Foodie Features

Tom Kerridge – Written In The Stars

By Rosie Birkett

Tom Kerridge tells Rosie Birkett how he went from child actor to the only pub chef in the country to hold two Michelin stars and how – despite his mother’s greatest efforts – he still fell in with the naughty boys.

“Err, it was all a bit of a mistake,” smiles Tom Kerridge when I pry into his childhood acting career. “To stop me hanging around with the naughty boys, my mum took me to this youth theatre. We grew up on an estate in Gloucester, so this gave us something to do – it was interesting and there were some very pretty girls there, so as a teenager it was fun,” he chuckles. “Within two weeks, an agent came to see someone else – and asked if they could represent me because I stood out a bit.”

“Three weeks later I was filming the Miss Marple Christmas special – playing a Borstal Boy. But I got type cast after that, so I went to catering college where I felt much more at home – and there were plenty of naughty boys there!”

Fast-forward twenty-two years, and Kerridge, who’s famed for his twinkly West Country demeanour, has just revisited our screens on BBC’s tv shows; Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food and Tom Kerridge Cooks Christmas: but he’s best-known for being the only chef in the country to hold two Michelin stars at his pub, The Hand and Flowers in Marlow.

With a classical cooking background that took in stints under Gary Rhodes and David Adlard in Norwich, Kerridge opened his own place with his wife Beth in 2005, with just three chefs in the kitchen – taken with the idea of serving excellent food in a relaxed setting.

“If I was going to be running my own place, I didn’t want to be cooking food that you think people should have if you just want to appear in a guidebook. Amuses and pre-desserts never suited me: I just wanted to cook food that I liked to eat – and I still do.

“I do think the British style of cooking is starting to grab hold - as a country we’re one of the most up and coming food scenes across the board.” - Tom Kerridge
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“It was a tiny, tiny little kitchen originally – but we tried doing the level of food I’d been cooking at Adlard’s, when I had a star. I’ve always thought, if you’re going to cook a fillet of beef – that animal still has a shin, and it’s still going to be the same quality animal – you’ve just got to cook it with the same love and respect.”

Now there are eighteen people in his kitchen brigade. “We have more time, we can do a lot more and we’ve moved ingredients on a bit, but there’s still that feeling of it being a homely, accessible three course, a la carte meal in a pub setting. The style of cooking is very similar in its heart and soul as when we first opened, but it’s much more refined – we put the same ethos into cooking as any other two star restaurant.”

This means that something which can look simple on the plate – for example his ‘lamb bun‘. “It looks like an upside down toffee apple and is a two day process, involving braising and brining and wrapping – there’s a lot of work that goes into that dish.”

By his own admittance, Kerridge is fond of the classic French way with dairy, stocks, reductions and heavy seasoning. “We cook in old school, French style – I’m quite old fashioned in that sense, but then we try and counter balance that richness with acidity. We use a lot of high seasonings and alcohol rather than boiling it away.

“I do think the British style of cooking is starting to grab hold – as a country we’re one of the most up and coming food scenes across the board – and it’s not just London centric. Some of the best restaurants are in Nottingham, Oxford, Cumbria, Cornwall – they’re all over the place. Chefs are learning how great British produce can be – and producers too, are beginning to be proud of what they do. We’re looking at ourselves and what we’re good at now, rather than looking to the rest of the world and what they’re cooking.”

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