SLMan Meets… Tom Kerridge

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Now a household name, Tom Kerridge worked as a chef in restaurants across the UK before deciding to take over a rundown pub in the quiet Buckinghamshire town of Marlow. He opened The Hand & Flowers with his wife Beth in 2005 and it went on to become the first (and only) pub in the world to acquire two Michelin stars. In 2014, he opened a second pub in Marlow, The Coach, followed by The Butcher’s Tap. More recently, he launched Kerridge’s Bar & Grill in London and The Bull and Bear in Manchester, and now has eight books to his name. In recent years, the chef launched the Full Time Meals campaign with footballer Marcus Rashford, created the roving Pub in the Park food festival and became a judge on BBC’s Great British Menu. As he launches his latest TV show and cookbook, he sat down with SLMan to chat BBQs, the importance of pubs and his idea of a perfect Sunday lunch…
Photography @LATEEF.PHOTOGRAPHY; LISBOETA

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I joined the kitchen as an 18-year-old in need of money. I started on washing up duties. But I was drawn to the vibe, excitement and energy of the kitchen. I enjoyed the late nights, early mornings and eclectic mix of people. I didn't grow up learning to make apple pie with my nan or anything like that, although I have fond memories of making my little brother fish finger sandwiches with white bread when I came home from school. I used to just have a go at cooking things and see how they turned out. Kitchens are very good at finding people. You can rise to the top through sheer will and that's it. It’s the most diverse, embracing industry you can find – it has no prejudices, no issues with educational background, race, religion, sexuality, economic background – none of it makes any difference whatsoever as long as you’ve got the work ethic.

Growing up, we’d go to a Berni Inn for special occasions. They were the UK’s first gastro pubs – they were a little bit like Beefeaters, but a bit more pubby, and they would do things like half a roast chicken with peas that had been sat under hot lamps for ages. But from our point of view, they were special places you’d go to once a year, and they were really exciting.

We’re so lucky that the UK food scene is massively diverse and exciting. We’ve got everything from places with two Michelin stars – such as Sat Bains in Nottingham, which is an amazing restaurant, and No 6 by Paul Ainsworth in Padstow. Paul is my best mate and godparent to my son, and he’s refining Padstow. No 6 is an exciting Michelin-starred restaurant with brilliant food, and he’s absolutely at the top of his game but then, at the same time, he’s got The Mariners pub over the estuary in Rock which serves fish and chips or chicken bites or bar snacks – things that are just brilliantly done, but really accessible. Cornwall in general is just a magical place to be.

I love anything that gets roasted outdoors. I love getting the BBQ going – it’s just the best way of cooking things. You get that extra flavour from charcoal, it’s my favourite ingredient. You can cook anything – meat, vegetables, fish, whatever you like – but if it’s cooked over charcoal, it will taste incredible. I've got an Australian mate whose BBQ is gas. His argument is that when he comes home from work, that’s the oven – they cook outdoors all the time. And I tell him “It's not got the flavour, though.” We constantly have this argument.

There are almost too many great BBQ brands to choose from. If you want to spend some big money, Big Green Eggs are amazing. You can do slow cooking over them and they create wonderful smoky flavours. I've just purchased a Kadai, an Indian fire pit bowl – it’s just brilliant. They’re both great pieces of kit, work really well with wood or coal, and look lovely in the garden.

I love eating with my family. I love impromptu pile-ons at my house where we put out a text saying, “Listen, we’re doing a few sausages – anyone want to come over?” and end up with 20 people hanging out, bringing salads and bowls of fruit and some meringues and some whipped cream while the kids run around, jumping on the trampoline or throwing themselves into a paddling pool. I love that kind of excessive behaviour where people pop round for an hour – and four hours later everyone's still having a lovely time. I also love the calmness when everyone’s gone.

"I didn't grow up learning to make apple pie with my nan, although I have fond memories of making my little brother fish finger sandwiches when I came home from school."

When it comes to entertaining, I’m quite lucky as I've got my own butchers in town. The Butcher’s Tap is our third space in Marlow, and it does some amazing chicken kebabs in a tikka marinade. I'll always pretend I've made them myself but, in reality, I go and grab them from there before cooking them on the BBQ! 

The best party in history was my 40th. It was a massive joint birthday party between me and Daniel Clifford, another two-Michelin-starred chef from Midsummer House, nine years ago. It was a Sunday and pretty much every single Michelin-starred chef in the country turned up. There were 200 people, plus nine Big Green Eggs, and all the chefs took it in turns to cook. Then my favourite band, The Rifles, played live before Danny Rampling did a big DJ set that went on until 5am. Honestly, it was epic. The next day, we all drove up to Yorkshire and stayed at The Star Inn at Harome, Andrew Pern’s pub, for two nights and ate more wonderful food.

