Double Michelin star chef Tom Kerridge has more on his mind than cooking up a culinary feast as Catherine Scott discovers.
Tom Kerridge is bursting with pride. It’s not his latest Michelin- starred creation that has him beaming, it is the birth of his son Acey, just before Christmas. “Being a dad is just amazing,” says the celebrity chef of his new arrival whose name, he explains, is Anglo Saxon for “number one”. “Every day is fantastic, although chaotic which is hard for me as I am a person who likes structure, and babies just don’t care about that so that has gone completely out of the window.”
It might be hard to see how being a chef, with all the antisocial hours that entails, works with being a hands-on father, but it isn’t something Kerridge is worried about. “I suppose if we’d had him 10 years ago things might have been different, but I am in the fortunate position that I have built up a great team so it really doesn’t worry me.”
He also plans to take Acey with him when he travels the country. “The little man will be coming to Yorkshire with us when we come to Harrogate next month for the BBC Good Food Show. I want to do as much as possible as a family,” says Kerridge who will be giving food demonstrations at Harrogate International Centre. “My wife’s parents don’t live too far from Manchester so we’ll visit them while we’re up.”
Kerridge is married to acclaimed sculpture Beth Cullen Kerridge who made him promise to have a month off from their Michelin-starred pub, the Hand and Flowers in Marlow, after Acey was born. It turned out to be more like three weeks, but the workaholic did live up to his promise. In 2014 Kerridge opened a second pub in Marlow, The Coach. But he says it isn’t about expanding the Kerridge empire; far from it. It is as much about the people as the food.
“We have more than 100 people who work for us now and luckily I find delegation quite easy, especially as a lot of our staff have been with us for years and I have watched them grow and develop. I want people to go home after what I know is a long day and say ‘that was a great day at work’.”
But Kerridge likes to lead by example and his dedicated staff are under no illusions about the ambition of their workaholic boss. “I try to follow my heart. We try to do the best by our staff, our customers and our suppliers. I’m a huge people person. Doing our best doesn’t mean making everything cheffy, it means doing our best by the amazing produce from our suppliers. Our business model is always about quality first – the produce and the people – after that if it ticks boxes and makes money then all the better.”
Kerridge, with more than a little help from Beth, opened the Heart and Flowers in Marlow 11 years ago and within a year had won his first Michelin star which was followed by a second eight years later – making it the first pub to have ever been awarded two stars. Two years ago they opened the Coach because Kerridge realised in order to keep two of his most loyal and talented staff he needed to give them more responsibility.
But Kerridge very nearly wasn’t a chef at all, his first career was far more theatrical. “I went to an all-boys comprehensive in the middle of three estates – it was a pretty rough area. My mum took me to a youth theatre for something to do rather than drinking lots of cider and throwing stones at each other. It was something to do rather than get into trouble.”
A couple of months after being there an agent came to see someone else and asked Kerridge if he wanted to go on their books. Within weeks he was filming an episode of Miss Marple and other TV series followed. “It wasn’t for me,” says Kerridge. “It was good find but it wasn’t the thing I wanted to do with the rest of my life.” However, it might go some way to explain his easy and appealing manner on television. He has had his own series, Best Ever Dishes, was a regular on Great British Menu and hosted a series of Food & Drink on the BBC.
So an 18-year-old Kerridge found himself working in the kitchen of a restaurant in Gloucester. “I didn’t grow up baking cakes. I needed a job,” he says honestly. “But that is where I fell in love with the kitchen. I loved everything about it, especially the banter. There were people from all different backgrounds. When you meet people who love what they do you can’t help but be energised by people’s passion for what they do.”
He was also influenced by Marco Pierre White after his mother bought him a copy of the Leeds-born chef’s White Heat for his 18th birthday. “It showed you the camaraderie, it showed you what it meant to be a world class chef.”
Having decided that the kitchen was where he wanted to spend his days, Kerridge embarked on a course at catering college in Cheltenham where he not only learnt the basics of his craft but developed the passion for seasonal produce and its provenance that is still the trademark of his cooking today.
“The chef is the last piece of the jigsaw,” he says. “There is so much that has gone into producing those amazing ingredients before they get into our hands. It is our responsibility to show them off to the best of our ability. It is all about produce and letting the quality speak for itself.
Kerridge didn’t actually set up on his own until he was 30. He had spent time working for Gary Rhodes at Rhodes in the Square and after a spell at Odette’s he got his first head chef post at Bellamy’s Dining Room and ended up at Adlard’s in Norwich before taking the plunge on his own.
By then he was married to Beth and he had the dream of owning and running his own pub, very different from some of the fine dining establishments where he had learnt his trade. “I knew that I wanted to create somewhere I would feel comfortable eating. There’s a place for fine dining but for me it had to be a pub.”
But it wasn’t all plain sailing. Opening the Hand and Flowers was a financial struggle which put a strain on him and Beth, who put her own career on hold to help her Tom achieve his dream. He is now thrilled that her own career is really taking off.
Here is a chef who lives eats and breathes his industry and that was nearly his undoing. “I love everything about it, I loved the pint at the end of service, and I loved it a little too much. It’s not like a normal job. You finish work late and you can’t just go to bed, you need a release and that was drinking.”
The weight piled on and it started to affect his health. “I knew that I had to do something, but I also know myself and I knew that I wouldn’t just be able to cut back, I had to stop. ”
And stop he did. He hasn’t touched alcohol since and tells me with pride how he recently went on a boys’ weekend without having a drink.
Coupled with the swimming he has always done the weight dropped off. He has lost more than nine stone in the last two years and says he does feel better, which is just as well. With two businesses, various pop-ups including one in New York and of course a new baby Kerridge needs all the energy he can get.
And, of course, that takes us back to his favourite subject of the moment, Acey. So what about that name? “It’s a massive responsibility naming a child, whatever you give them they are stuck with it for the rest of their lives. His mum is an artist and his dad is a two Michelin-starred chef and so we thought a regular safe name wouldn’t suit him. We know it’s a little left of field but we like it.”
So does Kerridge see his son following in his Michelin-starred footsteps? “I’m hoping he’s going to be a premiership footballer,” says the football-mad chef, who supports Marlow FC. “I’m going to try to get him kicking with his left foot – lefties are far more in demand and can earn more money and keep me and his mum when we’ve retired.”
n Tom Kerridge will be at the BBC Good Food Show Spring at Harrogate International Centre from April 8 to 10. For information and tickets visit www.bbcgoodfoodshowspring.com.