Book review: Stark, by Ben and Sophie Crittenden

15 October 2020 by
Book review: 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 into a restaurant. Working alone in the tiny kitchen, he served creative tasting menus to a dozen customers a night. A rave review in 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, and a dozen tapas dishes, including a wagyu slider – there is also the extraordinary story of the restaurant. This is told with breathtaking honesty from both sides of the pass, from Ben in the kitchen and Sophie front of house.

In his introduction, Ben 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, saw Ben contemplating steering his car into the central reservation rather than face another day in the kitchen. On a business trip to San Sebastián, he recalls standing on the ledge of a hotel balcony, ready to jump.

But it's Sophie's voice that really sets this book apart. Their personal life is laid out so bare that at times it feels like eavesdropping on a private conversation. Understanding the devasting impact of a severe lack of work-life balance on the couple's relationship and family life (they have three children) is sobering. 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.

Stark, by Ben and Sophie Crittenden (A Way With Media, £30)

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