Love Food – Tom Kerridge on his Best Ever Dishes, boozers and Bolognese

If you’ve seen Tom Kerridge on your TV screen before, you’ll understand that his enthusiasm for cooking is infectious. And over the phone, he loses none of his eagerness for all things food.

I point this out to him during our conversation, to which he chuckles a thank you, before delightedly declaring, “I’m very lucky – I have the best job in the world. I love cooking!”

And he clearly does love it. Even when he’s talking about the food he cooks, there’s an edge of intensity in his voice that could be read as a need to get to the kitchen and prepare whatever item is on the tip of his tongue.

Fun and tasty food

Tom Kerridge laughingTom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes is a new six-part series that will soon be aired on BBC Two. “All of the dishes are food that I love,” Tom explains. “They’re the sort of food that I would cook at home, and along the way I meet a load of really fun people and have a bit of a laugh doing it.”

It’s a show that explores new ways of looking at popular dishes, such as the likes of lasagne and doughnuts, and “enhancing them and making them the best ever version of that kind of dish.”

It’s not to do at all with quick and easy dishes, but “fun and tasty” food that “takes a while to cook” but will result in an exceptional meal.

If he could pick one recipe from the series that people absolutely must try at home, what would it be? “There’s a slow-cooked lamb. It’s rubbed with a juniper marinade then wrapped in whole bay leaf branches and cooked for a long time. It’s just delicious, a lovely dish.”

Pub life

Tom Kerridge cookingTom’s pub The Hand & Flowers in Marlow is the first in the UK to hold two Michelin stars, and with the new edition of the Guide out on 25th September, Tom has got his fingers crossed that others will be joining him. “The quality of food [in the UK] is rising – it’s phenomenal,” he exclaims. “And pubs are really at the forefront of a changing dining scene.”

He informs me that there are now 15 pubs with Michelin stars in the UK. That’s a lot, particularly when you consider the stereotypical image of the British boozer, but Tom thinks that social habits have changed. “People don’t drink at a lunchtime anymore, they don’t go out in the midweek and get smashed. Their social time, a lot more of it, is spent around food.”

So it’s crucial for pubs to offer food to coax customers away from their main rivals: high-street restaurants. Customers in pubs can now “share a nice bottle of wine between four people and [enjoy] some simple-cooked beautiful food” like they might in a restaurant, says Tom. Perhaps the line between the two has never been more blurred, but it seems that food is a necessary addition to the services of pubs to stay afloat during these difficult days.

Tom’s new pub

And he’s expanding with a second pub The Coach, as he intends on renaming the new pub from the original ‘Coach and Horses’ moniker, also in Marlow and which will hopefully be open from mid-Novemvber.

With reviews of The Hand & Flowers often praising the food but citing a wait for a table that can stretch on for months, what’s Kerridge’s remedy? The booking situation at The Hand & Flowers is, he says, “brilliant, from a business point of view, but on a personal level it’s really embarrassing. So the new place is completely non-bookable. It’s very flexible.”

Learning curve

“Every day is a school day,” says Tom of life as a chef. “Life is a constant learning curve when it comes to food.”

The “constant learning curve” means he’s always developing his ideas, and he’s open to the influences of the people he meets while filming.

“You might learn something or [discover] some tiny little flavour – little hints that come from one person that only cooks one dish that they know and you think, ‘wow, that’s a really nice idea.’

“And if you’re cooking for other people, you’re showing other people what you like, and that’s opening your soul – it’s quite expressive I think.”

One tip for tonight’s tea

“Everybody has done a Bolognese sauce,” Tom says, “and the one tip I would give to make a Bolognese sauce better is to heavily roast the mince in the oven first. Lay it all out on a roasting tray and bake it until it goes really crispy and brown, and there are tiny nuggets of it that look like dehydrated instant coffee. That’s what you want.” Then drain off the fat.

The benefit? You’ll get the “outside flavour from a really good steak, that lovely crispy bit you get when it’s nice and thick. That lovely beefy flavour.” The mince will be “crispy, tasty, caramelised” but rehydrates in the sauce, but retains the full flavour of the roasting process.

“It makes a big difference,” he promises.

The first episode of Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes will be on BBC Two at 9pm, 3rd October 2014.
A Best Ever Dishes cookbook is available to buy now.