Chef Nathan Outlaw celebrates 20 years in business
Published 29 March 2023

Credit: Outlaw's New Road

It’s been 20 years since Nathan Outlaw opened his first restaurant, the Black Pig in Rock, Cornwall. To mark the occasion, he has launched a very special lunch menu at Outlaw’s New Road which celebrates some of his greatest hits from the past two decades. Some of the dishes are almost unchanged; others have been elevated with new techniques or new ingredients. They’ll be available for the next three months. Hilary Armstrong speaks to Outlaw about his trip down memory lane.

Congratulations Nathan on 20 years since you opened the Black Pig in Rock. How does it feel to look back on 20 years?

It’s gone fast! It doesn’t feel like 20 years. One thing that dawned on me when I looked back is that I haven’t changed the way I think about food and the way I cook. I’m quite proud that I stuck to it and saw it out because it’s very easy, especially when you’re younger, to chop and change. I might have moved locations but the style of food I enjoy eating and cooking has always been the same. When I opened the Black Pig, I was just 25 and my son was on the way. Everyone thought I was mad but there was something in me; I wanted to do it and I was confident that I could do it. One thing that has improved is we have better ingredients, better connections with the fishermen and growers. We’ve built a community we can rely on and trust. Also the staff, Pete [Biggs] the head chef of the restaurant has been with me since day one. To have probably a dozen staff with me over a decade is really lucky. That’s why it’s worth celebrating.

You’re doing a special lunch menu at Outlaw’s New Road of some of your best dishes of the past two decades. How was the selection process?

I wanted to start at the beginning so the first menu is made up of dishes from between 2003 and 2005, the Black Pig years. I went through some old menus and picked out the dishes that were always my favourites to cook. When I first opened, I did a dish of mackerel with chicory tart, pistachio, and pink grapefruit. That’s one of the dishes I wanted to put on. On paper you think 'that ain’t gonna work' but I was determined. I couldn’t afford to have the very green pistachios that you see in the fancy French restaurants, so I made a pistachio dressing with salted, roasted, in-shell pistachios like you get in the pub. Because it was interesting-sounding, people started to order it and it became a favourite.

Another one is salted pollock with watercress soup and lemon oil. I wanted to use expensive fish but couldn’t afford it so I had to use pollock which at the time everyone said was cat food. I cured the fish and the texture of it completely changed so it was almost like having a piece of scallop. Now you go into any restaurant and it will have cured fish on but back then the only curing you ever saw was smoked salmon. It’s a nice thing to return to all those dishes and to realise there’s still elements of those dishes within our repertoire. I’ve got a really strong repertoire of good recipes and techniques; I rely on them as the backbone and just try and get better ingredients all the time.

How is your team finding the recipes?

Some of them weren’t even born when I cooked those dishes! They’re really excited because, apart from the ones that have been with me a long time, they’ve all just done a tasting menu. I actually think that we need it; we need to have that variety in our day and a bit of spontaneity. With a tasting menu, you can get the consistency and obviously you know what money you’re spending but it can be bloody boring! I’m hoping with having the 20-year lunch menu, showing them some old techniques and even some retro plating, it will evolve the evening menu as well. The way I develop my food is by cooking it, that’s when I get the ideas, I can’t really sit down and write things and draw pictures. I know that by cooking lots of different things we’ll evolve everything else.

What do you feel has changed over the last two decades?

The biggest single difference has been social media. When I opened the Black Pig there was no social media, no Internet, no promoting yourself that way. What is a shame [now] is the element of surprise [has gone], not knowing what you’re going to get. Now everyone knows because they’ve seen a picture.

When I opened the Black Pig if I wanted to learn how to do something I had to either go and eat somewhere where they did it or know somebody that could do it or have a go and probably make lots of mistakes. Now, you just Google it. Then, you had to work with people. I was very lucky to work with John Campbell and Rick Stein and Eric Chavot and Gary Rhodes and my dad. Now you can wing it to a certain extent. You could argue that you won’t get very far but you can build up a profile and hype and get open. I couldn’t have done that 20 years ago.

The new season is just about to start. How is it going at Outlaw’s New Road?

The biggest challenge for us and, I’m imagine, most restaurants is it’s quiet. There’s a little bit of anxiety and nerves about what’s going to come in the future but I’ve always stuck to what I believe in: keep the hospitality there, keep the food good, then people will come. June, July, August, and September are going to be brilliant I’m sure.

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