‘Some chefs should smile a bit more!’

Glynn Purnell
Glynn Purnell

He’s been branded one of the trailblazers of new British cooking, but at the heart of Glynn Purnell’s success is his refusal to take himself too seriously.

If he’s not cracking jokes and reeling off witty anecdotes, the ‘Yummy Brummie’ is referring to himself as the Roger Federer of Birmingham’s imploding culinary scene.

“Do you know what I mean?” he asks, with a cheeky grin.

“I’m always going to be remembered as something that broke the mould; the one who was awarded the first ever Michelin star in Birmingham [which happened in 2005, while he was head chef at Jessica’s in Edgbaston],” says the forward-thinker.

“I’m still in the mix, so I like to see myself as a Roger Federer: I won’t be No 1 all of the time, but it’s great,” the 41-year-old adds, chuckling. “Competition is great!”

And having achieved his childhood goal - “I never had any interest in passing GCSEs because I knew I was going to be a chef” - it seems Purnell, who today runs the Michelin-starred Purnell’s restaurant and Purnell’s Bistro in Birmingham’s thriving city centre, has plenty to smile about.

His latest venture is the brilliantly-titled cookbook Rib Ticklers & Choux-Ins, a follow-up to 2014’s Cracking Yolks & Pig Tales, and a tome he says was inspired by the more down-to-earth dishes served at his bistro, or “takeaway food at home”.

Written with trademark wit, chapters range from ‘This little piggy went to market’ to ‘A moment on the lips’. It’s infused with brunch, fish, meat and knockout dessert recipes, and peppered with yarns about perfecting his skills through years of reading women’s magazines at the dentist, and why he has such a vendetta against sprouts.

“It’s important as a chef to have your own personality, but then to be able to put that personality onto the page makes you different,” reasons Purnell, who credits his publishers with giving him the creative freedom to put out a book that “sounds as if I’m talking to you”.

“When I stop running restaurants, and when I stop doing what I’m doing, I want people to look back and go, ‘Oh look, that’s a Glynn Purnell dish’, or when they come to the restaurant and eat a dish, they know they’re not going to get that anywhere else in the world.

“It’s important to keep hold of your personality,” he continues. “I’ve been cooking in Michelin-star restaurants nearly all of my career, and chefs always want to perceive themselves as being a bit aggressive. I’ve moved on from that.

“I don’t need to push my chest out and act like some sort of big grumpy chef that throws plates at people, because times have changed. For me, food is fun; you should have fun.

“Some chefs should smile a bit more - it wouldn’t kill them!”

And a sense of joy is certainly a trait the father-of-three - Purnell has sons Oliver, 11, and Vincent, five, and eight-year-old daughter, Esme, with his wife, Kerry - is keen to encourage at home, too. Residing in Warwickshire - “out in the sticks” - he fondly recalls weekends spent blackberry picking with his kids (and Whoops the family Jack Russell), to the slightly more obscure but spectacular tales of Esme requesting the “pretty” head of a dead pheasant to fashion a princess wand with, and Oliver’s award-winning show-and-tell session, in which he presented a boiled and bleached pig’s head.

His kids are foodies too, he states. “They like the way it brings us all together. They love cooking and they’re pretty clued up as well. If we go somewhere, they’ll say, ‘Oh Dad, that doesn’t taste nice - there isn’t enough...’, and I’m just thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’ve created little food critics!’”

Revered for his long-standing culinary commitment to University College Birmingham and their Young Chef of the Year competition, plus hosting duties on BBC One’s Saturday Kitchen and ITV’s newly-announced Secret Chef, due next year, can he see himself finding time to expand the brand - perhaps for the Purnell juniors?

“I never say never,” he retorts with a glint. “I think other cities are quite daunting, because everybody knows of me [in Birmingham]. If I went to London, would I just get swallowed up?

“I’m going to keep moving forward and carry on being the chirpy Brummie I always am!”

Fancy dishing up some of Birmingham’s finest at home? Here’s a recipe from Purnell’s new book to get stuck in to...