With three cook books and two Michelin stars, Tom Kerridge talks gimmicks, fish finger butties and football
Tom Kerridge is grinning.
“The other week I had to transport something to the Kent coast via North London in a white van,” he says.
“I had my arm out the window, my boxer dog sat next to me in the front, and I was picking up big pieces of metal and sticking them in a transit van. I loved it - I was in my element.”
You can’t doubt it.
A big burr of a man, the Salisbury-born chef is all Adidas shell suits and West Country twangs, but he’s just as at home in his two-star Michelin pub, The Hand And Flowers, in Marlow, and is currently celebrating his third cook book, Tom’s Table.
It’s all about “extracting as much flavour as possible” from food, “and making it social”, he explains. “They’re all recipes and dishes that I do eat, want to eat and make at home.”
One of his favourites is the “phenomenal” green chilli con carne. “It’s dry roasted mince, it goes really crispy - tastes fantastic,” he says, going off into a reverie.
When he first started cooking, for his little brother after school, the menu was a tad less gourmet and featured a lot of fish finger sandwiches, Findus Crispy Pancakes and Birds Eye Potato Waffles.
“I don’t still cook those things - that’s a complete lie actually! My wife Beth was desperate for a fish finger sandwich last week, so I did make her one,” he says, ruefully.
His celebrity clientele wouldn’t appreciate that kind of fare though. The Hand has served Liam Neeson, Tom Jones, George Clooney and Bill Murray, although annoyingly Kerridge missed Murray. “I was absolutely gutted,” he admits, adding he was with his wife in hospital after she had an operation.
They also get quite a few premier league footballers in, and Kerridge loves his football.
“A pub is part of a community and if we can help another community project like Marlow FC, then we do in any way we can,” he says passionately. “Young chefs, young footballers; there’s a synergy. By the age of 40, you’re too tired to be doing 18-hour days cooking in the sauce section. It’s the same for footballers; you’re not going to be running round the pitch.”
Between TV commitments, an upcoming pop-up at Harrods, the books and the pubs, it’s difficult to imagine 42-year-old Kerridge slowing down.
“I work on caffeine and adrenaline,” he confesses. “I’m always thinking about what we’ve got next. It’s like, if I was still nine, I’d be riding round on bikes in the car park, getting on a skateboard and then playing on the swings!”
A big kid at heart, he might produce beautiful, world-class food, but he’s definitely not averse to a bit of fun in the kitchen.
“Gimmicks are cool, if they’re encouraging,” he says, fully on board with new service Cheese Posties, which, as it sounds, sends you all the ingredients for a gourmet cheese toastie, by post.
“I wish I’d thought of that!” he muses. “What a nice idea. If people are getting access to really interesting cheese, and you’re making it yourself, then it’s encouraging you to cook something which might spur you on to make something else.”
When it comes to his favourite ingredients, he narrows it down to two.
First pork, because “without pork there is no bacon”, and second water: “A lot of chefs overlook water.”
Not Kerridge; in fact, in another life, he’d have made water his livelihood.
“I always fancied being a fisherman on a trawler. I like the camaraderie and hard physical work.
“As a 20-year-old, I loved nothing better than doing huge hours in basement kitchens and never seeing daylight,” Kerridge adds. “I absolutely loved it, the almost dig-dig attitude you have to have to get through the day, because the huge sense of achievement at the end outweighs the negativity, it’s an adrenaline-filled buzz.”
Then again, he is allergic to shellfish...
Here’s a recipe from Tom’s Table to sink your teeth into...
POLLOCK WITH ORANGE AND DILL
4 pollock fillets, about 250g each
Vegetable oil, for frying
Flaky sea salt
For the dressing:
3 unwaxed oranges
100ml olive oil
150ml cider vinegar
75g caster sugar
A small bunch of dill, chopped, a few sprigs saved for the garnish
2tbsp Douglas fir pine needles, chopped (optional)
For the coating:
175g coarse yellow cornmeal
40g plain flour
1tsp cayenne pepper
1tsp garlic powder
For the garnish:
1 orange, peeled, all pith removed and cut into segments
First make the dressing. Pare the zest from two oranges with a vegetable peeler, keeping a little of the pith on, and cut into small chunks. Place in a small saucepan, cover with the olive oil and heat very gently over a low heat for 20 minutes, or until the skin is just soft. Take off the heat and leave to cool.
Squeeze the juice from all the oranges and put into a small pan with the cider vinegar and sugar. Bring to the boil, stirring to dissolve the sugar. Let it bubble to reduce by two-thirds until thickened and syrupy. Pour into a bowl and allow to cool.
Add the orange zest and olive oil mix to the orange juice reduction and whisk to combine. Stir in the chopped dill and pine needles if using, and set aside until ready to serve.
For the fish coating, mix all the ingredients together in a large bowl. Heat 2cm depth of oil in a deep-sided frying pan or saute pan until it reaches 180C. Use a frying thermometer to check the temperature, if you have one, otherwise, drop a cube of dry white bread into the hot oil to test it - if the bread turns golden brown in just under a minute, the oil is ready.
Dust the fish fillets on both sides with the cornmeal coating, shaking off any excess. Lay the fish in the pan and fry for two to three minutes on each side until the crust is crisp and golden brown. Using a fish slice, transfer to a tray lined with kitchen paper to drain. Season lightly with salt.
Serve the pollock fillets on warmed plates, garnished with the orange segments and dill, with the dressing spooned over.