Two Michelin star chef Tom Kerridge in a league of his own
AS Tom Kerridge says he is “a big bloke from the West Country”, not a “Michelin-star kind of guy”.
But he’s not got one Michelin star – he’s got two.
Tom, from Gloucester, is the only pub chef in the country with that accolade.
His pub The Hand and Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, gained a Michelin star in 2006 and a second in the 2012 – becoming the first pub ever to hold two Michelin stars.
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He’s sharing that skill and passion for cooking on our television screens, with BBC series Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food.
Tom was born in Wiltshire and moved to Gloucester at an early age. He lived in Tuffley and went to Whaddon Junior, then Saintbridge School.
His parents separated and he moved with his mum and brother to Abbeydale and lived in Painswick Road, making Matson and Coney Hill his stomping ground.
He still maintains close ties with Gloucester and makes regular trips to see Gloucester Rugby play.
His mum worked at Gloucestershire County Council’s education department during the day and in a pub in the evening.
“Myself and my brother were latchkey kids,” said Tom, who started cooking for himself at a young age.
He was only 18 when he got his first job, as a commis chef at Calcot Manor in Tetbury in 1991.
“The minute I walked into a professional kitchen I knew it was the place I wanted to be,” he said.
“The way of life and the environment, everything suited me. You have to love the atmosphere, the hours and the way that people are in a kitchen and their jokes.
“You live outside the normal circles and make do with a lot less sleep. You have to be very driven and very passionate about it.”
There are two deadlines to meet every day, lunch and dinner.
“I enjoy the adrenalin and pressure. It’s a great place to be.”
Tom moved to London in his early 20s and cooked at restaurants including Odettes, Rhodes in The Square, Stephen Bull and The Capital. He became head chef at Adlards in Norwich and senior sous chef at Monsieur Max in Hampton before opening the Hand and Flowers in 2005.
Tom, however, didn’t begin his career in a kitchen. Instead, he spent a brief period on the stage.
He was spotted acting at a Gloucester youth theatre group and went on to appear on TV screens in a Miss Marple Christmas special and London’s Burning.
“But I had the realisation that being an actor was not what I wanted to be. As soon as I started cooking aged 18 I knew that’s what I should do.”
I asked him if there is an element of performance in being a chef.
“That’s the fantasy that people have when they open a restaurant. They think it’s about putting on a show. It’s a trade like being a builder or carpenter. You have to learn the skills.
“It sounds a romantic job but there’s nothing romantic about it. It’s about hard work and graft.
“You’re trying to create a fantastic dish for people time and time again with consistency.
“The front of house staff are there for the smiles. The chefs are the engine rooms which allow everything else to happen.”
His West Country roots form the core of his cooking style.
“I’m proud of my roots and my accent. I love Gloucester very much and the West Country as a whole.”
He particularly loves West Country produce – its dairy, fish and meat – and farming heritage.
“All of those ideas that promote solid understanding of ingredients so that things taste of what they are meant to. I like flavours to be big, strong and robust, like the people from the West County.
“Being hardy and hard working is a West Country trait. You grow up playing rugby playing against teams from Wales.
“As a style my food is definitely West Country. I cook food that I like to eat.
“I’m a big 6ft 3in bloke from the West Country and I cook for 6ft 3in blokes like me.
“I cook food rugby players would want to eat but I am also creative with it.”
He started his career with the BBC on their series Great British Menu, and when they asked him to do something on proper pub food, the answer was always going to be ‘yes’.
“It was an opportunity to showcase British pubs and food,” he said.
His recipe for successful pub food is simple.
“It’s about structure and being organised. It doesn’t matter if you’re working in a burger van or a five-star hotel. The attitude should be the same.
“And using good produce and respecting your ingredients. Don’t over-complicate cooking.”
The Hand and Flowers menu is full of enticing twists on pub classics. There’s also roast Lancashire grouse with Hand and Flowers carrot, lime, toasted lentil dahl and carrot cake.
Carrot cake? That doesn’t sound very blokish.
It’s more like a carrot crouton, he explained.
The Hand and Flowers serves a three-course a la carte menu, often people don’t make it to dessert, said Tom.
“I’m old school – I like using dairy and lots of butter. It’s solid cooking not faffy.”
He’s enjoying his television career but he remains a working chef.
“I’m a chef that enjoys cooking first and foremost,” he said.
“My life is my work. Most people view work as a negative thing. For me it’s a way of life. I never have that Monday morning feeling. I’m completely involved in what I do.
“It has provided me with the best way of life.”