Tom Kerridge

Cooking Up A Storm

11th April 2014

As Series Nine of The Great British Menu hits the tv screens,
Al Gordon talks to one of its leading lights…

You might not recall Tom Kerridge’s first television appearance (a small part in a Miss Marple Christmas special when he was a teenager) but if you’re remotely interested in food you can’t fail to have spotted him over the past few years: competing and then judging on The Great British Menu, for example, and dropping in to Saturday Kitchen on a regular basis.

His flirtation with acting over, he chose food as a career. After training, his first job was in the kitchens at the eminent Calcot Manor Hotel, Gloucestershire, as a commis chef, and the rest, as they say, is history. Now 40, he has – with the help of wife Beth front-of-house – turned The Hand and Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, into one of the most coveted, celebrated establishments in the country, and certainly the first such pub to be bestowed with not one but two Michelin stars: the Holy Grail for chefs.

The cuisine, a gastro-twist on traditional pub grub, is his calling card, to such an extent he is now viewed as the leading light on English perfect public house nosh. Appearing on TV shows and writing books on the subject are now par for the course for the man who admits that when he started catering college at 18, being the boss of his own place could not have been further from his mind.

“Owning the restaurant was something that just happened as my career grew and grew, and it just became the next logical step,” he says. “To be honest, there is not an end game or something I am striving towards, never an end point where I think it is a success – it has always just been that every day we try to get better at what we do.”

To maintain the impeccably high standards Kerridge has set himself and his trusted team, he always abides by a couple of rules. “Seasonal produce is very important,” he offers as his first piece of advice. “Seasons change and food prices change with them. If you are buying something out of season then the cost goes up. So just from a business point of view, it makes more sense to buy things that are in season. It’s just a completely logical way to follow it. And in this country we do get four very defined, great seasons, and that is a nice way to follow what is going on in the food world.”

The second, said in an exasperated tone, is that food doesn’t have to be bought exclusively from local sources. It’s quite an unusual point of view, but he defends it robustly, explaining, “local produce doesn’t mean good produce, necessarily. I’ve made this point so many times, and in a way I guess I’m campaigning against this preconception that because it’s local it should be good. Nonsense! Sure, people like to support their local producers, and I’m all up for that, but never at the expense of real quality... why should it be?”

These rules have set him in such good stead that the reputation of The Hand and Flowers, and therefore of Kerridge himself, has never been greater. The chef and owner says the two Michelin stars he has earned are without doubt his greatest achievement, and the pub/chef brand looks set to continue to rise.

But cooking is not the be-all and end-all of his life; in fact, perhaps surprisingly, he declares that he doesn’t cook in his own time.
“Not for me, no!” he laughs. “I would say the least used appliance in my house is the oven. I might do a roast on a Sunday if I am not working, but otherwise I don’t cook much – with the life I lead, it’s just too much to come back to the house and do it all again!”
Spare time is a rare luxury for Kerridge, and he spends it doing very ordinary things.

“I like to walk the dogs and watch a bit of telly, just relaxing stuff, to be honest,” he says. This is such a demanding job, I like to take it easy when I can. I love going to watch my local football team as well, Marlow FC. There are only about 120 people at the match, but it is a real community thing, and it’s a world away from the stress of the kitchen.”

But don’t mistake this laid-back outlook as being in some way reflective of Kerridge’s passion for food. You only have to listen to the enthusiasm with which he describes his craft to know that he has so much more to offer gastro aficionados.

“I simply adore cooking, I love the business aspect, and the social element of being involved in a kitchen is pretty strong too. I don’t think people realise it, but chefs are really unique sorts of people. For starters, put them in a place for 24 hours and you can guarantee that they will find ‘that’ bar, the late night one that everybody wants to go to! And when they get there, they know how to have a good time, believe me. It’s in our DNA, and I don’t intend to lose it, no matter how many Michelin stars I’ve got…”

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