Food & Drink

Tom Kerridge on shouldering the ‘huge responsibility’ of being a chef

Tom Kerridge talks to Prudence Wade about putting the spotlight on British produce in his new cookbook.

Tom Kerridge’s latest cookbook is dedicated to the brilliant produce of Britain
Tom Kerridge Tom Kerridge’s latest cookbook is dedicated to the brilliant produce of Britain

Tom Kerridge is keenly aware of the “huge responsibility” he has as a chef.

Not just delivering a cracking meal to diners, but paying proper respect to the people who came before him in the long process of getting food to the table.

“As a chef, you’re the person that takes care of the end result. If someone has taken ages to produce and grow carrots and beetroot, or whether it’s animal husbandry, free-range chickens, cattle farming – all of that takes a huge amount of time and focus,” Kerridge muses.

“When you become a chef, you realise that you become the last touch point between them and the guests – and that’s a huge responsibility. So when you go into a kitchen, the moment we recognise that, then there’s an awful lot more at stake, because we know we have a huge responsibility here.”

Buckinghamshire-based Kerridge, 50, has spent much of his career championing British produce, whether it’s in his cookbooks or his many restaurants – one of which, the Hand and Flowers in Marlow, was the first pub to win a second Michelin star. He’s now on his twelfth cookbook, aptly named Tom Kerridge Cooks Britain, a journey around the UK through produce and recipes – from Scottish strawberries down to Cornish clotted cream.

It’s accompanied by a new ITV1 show of the same name, airing in July, which sees Kerridge travel the length and breadth of the country in a 1950s food truck, meeting different suppliers along the way and cooking up dishes from their produce.

“The one thing I’ve always been focused on for 32 years being a chef – I’ve always been about produce, and produce-led,” Kerridge notes.

“We’ve done cookbooks before that focus on dishes and dish styles, and The Hand & Flowers [Cookbook, published in 2020] was all about The Hand and Flowers dishes, which is also focused on British produce. But actually, that’s a very complex cookbook with some Michelin-star-level cookery. So this is a real opportunity to visit producers and suppliers up and down the UK, and showcase what they do and make those ingredients the hero dishes.”

Kerridge says he does occasionally get too complicated when writing recipes, but he’s reigned in by Nicole Herft, an “amazing chef/home economist” he’s been working with for 15 years. She helps develop the recipes “from a consumer-led point of view, to make sure I don’t get to cheffy, to make sure people can actually cook it at home”.

With age, Kerridge has actually found he’s erring towards simplicity, adding: “I’ve got much more in the habit now of calming it down and making it a lot simpler to do.”

And he’s appreciative of how “food is a big part of our lifestyle”, which is “definitely” an improvement to when he was growing up. “Particularly as I grew up in a single parent family, it was very much Birds Eye Waffles and Findus Crispy Pancakes – there is much more now in terms of a focus on real food.”

But modern progress is also a double-edged sword. “It’s funny, because we’re in a world of recognising food and what we want to eat, and we understand much more about being health-conscious and aware of food – but we’re also in a world where we’re a lot busier,” Kerridge explains.

Even if convenience is paramount, Kerridge still respects our collective interest in global cuisine – particularly as “you can cook different dishes from around the world, but still using British ingredients”.

Kerridge really comes alive when talking about the British seasons. “We’re quite lucky that we have four fairly defined seasons,” he enthuses.

“All of them have their highlights and beautiful things, I think there’s something to be wanted and loved for [every season], but autumn and winter for me is always very, very special. Because it’s about braising, slow cooking root vegetables and brassicas, and I love that flavour profile – it’s big and punchy and really strong.

“But I also can’t wait for it to end and for spring to start – it’s weird, I love the flavours of autumn and winter, but I also can’t wait for the first asparagus, and the combination of green leaves and shoots. And then moving on to summer when the fruits have ripened.”

Ultimately, don’t make Kerridge choose: “I love each season as it arrives.”

He’s starry-eyed when talking about British produce, but comes back to earth with a bump when discussing the British hospitality industry, where the outlook is altogether less rosy.

“It’s still very, very difficult – we’ve had some high-profile closures,” Kerridge notes sombrely, particularly citing the example of celebrity chef Monica Galetti, who recently announced the closure of her London restaurant Mere.

“These are high-profile chefs that are struggling, and if they’re struggling to work, then there’s a lot more people behind the scenes as well – like just your local restaurants. I think the issue is a mountain, it feels like everything’s getting squeezed.

“It’s one of those ‘batten down the hatches’ [situations] and see if [restaurants] can get through the next couple of years. I’m sure every industry is doing the same, but hospitality feels like it’s up against it.”

As the owner of multiple restaurants, Kerridge feels this pressure keenly – and he’s got plenty of other plates spinning, whether it’s presenting TV shows, writing cookbooks or starring in adverts for M&S.

For Kerridge, the key to success is the team you surround yourself with. Plus, now he’s got a much healthier way to deal with stress, instead of falling back on the crutches of booze and overeating.

“I go to the gym – I quite like that escape, that space to go in, do something with your headphones on and lift some weights.”

Tom Kerridge Cooks Britain by Tom Kerridge is published by Bloomsbury Absolute, priced £25. Photography by Cristian Barnett. Available now.