My documentary Saving Britain’s Pubs was filmed just after the first lockdown. I think I’ve shut my pubs more times than I've opened them. It was bananas. Hospitality is the social fabric of everything. Pubs are very British and are at the heart and soul of so many communities. During lockdown, so many of them still operated – whether that was cooking meals for people who were vulnerable and lonely, or people who needed some form of delivery service. Pubs are where many people meet at the end of a working day, they’re in the middle of housing estates where communities come together. It's not just posh pubs like I’ve got, there’s much more to them. They’re routed through the social network of society and are something everybody knows irrespective of their economic or social background. A pub is a meeting place.

Lisboeta
The Mariners
@LATEEF.PHOTOGRAPHY

It's weird, because these days I find myself as a bit of a voice in the industry. I get asked to go on news channels to talk about hospitality. I’m happy to find myself in a good motivational space to ensure everyone can get through to the other side of the nightmares we are all facing right now in the industry. Post-pandemic, things still aren’t back to normal, and they’re going to get harder. There’s no point pretending a recession won’t happen, that we're not facing 11% inflation rates, and that many businesses aren’t left with huge debt burdens from the pandemic. There’s been an increase in VAT, there are supply chain issues and consumer issues too, as people’s pockets are getting hit massively by the rising costs of utilities, food and fuel. These problems are only just starting and it's how we drive our way forward that’s important. We’ve got to find our way through the woods.

That said, as an industry we’re really good at two things. Hospitality is very fluid and adaptable. Most places have an understanding of their client base, what they're looking for and what they perceive as value for money. If you come to the Hand & Flowers, for example, we know you’re looking for a high-end experience, so how do we offer that experience under pressure? We can reduce the menu size. At The Butcher’s Tap, some people aren’t going to want to spend more than £15 on a burger, so how do we do that? We change the garnishes. Secondly, human beings love going out, so hospitality will still exist down the line. We’ve just got to a find a way of getting to the other side. Right now, it’s just a bit bumpy – it's like being on rollercoaster you don't want to go on. The ride will be rubbish but, at some point, it will end.

"The best party in history was my 40th. Pretty much every single Michelin-starred chef in the country turned up and they all took it in turns to cook on nine Big Green Egg BBQs."

A Sunday lunch doesn’t have to be traditional roast beef or roast chicken with roast potatoes and Yorkshire puddings. My new show, Tom Kerridge's Sunday Lunch, is filmed as though it’s a real Sunday morning, so it starts with the thing that needs to be made first – such as a cheesecake that needs to set or a mousse that needs to be done in advance – so it has a flow and chilled vibe to it, rather than just being a collection of recipes. It touches on seasonality, but also on a bit of world cuisine – some of the most beautiful dishes are a butter chicken curry and a fantastic pulled Mexican beef brisket, which is so lovely – and not too hot for kids – with smoky chilli flavours.

At this time of year, my idea of a perfect Sunday lunch is a heap of beautiful chicken thighs or legs cooked on a BBQ, served with Middle Eastern or North African spices, alongside a lentil salad, some grilled broccoli and roasted aubergine with tahini. It’s all about outdoor cooking at this time of year, but these dishes capture the relaxed Sunday atmosphere – you make loads of it, then stick it all on big plates so everyone can help themselves. It’s one of those meals that can be made for four, eight or 28 people.

The best thing about Sundays is being with the family. My son Acey plays rugby on a Sunday morning, so I love going with him while he runs around a pitch for an hour and a half and hangs out in the rugby club afterwards. I’ll have done a bit of meal prep on the Saturday night and will have put some meat in the oven low and slow just before heading to the rugby ground. I love opening the front door and being hit with those homely cooking smells. For me, smell evokes emotion more than anything else.

The Hand & Flowers

The best thing I’ve eaten this year was a Goan-spiced pork pie at Lisboeta, Nuno Mendes’s new place on Charlotte Street. You’ll probably have seen lots of Instagram pictures of these little pork pies they serve as a snack. I’d 100% go back just for those.

We love curries in my house. We sometimes have sneaky Sunday night curries in front of Netflix ordered from a restaurant called Malik’s in Cookham. It's brilliant – Heston Blumenthal introduced me to it – and it serves brilliant curries. The team are lovely too.

Weekend brunch is all about big omelettes. We’ll make a huge one that’s almost more like a tortilla using loads of chopped up bits and bobs from the fridge. Just whack those in a pan, pour in a load of eggs and stick it in the oven.

One cookbook everyone should own is Simon Hopkinson's Roast Chicken & Other Stories. It’s full of wonderful stories and has lovely descriptions of food. But I’d also say that anything by Jamie Oliver is brilliant. I think Jamie is just such a great food writer who really connects with people. I have a new cookbook out next month, called Real Life Recipes, which focuses on the fact so many of us are time poor and want cost-effective recipes using supermarket produce. It’s for people who get in from work at 7pm and think “What have I got in the fridge and how should I cook it?” I really don't care if you have a bottle of brown sauce or ketchup on the table. I'll let you into a secret you might not see on Instagram: I often do too.

 

Tom Kerridge’s Sunday Lunches launches on Food Network on 29th August. You can pre-order his new cookbook, Real Life Recipes, here.

Visit TomKerridge.com

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