“What do you call treacle?” Stephen Harris asks over the phone.
He pauses momentarily, searching for the American name for black molasses. He’s thinking about swirling it into sweet-and-salty Irish soda bread, to be spread with cream cheese and topped with smoked fish. This is one of many dishes he’s considering cooking when he comes to New York next week.
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He’ll be here to give us a taste of The Sportsman, his self-dubbed “grotty rundown pub by the sea,” which is also known as the current best restaurant in the U.K. The two-night pop-up will happen at The Four Horsemen in Williamsburg. (You can book a table by emailing email@example.com, or walk in Tuesday or Wednesday.)
At home in Kent, Harris sources ingredients from the marshes and beaches that surround his restaurant, so he’s curious to see what New York will provide in frosty February. “I’m afraid of your immigration if I turned up with dehydrated seaweed powder,” he says. “We intend to come in with nothing but a change of clothes.”
Harris’s cooking is all about terroir. The Sportsman’s salt comes from the nearby Seasalter waters, the lamb graze nearby and the ham and herring are cured in-house. That’s just the way it’s done by the former history teacher turned self-taught chef. In the last 17 years, Harris and his brother Philip have transformed an old inn into the National Restaurant of the Year in 2016, one poached oyster and mushroom and celeriac tart (with a hidden egg) at a time.
Over that same timespan, he’s been toiling away on a cookbook—“We’re a slow burner,” he says—to be released by Phaidon this October.
“We don’t get ourselves too cozy. We keep ourselves on edge,” Harris says. “This is kind of a rare bit of reflecting, reading through my old business plan and remembering how we started with one person in the kitchen, me, and then my first employee, Dan, who is now my head chef.”
Dan Flavell is on his way to New York, too, to bring a bit of Kent to the States.
“It’s difficult because we’re a restaurant specific to space. We cook from our surroundings,” Harris says. “But you’ve got great oysters and seafood, so it will be a mongrel mix of Brooklyn and the seaside.”