Stark by Ben and Sophie Crittenden

Stark by Ben and Sophie Crittenden
Stark is no ordinary Michelin-starred restaurant. In December 2016, chef proprietor Ben Crittenden, formerly of the West House in Biddenden, converted a sandwich shop in Broadstairs and, working alone in a tiny kitchen, served creative tasting menus to a dozen customers a night. A rave review on the Guardian in 2017 was followed by a Michelin star in 2019. This year, Stark moved to larger premises in the same road and there are plans to turn the original restaurant into a tapas bar.

It’s fitting then that Stark is also no ordinary cookbook. In addition to the recipes, 42 of them such as Hake, mushroom, dashi, and Poussin, korma, grape (there are also a dozen tapas dishes including a wagyu slider), the extraordinary story of the restaurant is told with breath-taking honesty from both sides of the pass, Ben in the kitchen and Sophie, whose contributions appear in bold text in the book, front of house.

In his introduction, Ben Crittenden says ‘there’s no sugar coating or PR spin’ and he is true to his word. At one point in his career, the pressure of work coupled with a draining extended daily commute see Crittenden contemplating steering his car into the central reservation rather than face another day in the kitchen. On a business trip to San Sebastian, he recalls standing on the ledge of a hotel balcony, ready to jump.

But it’s Sophie Crittenden’s voice that really sets this book apart. Being able to understand the devasting impact of a severe lack of work-life balance on the couple’s relationship and family life (the Crittendens have three children) is sobering. Their personal life is laid out so barely that at times it feels like eavesdropping on a private conversation. But that searing honestly is what makes Stark such a compulsive read and so valuable to anyone considering following in the Crittenden’s footsteps and opening their own restaurant.

This review was first published in The Caterer magazine.

Cuisine: Progressive British
Suitable for: Professional chefs
Cookbook Review Rating: Four stars

Buy the book
Stark by Ben and Sophie Crittenden
£30, A Way With Media
Also available at Amazon Stark

Cook from this book
Duck liver parfait
Poussin, korma, grape
Pecan pie, banana, chocolate

Poussin, korma, grape by Ben Crittenden

B27A9579
BRINE
2 litres water
120g seasalt
40g sugar
1 bulb garlic
1/2 bunch thyme
1 tsp black peppercorns
10 poussin crowns

Bring the water to the boil with everything except the poussin and simmer until the salt has dissolved. Chill in the fridge and then submerge the poussin for 24 hours. Drain and discard the brine. Pat dry the crowns.

POUSSIN MARINADE
40g mild cheddar
100g single cream
100g natural yogurt
1/2 bunch mint leaves
1/2 bunch coriander leaves
1/2 lemon juice
1 green chilli
2-inch knob ginger, peeled and grated
4 garlic cloves
2 tbs sunflower oil
2 tbs gram flour
1/2 tsp turmeric

Mix the gram flour and oil with the turmeric in a pan. Cook out gently for 5 minutes or until the flour turns slightly golden. Blitz in a blender with all the other ingredients. Smother the poussin in the marinade. Cook in BBQ at 220c for 10-12 minutes. Remove and rest under heat lamps for 10-15 minutes. Remove the breasts and serve 1 per portion.

KORMA SAUCE
2 tbs sunflower oil
1 large onion, thinly sliced
10 cardamon pods
2 blades of mace
½ tsp garam masala
1-inch knob ginger, peeled and grated
4 garlic cloves, grated
100g cashew paste
100g single cream
100g natural yogurt
200g cashew milk
Pinch salt
Lightly toast the cardamom pods, mace and garam masala for a minute. Add the onions, garlic and ginger and cook lightly for 5 minutes. Add the remaining ingredients and cook in Thermomix at 90c, speed 5, for 40 minutes. Then blitz on full and pass through a fine sieve.

ONIONS
2 red onions
50ml white wine vinegar
25g sugar
10 mint leaves
Pinch salt
Thinly slice the onions on a mandoline. Salt lightly and leave for 1 hour. Wash off the salt and dry off a little on a J cloth. Whisk the sugar and vinegar together until dissolved. Chop the mint and mix everything together and vacuum seal on full pressure.

TOASTED CASHEWS
100g blanched peeled cashew nuts
500g sunflower oil
1/2tsp mild chilli powder
Pinch salt

Heat the oil to 160c. Add the nuts and stir constantly until golden brown. Drain from oil onto a J cloth and dust in chilli powder and season with salt.

CORIANDER OIL
300ml sunflower oil
2 bunches coriander
Pinch salt

Heat the oil and salt in a Thermomix for 5 mins at 80c. Add the coriander and cook at 80c for 4 minutes on speed 8 then blitz on full for 1 minute. Pass through muslin and chill immediately.

TO SERVE
Red grapes, thinly sliced
Coriander cress
Coriander oil

Cook more from this book
Duck liver parfait
Pecan pie, banana, chocolate

Buy the book
Stark by Ben and Sophie Crittenden
£30, A Way With Media
Also available at Amazon Stark

Read the review