Sian Griffiths quizzes chef Tom Kerridge on his new cookbook, food trends and awkward customers…
On Saturday 20th September, I headed north to the Liverpool Food and Drink Festival to sample a slice of the Merseyside food and drink scene, and I was lucky enough to catch up with the festival’s headline act: Tom Kerridge. This publican turned celebrity chef found fame as the owner of Britain’s only two-Michelin-starred pub, The Hand & Flowers in Marlow. Since then, he’s become a household name, starring in his own BBC Two series, Proper Pub Food, as well as Masterchef and Great British Menu. I, like many, have been won over by his no-nonsense approach to cooking, and his enthusiasm for hearty food is completely infectious. With his warm, down-to-earth character and love for everything ‘lush’, I couldn’t wait to meet the master of posh pub grub.
Hi Tom, it’s an absolute pleasure to meet you! I’m a big fan of yours. So, you’ve just released your second book Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes – the cottage pie with blue cheese mash sounds amazing.
Which is your personal favourite recipe?
I’m a big fan of everything that’s slow-cooked, wholesome and hearty, all of those kind of warming meat dishes. There’s one in the book with lamb wrapped in bay leaves – basically, you completely cover the meat in bay leaves and cook it for a long, long time. That’s probably one of my favourites.
Is it easy?
They’re all easy, but you have to really enjoy cooking, you know. If you don’t enjoy cooking then nothing’s going to be easy. All the recipes in there are about time management and processes, so you need to be able to set yourself some time aside to make the most of it. But there’s nothing too technical or complicated to be honest.
We all know that you’re an advocate for hearty British food, but do you have another favourite food destination in the world?
I’ve fallen in love with two cities in the past two years. People always talk about going to Paris, Florence and all those wonderful European cities, but two of the best food experiences I’ve ever had were in Singapore and New York. Singapore has incredible street food and amazing posh restaurants, so there’s a whole spectrum. It was all very alien to me initially, a completely new experience, but it was amazing. The food scene in New York is absolutely unbelievable; you need to know where you’re going, and you need to search things out, but there are some fantastic places, whether it’s deli-style sandwiches or three-Michelin-star restaurants.
…and have you spotted any food trends that are on the up?
People are starting to grow more of their own vegetables, and there will definitely be more of it going on over the next three to five years or so if you ask me.
You come across as an easy-going guy, but things must get pretty heated in the kitchen at times. Are you always this laid back?
I’m really lucky, I’m at a point in my life where I’m very happy with where I’m at and how things are going, so there’s no reason to be grumpy. I’m really fortunate that The Hand & Flowers is booked up at weekends a year in advance, but this comes with a lot of pressure. High expectations need to be met and, like in every professional kitchen, you need people who can reach these standards. To be honest, my head chef, who I love dearly and has been with me for seven and a half years, is way grumpier than me.
Not naming any names, do any particularly difficult customers come to mind?
There have been a few of funny incidents. When we first set up, a customer complained that there was too much fish in the fishcake. That was bizarre. One summer, when we had had all the windows open, we received a letter complaining that there was a bee in the restaurant. I wrote back politely saying that I wasn’t Mother Nature and that it was against health and safety for staff to run around with rolled up newspapers.
Who or what has been the biggest influence on your cooking style?
There’s an unsung hero of British cooking, a guy called Jon Bentham. I worked for him for about four years when he was head chef at Stephen Bull’s restaurant in St Martin’s Lane and he taught me how to make simple food taste outstanding.
…and who or what got you into the kitchen in the first place?
Like many chefs my age would say, it’s got to be Marco Pierre White. His first book, White Heat, which was released 25 years ago next year, really inspired me. Cookbooks used to be like text books, with pictures of French chefs wearing tall hats, but, all of a sudden, there was a bloke with scraggly hair and smoking cigarettes. He made me think ‘yeah, this is rock ‘n’ roll, this is what I want to do’.
Obviously you’re extremely accomplished, but is there anything left for you to master in the kitchen?
Of course! There’s something new and interesting to learn every day – it doesn’t matter how long you’ve been cooking for, whether you’re an 18-year-old commis chef or someone like Paul Bocuse, who’s 80-odd years old. It’s never-ending with food.
So, what’s next for you?
I’m opening a second space called The Coach, which opens in mid-November, on the same road as The Hand & Flowers. It’s slightly different in that this time there’s an L-shaped bar, which is a non-bookable space, and the kitchen is behind, with a big French rotisserie oven. It’s really interactive, and it’s my attempt to make pubs a lot more flexible.
That sounds great! Thanks for taking the time to meet with me today, Tom.
You can read Sian’s full review of the Liverpool Food and Drink Festival on www.foodfestivalfinder.co.uk.