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Last Updated: Wednesday, 9 August 2006, 23:08 GMT 00:08 UK
Focus on food fuels Cornish tourism
By Will Smale
Business reporter, BBC News, Cornwall

Rick Stein
Rick Stein has put Cornwall firmly on the food map

A growing reputation as a place to enjoy food is continuing to fuel Cornwall's vital tourist industry.

With tourism accounting for 25% of the Cornish economy, compared with the UK average of just 4%, the sector is a core employer in what remains England's poorest county.

Yet go back to the 1980s, and like pretty much all tourist areas outside of London, visitor numbers in Cornwall were in the doldrums.

Put off by the UK-wide malaise of poor food and service, more and more British people were choosing to go abroad for their summer holidays.

It was not just the guaranteed sunshine that made Britons flock to the south of France, Spain or Italy.

It was to avoid the endless chickens-in-a-basket and gammon with pineapple on the top.

Everyone realised that British holidaymakers had learned to demand better food and service and they had to catch up
Restaurateur Nick Barclay

With visitor numbers down, it started to dawn on Cornwall's pubs, restaurants and hotels that they could no longer simply rely on the county's extensive beaches, good surf, and sunny summers to attract visitors.

Instead they would have to up their game and vastly improve their food quality and service.

Not only would this attract more wealthy tourists, the aim was for it to transform Cornwall into a year-round destination rather than just somewhere to visit during the summer months.

The thinking being that gourmet food attracts a loyal and well-heeled following whatever the time of the year.

'Padstein' factor

A major catalyst and model for this transformation came in the shape of famous TV chef Rick Stein, who is renowned for his seafood.

Jamie Oliver and staff outside his Fifteen Restaurant near Newquay
Jamie Oliver choose Cornwall for his second UK restaurant

Back in 1974 he was an unknown restaurateur from Oxfordshire who decided to open his first business in the pretty north Cornwall seaside village of Padstow.

Attracted to the area because of Cornwall's abundance of fresh fish, his Seafood Restaurant steadily built up a loyal following.

Mr Stein's success, which today sees him own a number of restaurants in Padstow, or "Padstein" as it is dubbed by cynics, helped put Cornwall firmly on the food map and attracted other upmarket restaurants to the area to tap into the growing customer base of food-loving visitors and locals.

This effect continues to this day, with fellow TV chef Jamie Oliver also choosing to open a restaurant in Cornwall in May this year.

Mr Oliver picked Newquay as the location for the third branch of his chain Fifteen, to add to the first restaurant in London and second in Amsterdam.

'More relaxed'

Another restaurant that recently launched in Cornwall and aims to establish itself at the top of the market is No.6, which has been opened in Padstow by four former proteges of famous chef Gordon Ramsay.

Molly Christensen
Ms Christensen says restaurants here gain from good suppliers

Molly Christensen, 27, Paul Ainsworth, 27, David Boulton, 25, and Chris Mapp, 30, all decided to move down from London and set up their own business together.

"We had all been down to Cornwall before on holiday, and had a shared love of Padstow, which thanks to Rick Stein is such a fantastic place for food," says Ms Christensen.

"Cornwall is such a beautiful place to be, so relaxed and friendly compared to London.

"The produce is also amazing down here, obviously the fish, but also the meat and vegetables."

Catching up

Such a focus on good food has been a key factor in Cornwall substantially increasing its visitor number - between 1992 and 2002 the number of annual holidaymakers going to the county rose 50% from 3.4 million to 5.1 million.

"Cornwall knew it had to up its quality," says Nick Barclay, proprietor of Barclay House, a restaurant with rooms in East Looe on the county's south coast.

"Everyone realised that British holidaymakers had learned to demand better food and service and they had to catch up.

"The county still caters for all types of holidaymakers, but developing the high-end of the market has been a key focus.

"You can't get away with poor food and warm beer anymore."

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