The Luxury Channel interviews celebrity chef Tom Kerridge, proprietor of The Hand & Flowers pub in Marlow….
Where did your love of cooking come from?
When I started in the kitchen at 18, I learnt more and more about produce and absolutely loved it, so it became a kind of ongoing process – and it still is to this day.
You’ve worked with some big names, including Gary Rhodes. How important was this as a learning curve?
Oh, hugely important. Being in kitchens is the most important thing. Being a chef is quite a short, sharp career, the hours are long and the graft is hard; there aren’t many 55 year old chefs on the saucier section of a Michelin-starred restaurant, so it’s a steep learning curve.
How much did appearing on The Great British Menu push you into the limelight?
Oh, it was massive, and again that was a massive learning curve. The media is again a huge thing to learn – you see so many people who end up in the media and it all goes horribly wrong because they’re not quite sure what they’re doing. You can’t fault the British public; they don’t fall for things, so the main thing when I was asked to do The Great British Menu wasn’t actually to win, it was to go on there and be myself. I thought that if I went on there then I’d do alright – as long as I’m not pretending to be someone else. So going into the show, I was myself and my food got me through and I won the main course, which was great. All in all, it was almost the perfect storm – it was very busy and very hard but actually, the thing I was most proud of is that I came across as myself.
Where do you seek inspiration for your dishes?
I suppose they’re all based on classic traditional dishes. When you look at Great Britain and what it’s built around – whether it’s manufacturing, whether it’s food, whether it’s farming – it’s all solid, rustic, heart and soul and honest. Those are the sort of dishes that I find enthusiasm for, the most inspiration, in that honest, hearty food.
You’ve incorporated that well into your gastro pub. Is it an honour to be awarded two Michelin stars for the Hand & Flowers?
It’s the biggest achievement and it can’t be beaten. We’ve done so many amazing things, and being asked to do television and my books is fantastic, but none of that would happen without the commitment from my staff. There’s 50 members of staff who all push very hard to make sure we achieve that standard and winning the 2 Michelin stars is one thing, but hitting that standard day in, day out is the big thing – none of that can be done without the staff. I’ve been fortunate and I surround myself with wonderful people who work very hard.
You came fourth in the National Restaurant Awards, and were voted Gastro Pub of The Year. Do you think that the trend for “pub grub” is growing quicker now than it ever has before?
Yes, absolutely. I think more and more people are looking at Great British pubs and there’s about 15 chefs now in pubs with Michelin stars, which is a wonderful position to be in and it’s a great advert for British food across the world. It’s not all about Michelin stars, however; there’s great pubs doing great food that haven’t got Michelin stars but their understanding of food is fantastic. More and more people are looking at ingredients and at produce-led cooking, which is great.
How well was On 5 received at Royal Ascot, given the more formal dining options usually associated with the racecourse?
It was a five day pop-up at Royal Ascot and it was amazing. The first time we’d done this purpose-built, new restaurant was this year and what an incredible experience! For me, it’s the second time I’ve done Ascot and I’m not a horse-racing man, but being a part of that big, special day out, well, the atmosphere was phenomenal and we became a small part of everybody’s day. It was like being at the biggest, most amazing wedding ever for five days. It’s such a wonderful experience and again, it’s something we should be very proud of in Britain. We are very good at seasonal events in this country; from Ascot to Wimbledon to an FA Cup final.
A favourite luxury food item?
To a lot of people, it seems a luxury but to me it’s an essential and that’s butter. There’s so many different things you can do with it. If used wisely, it’s fantastic for seasoning. Then dairy – some lovely rich or salty cheeses can enhance dishes, or go through desserts. In terms of how we cook, I think dairy products are fantastic, so that’s my big luxury.
What is the key to a good restaurant?
I think the key to a good restaurant is understanding what it is you’re offering and being the complete package. Understanding that it isn’t just about food – it’s about environment, it’s about location, it’s about the amazing staff. All those key points come together to become the best restaurant.
What’s currently in the pipeline (that you can tell us about)?
We’ve just picked up the keys for a second pub in Marlow that we’re working on. It’s a very small site which will only seat about 35 people, most of which sat at the bar. It’ll be flexible and interactive, a little more food-focused, but a high street bar.
The Luxury Channel spoke to Tom via Interview Hub. Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes, published by Absolute Press, is out now, priced £25.