Chef Tom Kerridge has had an astonishing year.
For starters, his Marlow restaurant The Hand & Flowers was voted the UK’s best restaurant at the National Restaurant Awards. He retained his two Michelin stars (meaning it is still the best pub in the world) and has won millions of us over with his ‘bad boy’ potatoes in the BBC series Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food.
And if chefs nationwide weren’t already seething with jealousy, Tom rounded it all off with a best-selling cook book which at one point outsold Bridget Jones’s Diary.
The 40-year-old must just think ‘I’ve done a proper lush job of this restaurant thing I have’.
Or I imagined, as I interviewed the master of posh pub grub about becoming the chef of the moment and in the pub’s stunning newly-built bar extension.
But it seems Tom’s insecurities are as real as any other restaurateur.
“I am terrified every day that no one is going to come. A lot of people who have been in the business for that time have the same feeling,” said Tom, who started the business in 2005 with his wife Beth and £35,000.
And for the first year since the restaurant opened the couple have paid themselves a fixed salary.
“Until now we have lived hand-to-mouth, it doesn’t make as much money as people think.”
“I am responsible for 50 members of staff, for their rents, for their petrol.”
And I was one of them once, back in 2011. As a former waitress there, returning to the pub and not being presented with a box of 40 copper pots to polish was refreshing to say the least.
I wasn’t cut out for Michelin service and honestly revisiting the place brought back stress-induced memories of ironing napkins and getting flustered (the man who had Champagne accidentally poured over his crisp black suit was ever so understanding though.)
Barring that, it was lovely to go back under different circumstances and see how the last two-and-a-half years have panned out for the chef; not that I didn’t know already – with the larger than life character popping up on our television sets and in glossy magazine supplements almost every week.
When Tom isn’t filming, he’s running his kitchen, although he tries his best to take Sunday off when he and Beth like to enjoy food away from their restaurant.
His favourites include a curry at the Tiger Cub in Marlow, a woodstove pizza at any Zizzi, The Hinds Head in Bray and Andre Garrett at Cliveden House in Taplow.
But he doesn’t indulge as much as he used to.
By banning booze and changing his lifestyle Tom has lost six stone in weight.
“Everything I do, I do to massive excess, so I drank massively but it was never my diet – I am a chef, not an idiot.”
He wouldn’t disclose the extent of his beer habit but looked at me like I was way off the mark when I threw in a ball park figure of 20 pints a week.
Besides from going virtually teetotal, (his 40th birthday was a justified exception), Tom swims 1800m every day and that particular morning it was at 6.30am.
He told me the rest of his day involved a trip to film something for Countryfile near Bath before returning to Marlow to run a fully-booked service. His energy is commendable.
But he’s always happy to return back to Marlow which he passionately believes ‘is the best place to live in the world’.
In fact technically he lives in Bisham and disappointingly not in the house that features on Proper Pub Food, although he tells me those trendy looking dinner guests are his real mates.
With the restaurant ticking over nicely, Tom and Beth are now thinking about new business ventures in the town.
Ideas include a deli or a fish-and-chip shop.
Tom has also recently announced the pub has bought a house in the High Street to be converted into accommodation, adding to The Hand and Flowers’ four boutique cottage rooms in West Street.
And so the empire grows. But what about his collection of Michelin stars?
“We are not actively seeking a third star.
“I think achieving two stars was the best thing ever, it showed that we don’t need the table cloths and everything people think that you need, but three stars is a whole new level.”
“We have always been full and we are always busy which is a wonderful position to be in.”
“It is still a normal pub and it isn’t intimidating – that is the most important thing.”