James Martin interview
If you can’t stand the heat...
James Martin on his love for cooking
Chef, Television Presenter – and performance car aficionado – James Martin tells Jayne Howarth about life in the fast lane
Does James Martin ever sleep? Not much, apparently. This is a chef and TV presenter who doesn’t seem to stop.
Always rising to a challenge, always on the go, this is a man who manages on only a few hours’ sleep every night, is up at 5am every day and thrives on it.
Speaking to the presenter of the popular BBC show Saturday Kitchen, which draws in more than two million viewers every week, leaves you in no doubt that he has a lust for life and that he embraces the opportunities that come his way.
It’s probably why he hasn’t the time or inclination for rest and recuperation and why he has this year, for the first time in 12 years, gone on holiday.
And he talks. Boy, does he talk - ten to the dozen. It’s no wonder that the soon-to-be-40-year-old (his birthday is on June 30) has proven to be so popular with television producers and live events organisers.
Fans of the chef - don’t call him a celebrity chef; it’s not a moniker that sits comfortably with him - can see him in action at the Good Food Show Summer, which takes place at the NEC between June 13-17, 2012.
There, he will be doing a series of cookery demonstrations, as well as hosting host mini versions of Saturday Kitchen.
As well as working, he will also take the opportunity to meet up with other chefs, such as the Hairy Bikers and John Toorode, who also earn a crust on the demonstration/television circuit, cooking and entertaining audiences.
“I think I did my first Good Food Show about 12 years ago, when Ready, Steady Cook was all over the place,” he recalls. “I was working on a chicken stand with about two people watching - and one of them was my mother.
“But you look at it now and it’s a huge show, particularly in the summer as it’s with Gardeners’ World, which is another passion of mine. I go there with a boot full of food and leave with a boot full of plants. I love it.”
His work schedule seems unrelenting. Not only does he have a deli in Winchester, called Cadogan and James, he opened The Leeds Kitchen restaurant just over a year ago, and created a restaurant at the newly-refurbished Talbot Hotel, in his hometown of Malton, North Yorkshire, in April.
In between presenting television programmes and writing, he is a consultant for a cruise liner company, he has launched an app, and last year started another business called Life, Fork And Spoon, which sells restaurant quality, ready-to-serve meals online. The online business was created by James and two friends Martyn Thomas and Kevin Morel, and has already proven to be a great hit with people who appreciate the chefs’ dishes and desserts.
James is adamant he is never happier than when he is cooking.
While some celebrity chefs enjoy stratospheric success and become a “brand”, James loves the heat of the kitchen.
“I like to do stuff differently,” he explains. “I admire what people like Jamie has done and he has achieved incredible success, but I like to be able to cook in the restaurants.
“People don’t expect me to walk out of the kitchens in my chef’s whites to go to the storeroom, but it’s what I love doing.”
His passion for cooking is what fires him to travel from his home in Winchester to Leeds and Malton three or four days a week to cook in his restaurants, before returning south to prepare for his show or work on new recipes for the deli.
“The pace is always the same, but that’s because I enjoy it,” he says. “It’s nothing to do with stress; it’s about balance and having a lot of good people around you who know what they are doing.”
We chat first thing one Monday morning, but his working week was already underway, having been to the markets to find produce. The day before, he was doing a cookery demonstration at Christchurch Food Festival in front of 30,000 people, and, looking at his diary for the week, will spend the next few days writing a recipe column for a magazine, doing a mushroom cooking demonstration, donning a black tie for an after-dinner speaking date (“That’s not even blooming cooking!” he says) and returning to his restaurants.
“I wake up every day, glad to get up and go to work,” says James, who also showed us a fleet-footed side to his talents when he came fourth in Strictly Come Dancing, partnering dancer Camilla Dallerup in 2006.
“We may have these mega cookery stars, like Wolfgang Puck, but I’m quite happy with a roof over my head. Fifteen years ago, I was more or less out on my arse, £30,000 in debt, a chef in a restaurant not going anywhere.
“All I did was put my head down and work.”
His career trajectory may have given him wealth and other material comforts - such as his collection of classic and performance cars, which he loves - but he freely admits he’d go back to the kitchen full-time if his television career went pear-shaped.
He has never had a strategic career plan, except to become a head chef at 21, which he achieved when he was at Hotel du Vin in Winchester, and doesn’t intend to start one now.
“I’ve got no idea where all this might end up,” he laughs. “It might go all wrong tomorrow. I’m just sitting on a train, not knowing where it’s going. I’m just rolling with it.”
James Martin will be at the Good Food Show, NEC, Birmingham, June 13-17, 2012. The show also includes Gardeners’ World Live. For ticket information, visit www.bbcgoodfoodshowsummer.com or telephone 0844 581 1341.
James Martin’s menu
Appetiser James Martin was born in Malton, North Yorkshire on June 30, 1972.
Starter His father was catering manager at Castle Howard and by the age of 10, James was helping out in the kitchens. He did catering at Scarborough Technical College, winning student of the year three times in a row.
Amuse bouche Antony Worrall Thompson took him on to work at 190 Queensgate in London. James worked in France for a couple of years before returning to England to work at Chewton Glen. In 1994, he was appointed head chef at Hotel du Vin in Winchester at the age of 21.
Main course He made his first television appearance in 1996 and soon came to prominence on Ready, Steady, Cook. He has fronted dozens of programmes since.
His first book, Eating in with James Martin, was published in 1998. Other cookery books have followed, plus his autobiography Driven, which was published in 2008.
He writes columns for newspapers and magazines, including a motoring column for The Mail on Sunday.
Dessert He has a collection of classic and performance cars.
James has a pilot’s licence.