James Martin needs no introduction. As restaurateur, celebrity chef, author of seventeen books and host of at least eighteen television travel and cookery programs, he is one the nation’s favourite personalities.
He lives in both Yorkshire and Hampshire, and now runs The Kitchen, a restaurant and cookery school at the prestigious Chewton Glen Hotel in the New Forest.
“I came to Hampshire twenty-three years ago; I love the coastline, and especially Beaulieu and the Isle of Wight.”
From his native Yorkshire, James left Scarborough Technical College and went directly to Hostellerie de Plaisance in France, one of the many Michelin-starred restaurants James has worked in. Was that move a real culture shock?
“No, not really. I had been going to France on holiday with my parents for years. Even at the age of ten I was in the French kitchens helping out. I wanted to cook so badly! I left school with one ‘O’ Level in art, but it didn’t matter – cooking was my passion.”
That passion served James well. On his return to the UK, he joined Gerard Basset and Robin Hutson, founders of Winchester’s Hotel du Vin, as Head Chef. He was just twenty-two.
Can James recollect the most memorable meal he has eaten?
“I think The Waterside Inn at Bray. It has Michelin three-star status and is better than anywhere. It’s excellent in both front and back of house.”
I asked James for whom he’d like to cook if he had the choice. Despite the fact he must have a wide range of celebrity customers, his choice was heart-felt.
“My late grandmother. She was a fantastic cook and passed all her knowledge on to my mother. Sunday lunch was always for ten or twelve people with everything home cooked, the most fantastic and memorable meals. You can’t beat a good roast! My grandmother was also a huge fan of ‘Strictly Come Dancing,’ so she would have loved to see me on that!”
Does James enjoy the pressure of cooking live on television?
“I love the pressure, it’s no different to working in a professional kitchen. Cooking is a craft you can never master and that’s what makes you strive to be better.
For example, last night’s service in the restaurant, (Chewton Glen), was fantastic, really busy. All the customers were happy, so the front of house and back staff were happy too. When it all goes well you can’t believe you’re lucky enough to be doing this job.”
When choosing ingredients for the restaurant does James support local producers?
“Yes, of course, where possible. But we are cooking for large numbers of people all the time – it was one hundred people last night, so if I need two hundred halibut then I go where I can source best quality product.”
Does James despair of our dietary excesses of processed foods?
“No, not really. Look at the difference in the food culture compared to thirty years ago. People have so much choice now and it’s up to them to make their decisions.”
James is well known for his love of cars. Would he describe himself as a ‘petrol-head chef’?
He laughs, “Yes quite possibly! I learnt to fly at Goodwood in West Sussex and still remember my old Mini! We may well do some more travel food programs when I drive around in a nice car. We’ll see!”
So what next for James Martin?
“God knows!! I’d be lost without my mother, my phone and my PA, that’s for sure! But listen, I feel very privileged to do my job, I’m so lucky. If I can inspire youngsters to cook then that makes me happy.”
James is preparing a meal as we chat, so what’s for supper?
“Roast pork-like I say you can’t beat a good roast!”