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Lit fest kicks off with Tom Kerridge

Wellesbourne Airfield
Wellesbourne Airfield

Tom Kerridge is one of the most popular chefs on TV, and next Thursday (22nd October) he appears at Stratford ArtsHouse as part of the autumn series being run by the Stratford Literary Festival.

Having worked in restaurants across Britain, Tom eventually decided to set out on his own, and took over a rundown pub in the quiet town of Marlow with his wife Beth in 2005. The Hand & Flowers went on to become the first pub in the world to acquire two Michelin stars. In 2014 he opened The Coach, his second pub in Marlow.

As well as hosting his own BBC television series, Tom has recently been at the helm of the BBC’s Food & Drink and Spring Kitchen series, and appears regularly on major broadcasts such as Saturday Kitchen, Great British Menu and MasterChef.

Gill Sutherland caught up with him for a quick chat ahead of his appearance at the Stratford Literary Festival event, where he’ll be sharing his story and the creation of his latest book Tom’s Table: My Favourite Everyday Recipes.

You grew up in the southwest… what are your boyhood memories of food?

To be honest my childhood memories weren’t really governed by food. I didn’t grow up wanting to be a chef and cooking cakes. I do remember occasionally picking strawberries on one of those PYO farms in the summer. I ended up in the kitchen as an 18-year-old as a job, washing up. It’s the industry that I fell in love with. My love of food kind of grew out of being in the kitchen. But childhood wise, I guess my biggest food memory would be of enjoying a corned beef sandwich with English mustard while watching The Pink Panther.

You did a bit of acting as a boy — has that helped you in your presenting career?

I was in a youth theatre around age 16 and an agent came to see somebody else and happened to ask me if I’d like to be on their books and I said: ‘Why not, what’s the worst that could happen?’. To be honest, I’ve just spent my whole life saying yes to stuff! So I said yes, and two weeks later I was filming a Christmas special for Miss Marple. It was just bizarre. After about 18 months, I realised acting — pretending to be someone else — wasn’t what I wanted to do, so that’s when I got the job in the kitchen.

When you started cheffing did you ever imagine you would join the ‘celebrity chef’ ranks?

Absolutely not. It’s bananas! I still find it a bit bonkers. It all came about from that attitude of just saying yes to everyone and everything. I’ve always been comfortable in my own skin. I’m the sort of person who can walk into a room full of people and just be at ease and say hello. I’m just myself — confident in who I am, and that attitude has stood me well in all aspects of life... the TV work has just rolled on from that. Are there similarities between the TV studio and kitchen? When I ended up doing TV for the Great British Menu, I really liked understanding what people do for a job. I wanted to know what the runner was doing, how the sound guy held the boom, or why the cameraman had to stand there… I discovered TV is very similar to catering — the guy at the bottom, the runner, is like the commis chef, and as you become more experienced you work your way up the ladder and you earn more. In TV you work long, hard hours and at the end of the day you’ve actually produced something, made and created it — that then gets consumed in about 30 minutes. It’s a little bit like running a restaurant and cooking a main course.

Describe your cooking style.

I’m very fortunate that I own two pubs that serve food that I want to eat. I’m cooking for an environment that I want to be in — that’s very different from a lot of chefs who are employed to cook in a style to match customer expectation. Luckily I don’t own a five-star hotel in the middle of London, I own a nice pub in a town outside of West London – an environment that suits the food that I want to eat. If I wasn’t a chef I’d probably be driving a white van. I’d be quite happy delivering furniture — but it would be nice furniture. I’d be in my van with the window open and the radio on.

See the current edition of the Stratford Herald for the full interview. Go to www.stratfordliteraryfestival.co.uk to see a full programme of events and to book tickets.

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