For a big man, Tom Kerridge is remarkably light on his feet and he bounces into the room fizzing with enthusiasm for his new television series and the cookbook that accompanies it. Nearly a decade ago Kerridge and his wife Beth took over a pub in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, called the Hand & Flowers and it quickly became the darling of the guide books – in 2011 the Michelin inspectors gave the Hand two stars, making it the most highly rated pub in Britain.
Recent years have seen the rise and rise of the gastropub. It seems we like the idea of a little less formality when going out to eat; we like freshly made dishes that depend on local ingredients; and we like genuine value for money.
If you ask Kerridge whether he is a chef or a landlord he is adamant that he is neither, he answers to “cook”. He believes that most of us can get hold of good quality ingredients on the high street and that these ingredients are the building blocks of memorable meals.
Despite a career working in smart kitchens, Kerridge cannot shake off his gentle Gloucester accent, which is even more incongruous when you hear him asserting, “I cook like a Frenchman”. What his new BBC2 series Proper Pub Food does owe to French cuisine is a recognition of the vital importance of simplicity in the kitchen. The recipes are all achievable at home, traditional techniques are explained, and the six programmes have been given the headings Friends, Outdoor, Celebratory, Classics, Family and Sunday lunch.
Kerridge’s personal favourite can be found in the Family programme – hay-baked chicken with whole roast celeriac. A chicken is cooked in muslin in a sealed pot that’s packed with wisps of hay, while the celeriac is peeled, trimmed and roasted in one large piece. This results in a roast chicken with a stunning depth of flavour and a whole new future for the humble celeriac. Another notable combination – pot-roasted pollock, chickpeas and chorizo – is found in the Friends programme that opens the series; straightforward but inspired dish, the white fish contrasting with the piquancy of the chorizo. The Outdoor programme includes another of Kerrridge’s favourites, barbecue beef ribs with ultimate barbecue glaze, a very rich and satisfying dish with delicious aromas.
But how did Kerridge enjoy his prolonged spell in front of the cameras (he’s previously featured on Great British Menu)? “There are lots of parallels between the world of film production and cooking. Both are driven by passion and end up being more of a way of life than just a job. I had a great time making the programmes.”
As you’d expect from a working chef, Proper Pub Food features a number of Kerridge’s suppliers, including Warminster butcher Andy Cook of Walter Rose & Son, who turned out to be something of a scene-stealer. As Kerridge put it, “It seemed as if everyone in one episode was from the West Country and at one point accents were so thick we thought subtitles might be needed.” Kerridge also got on famously with the film crew; at one point the cameraman asked him to pop some stuff into the back of a car, and when Kerridge lifted the boot lid he found that the number plate had been replaced with one that spelt out a very rude word. As it swung into his vision the crew waited for his stunned reaction.
As well as the series, there will be a Christmas special, with recipes including game terrine, glazed in port jelly with cranberry compote; Tom’s turkey roll with Christmas crumble topping and sage and onion stuffing; and a spiced orange cake with plum sauce and Christmas pudding ice cream. Sounds perfect, but it was cruel luck that the day of filming, when everyone had to put on Santa costumes and hats, turned out to be one of the hottest of the year!
Compared with the traditional inn, or indeed a restaurant, the gastropub is very much the new kid on the block, but it is gradually finding its feet. Tom Kerridge is a passionate man and he believes that with encouragement and a few basic skills we can all source top-notch ingredients and then turn them into delicious meals in an ordinary kitchen without undue fuss. Proper Pub Food makes a proper job of telling us how.