He may be a familiar face on TV, but James Martin has no appetite for showbiz lifestyles. Chefs should stick to cooking, he tells Gemma Dunn
TV presenter, restaurateur, bestselling chef and one-time Strictly semi-finalist, blue-eyed-boy James Martin certainly doesn’t do things by halves - and the tradition continues with his latest cookery book, Sweet.
“Every single dessert was shot at my house, and made and plated by me,” reveals the 43-year-old Yorkshireman. “My agent was shouting and screaming as they had to take three weeks off, but what with celebrating 20 years in the business, I knew we needed to do this.”
Following on from 2007’s hugely popular Desserts, Sweet looks set to re-establish Martin as the king of puddings, with over 70 recipes, from simple classic bakes and family favourites, to lavish showstoppers and - wait for it - an all-important troubleshooting section (Hallelujah!).
“People always say, ‘I do this but this always goes wrong’, and the first thing I would say is buy quality ingredients. It can only be you or the ingredients that are the problem, so if it’s the ingredients, change it.”
The glossy shots in the book certainly look appealing.
“We used the same photographer this time around, a guy called Peter Cassidy who shoots everything pin-sharp, rather than all that modern, blurry b*****ks. If you’re going to do a step-by-step, the reader has got to see what it looks like,” states the chef.
With a culinary career that spans two decades, perfectionist Martin has a finger in many pies - but it was his stint on Strictly Come Dancing in 2005 that landed him his biggest gig to date, as host of BBC One’s Saturday Kitchen.
And despite 10 years of 4am starts and 6am rehearsals (“I have a big can of Red Bull and two eye drops before I go live”), his passion for the weekend show remains.
“I love it and everything it represents. You’re giving chefs that hardly ever cook on TV the opportunity to show their restaurant and skill-set off. Their reputation is on the line, so it’s a huge pressure for them.
“Me? I’ve got the best seat in the world, as I get to be a commis chef in the best restaurants in the world without having to go to them.”
As for the pressure that comes with presenting, Martin is confident, yet unassuming.
“I would rather do live than pre-recorded, as live grabs you by the balls; there’s nowhere to hide and I like that. I don’t have any adrenaline - nothing. The buzz is the excitement of the show, or maybe it’s the Red Bull that’s kicking in...”
While Martin is happy to be ogled on screen, he’s equally content cooking undercover in his popular restaurant, James Martin Manchester, and has no qualms admitting he would happily revert back to the role should his fame game be up tomorrow.
“The public will make its own decision, and that’s it. If they stop watching me, I’m quite happy to go back home and carry on working, because I’ve had a whale of a time for the last 20 years. I feel very privileged to do it, but when your time’s up, your time’s up.
“Food has been at the start and it will be at the end - the bit in the middle is all fluffy clouds (tits and tinsels, we call it in the restaurant), but it’s all that fluffy stuff that people enjoy.”
He insists he’s not hugely ambitious, though.
“My glass has been full for quite a number of years and I’m very happy,” he says. “I don’t want to reach for a bigger one; I think you get to a certain age in life where you’re content and it’s a good place to be.”
One thing that is growing, however, is Martin’s car collection. A petrol head and keen flyer, he puts his love for the two down to “the release; the relaxation away from everybody else”.
“I’ve had my pilot’s license for 10 years; I don’t have my own plane yet - I’m not Jamie Oliver! But I love it. When you’re on a plane, there’s no phone, nothing. You’re just concentrating on staying up in the air.”
So would he like his pastime to traverse onto TV; perhaps a Flying With James spin-off?
“I keep getting asked to do stuff - photos at home, Through The Keyhole - but it’s my house! When I do Home Comforts for BBC Two, I can control where they’re filming and what they’re looking at. As for everything else - why are chefs doing that? Just cook the bloody food!
“You’ve got to have a distinction between work and your private life,” he continues. “When I go home, the doors are shut and that’s it. If you let those doors open to people then you’re going to work harder, aren’t you?”
If you fancy trying out some of Martin’s sweet treats - from the privacy of your own kitchen - here’s a recipe from his new book to whet your appetite...
Baked double chocolate pudding
100g melted butter, plus extra for greasing
250g self-raising flour
50g cocoa powder
1tsp baking powder
150g light brown soft sugar
100g dark chocolate drops (70% cocoa solids), or dark chocolate, finely chopped into 5mm dice
100g milk chocolate drops, or milk chocolate, finely chopped into 5mm dice
For the sauce:
200g light brown soft sugar
40g cocoa powder
Preheat the oven to 180C/Gas 4 and butter a 2L ovenproof dish.
Whisk the melted butter, eggs and milk together in a jug until smooth. Sift the flour, cocoa and baking powder into a bowl then stir in the sugar.
Pour the butter mixture onto the flour and mix well to a smooth batter. Stir in the dark and milk chocolate and spoon into the prepared baking dish.
To make the sauce, bring the water and sugar to the boil in a saucepan, then add the cocoa and whisk until smooth. Pour evenly over the top of the batter then place the dish in the oven to bake for 25-30 minutes. The top of the sponge will be just firm to the touch, but underneath there will be a runny chocolate sauce. Serve hot with double cream or ice cream.