Flavour champion and country boy with a now instantly recognisable West Country accent, Tom Kerridge seems pleased as punch to be cooking at Harrods as their latest ‘Chef of the Season’. ‘When I was a child, I walked around the food hall at Harrods in amazement with my jaw open thinking it was the greatest place on earth! For me, it is so exciting to be cooking at such an iconic place, unbelievable,’ he says.
The chef is becoming used to life turning out well and relishes being a glass half full kind of person, always cheerful and optimistic. His gourmet pub The Hand and Flowers in Marlow, now nearly 11 years old, initially opened to make enough money so that his wife, Beth, could become a full-time sculptor. Today, it holds two Michelin stars, the first pub ever to reach such an achievement, and is a huge success. So much so that he has recently opened The Coach close-by too.
Beth, who went to The Royal College of Art and apprenticed with Anthony Caro, is now widely recognised in the artworld for her sculpture. Kerridge was surprised to find that his pubs attracted such attention, yet modestly claims, ‘I don’t think it is just our pub, it’s a reflection on the British food scene and the huge interest in producers now.’ He has long been an advocate for the British pub, as expressed in an interview earlier this year, ‘I find pubs very personal and homely. No matter what time of year it is, what day of the week, you just feel comfortable. Pubs are close to my heart, they are very British and something we should be proud of.’
It’s this relatable ‘everyman’ attitude that helped Kerridge become a considerable TV personality, fronting BBC2’s iconic Food & Drink programme, which involves challenging the likes of The Hairy Bikers and Raymond Blanc. It all started modestly enough with his appearance on The Great British Menu in 2010 and then he went on to secure his own TV show Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food, ‘that was a huge turning point for me,’ he recalls. Though as a teenager, he had been interested in a career in acting, and even had a small role in Miss Marple. He is adamant that adjusting to fame has not changed him a bit, though is quite aware that he needs to give 100 per cent when he knows people have come to see him. ‘My wife and mates would pull me up if I got carried away at all; I am just comfortable in my own skin. I pay little attention to people knowing who I am. Though, sometimes I do get reminded that I have a voice that people listen to, and that does scare me a bit,’ he explains.
Originally from the West Country, Kerridge first got interested in cooking when he needed to prepare meals after school for himself and his brother – his mum was busy holding down multiple jobs to support the family single-handedly. It was when he took his first job as a kitchen porter, aged 18, that he realised he was made for a chef’s life. ‘The idea and feeling of being in a kitchen was fantastic.’ Twenty-five years on, it’s obvious he still feels the same.
Kerridge says his cooking is ‘all about flavour combinations. Flavour profile is the most important and getting the most out of even simple things, plus understanding British produce and treating it robustly and with love and respect.’ His recipes are always strong and bold, sophisticated yet familiar. He’s been impressed by the in-house chefs at Harrods and has thrived on working closely with them in his pubs so that the customer still gets the same experience, whether dining in his West Country restaurant, The Tom’s Table pop-up or taking away more informal dishes.
His traiteur menu at Harrods from November right up until Christmas will include curried parsnip soup with honey oil, game terrine with cranberry relish, honey roast ham with salt baked pineapple, stuffed turkey with brown sauce and crumble topping, goose and ale pie and spiced plum cake with plum and cinnamon sauce.
Tom’s new book, simply titled Tom’s Table is a reflection of how he likes to cook at home, which is also the starting point for the dishes at The Hand and Flowers. ‘The recipes are all very personal, honest and delicious, from my heart and soul. I especially like cooking at this time of year as I love root vegetables and meats that need slow-cooking,’ he says.
Despite his name being synonymous with pubs, Kerridge is now teetotal. That and a daily swimming regime helped him transform his health over the last couple of years and gave him greater focus. He tells me, ‘I don’t really do things small. I like taking on challenges. If I have the mindset to do it, I’ll do it and do it properly. It’s like being a chef. You need determination and grit to survive. If you have that crack-on spirit, you’ll thrive.’
Surprisingly, Kerridge reveals that his favourite food at the end of a long day requires no cooking, ‘I adore cheese!’ When he is not in the kitchen, he fills his time watching Marlow FC play football and walking his dogs with Beth. He’s is looking forward to the challenge of The Tom’s Table pop-up at Harrods in The Food Hall and talks with warm, big-hearted passion about dishes he is looking forward to seving. Among these are the crisp pig’s head with sweet date sauce, pancetta and chickweed, plus venison with chilli puffed rice, 100 per cent chocolate and triple cooked chips. ‘The flavour-master’ will be fronting the open grill himself and the tickets will no doubt sell like proverbial, albeit Kerridge -styled, hotcakes.
The Tom’s Table pop-up at Harrods in The Food Hall takes place 2 – 8 November. Seats are ticketed, £59 and £89 with matching wines; contact: TomsTable@Harrods.com; harrods.com
Words: Sudi Pigott