Ben Prior made his name at Ben’s Kitchen, Marazion, winning acclaim from the likes of the Michelin Guide and Observer food critic and broadcaster Jay Rayner. This spring, he was due to open a new restaurant, Ben’s Kitchen at No 27 The Terrace, in St Ives. That opening is now on hold. However, we caught up with him in lockdown.
Welcome to St Ives! After great success in Marazion, what made you want to bring Ben’s Kitchen here?
I looked at lots of places, but the feeling I got in St Ives was just right. A lot of my loyal customers live or stay in St Ives, and I felt I could bring something a little different to the town to compliment an already thriving food scene.
Who — or what — are your influences in your style of cooking? How would you describe your style?
I’m self-taught and I spend a lot of time reading cookbooks and talking to chef mates, bouncing ideas around. So I guess I’m not trying to emulate a specific style — it’s more about being creative and finding new ways of showcasing our incredible local larder. I never compromise on quality of ingredients and focus on clean and bold flavours served without unnecessary embellishment. One thing which has probably had the biggest influence on my food is the wine I serve with it. I started front of house, so learnt most of what I know about flavour through wine.
What can we expect to see on your new menu?
Like most restaurants, I will be focusing on local seasonal produce. I have an allotment that is producing quite a bit now, so to an extent the menus will be led by what I’ve pulled out of the ground that morning. This will be served alongside fish from small day boats, fresh shellfish, and local meat and game. The menu will change daily, so whatever is at its best will feature!
You’re known for championing South African wines. What drew you to these?
It’s a long story that starts 25 years ago when I was unloading containers of South African wines for my boss at the time, who imported it direct. I was given a few bottles to sample, and everything I tried, I loved. Twenty years later, and I now import direct myself. I travel regularly to the Cape winelands and have built strong relationships with small producers. So, naturally, the wine list at No.27 The Terrace will have an unapologetically South African bias. The immediacy and vibrancy of South African wines — famous for their purity of fruit — works particularly well with my food. Wine will be integral to the development of the daily-changing menu, with dishes and accompanying wines going hand in hand. I strongly believe that a wine should enhance a dish, not just complement it.
Suppliers are key to a good menu. Tell us about yours.
I have always used local businesses where possible and tried to deal directly with the day boat fishermen and local farms. This should be easier now as I am closer to most of my main suppliers here in St Ives.
Who will be working with you in the kitchen?
It’s a pretty small place, so it’s a tight little team, with chefs working with me around their other jobs. Stuart Cobb and Natasha Osborne are both helping me out; they are superb chefs and I’m very lucky to have their support. Rhys O’Leary has come with me from Marazion to run the front of house and is absolutely integral to the kind of dining experience I like to offer.
How do you relax outside of the restaurant?
To be honest, I’m not very good at relaxing! I like to stay busy. Wine and food are as much a part of my downtime as my worktime. I love cooking at home with family and friends and going out to restaurants to see what everyone is up to. We’re so lucky to have such an incredible food scene here in Cornwall — I think recent events will help us appreciate that even more.