesterol and for a healthier heart.

It is what I am eating tonight and at least once a week! I hope you enjoy it.



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