Since leaving Saturday Kitchen, James Martin has thankfully not been away from our screens for long. His most recent TV series, James Martin’s French Adventure, found him touring the length and breadth of France, tracing not only the steps of his younger self (he trained as a chef in Saint-Émilion, France) but also those of his culinary idol, Keith Floyd. Deputy Editor Kayleigh Rattle caught up with James to find out more about his Gaelic tour and the changing face and perception of British cuisine…
Keith Floyd was one of the first proper TV chefs. Before Keith, food programming pretty much consisted of a bench with a stove. Keith got rid of the bench and took people on a journey that was both fun and interesting. He traveled the world, met great characters and never pretended to be anything other than what he was. He’s a prime example of someone who stayed true to what they believed in – and that’s certainly a lesson for lots of younger chefs and TV stars these days.
I first met Keith when I was about 12 years old. We then crossed paths again through the restaurant business when I was a head chef in my 20s, and again in the TV world. We exchanged numbers and he used to call me up before Saturday Kitchen – I would have loved to have had him on the show, but the producers wouldn’t let him on!
I was honoured to have the chance to buy Keith’s Citroen – my mates couldn’t believe it when I told them! The whole thing was fitting and I really couldn’t have travelled France in any other car. Plus, wthere’s a reason why Citroens are so popular in France – in any other car the suspension would have been wrecked as the pot holes there are such a nightmare!
For some reason, French chefs seem to be obsessed with carrots! Everywhere I went, including many two and three Michelin star restaurants, I got given a carrot – they had them on everything and I really couldn’t understand why. I certainly liked them by the end of it, though!
The French attitude towards British cuisine has certainly changed. I trained as a young chef in France, but it wasn’t really the done thing at the time. It was assumed then that all that British people could cook was roast beef, Yorkshire puddings and fish and chips!
The English food scene is very different now to what it was 30 years ago. There were probably only four to five restaurants to choose from if you were an ambitious chef back then, but now, the world is your oyster. London may have it all, but it’s thanks to the tremendous amount of work that’s been put in by the entire hospitality industry, right across the board.
I’ve asked some of the greatest chefs in the world where they think some of the best food is and they’ve all said London – and I agree. London is the food capital of the world! It’s a unique city where you can get the best of everything, all in one place. In Paris you’ll find really good French food for example, but you won’t tend to find a world class Chinese or Indian restaurant, like London.
Wherever you go in England you’re guaranteed to find some great places to eat. I’m obviously biased, but Yorkshire has more Michelin star restaurants by county than any other in the UK. And when it comes to fish and chips, Whitby is still the best place, end of! It’s not just the meal, it’s the whole experience – you only get it if it’s freezing cold and blowing a hoolie!
James’ latest cookbook, James Martin’s French Adventure (£20, Quadrile), is out now. Photography: Peter Cassidy