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Tom Kerridge, Chef Owner, Hand and Flowers, Marlow
Tom Kerridge has gained particular attention in recent years owing to his frequent appearances on popular cooking shows which include Great British Menu, Masterchef and Saturday Kitchen. It seems Tom, with his warm and vibrant nature, is one of a batch of upcoming TV chefs that look set to take over the small screen. Off-camera, Tom has enjoyed similar success having made his mark with his Marlow-based gastropub, The Hand & Flowers, serving simple food of the highest quality.
The enticing pub food Tom has on his menus have earned the restaurant widespread acclaim, with the Buckinghamshire pub becoming the very first pub to be awarded two Michelin stars. Its first, along with three rosettes, came within a year of opening – a remarkable achievement for the Wiltshire-born chef. With The Hand & Flowers continuing to thrive over five years after opening, Tom has the freedom to enjoy his increasing TV success as well as run his hugely successful business in Marlow.
Tom (Kerridge) it's wonderful to come and see you today at The Hand and Flowers, I know we've been trying to get here to see you for a while and thank you very much especially at such a busy time.Absolute pleasure.
Now let's start, you've been at the Hand and Flowers for six years, it's been incredibly successful for you what was your rationale behind coming here?
I think we knew Marlow anyway. We were looking at opening somewhere, I did nearly ten years in London and then I moved to Norfolk"¦
You're from Gloucester originally tom is that right?
I am from Gloucester, from the West Country, I moved to London when I was 20, 21, did"¦
Bit of a culture change for a west country lad?
Well yes, kitchen-wise yes absolutely, huge culture change I mean going from kind of like lovely but sleepy kind of restaurants and country house hotels to"¦I went straight to the Capital Hotel which was very busy, very hard London kitchen.
And who was the chef of the Capital at that time was it Philip Britton?
Philip Britton was the head chef there, yeah Philip Britton so it was a big culture shock and a big eye-opener into the kitchens of London but fantastic but yeah a big eye-opener.
Okay so ten years in London, you knew Marlow"¦
Yeah and we moved out to Norfolk from London where I was head chef at Adlard's restaurant with David Adlard who's one of the most"¦
It's not Adlard's any more though is that right?
No it's now Hickman's one of David Adlard's old head chefs, Roger Hickman has taken it over but David Adlard is a phenomenal guy, I mean one of these mad, eccentric, English personalities and just a great, great guy but for me Norfolk was a little slow, you know, Norwich city centre as wonderful as it is wasn't necessarily where I wanted to be, when is was used to doing 70 on a lunchtime at Monsieur Max to doing not very many on a Tuesday night in Norwich was a little bit of a heartbreaker. So we decided to move back to London, we were looking at opening a place in London that fell through so then we decided to look at pubs and this one came along.
Tom what's the sort of concept behind the Hand and Flowers? I mean it is in the nicest possible way a pub but it's very welcoming, very warm, is that something you set out to achieve?"¦
Yeah I mean I feel, I'm very fortunate I employ great staff, I employ people that smile. They haven't necessarily got to be the best at their job but if they smile and are great with people, and great with customers then from my point of view that's"¦
It's not easy though is it getting good people?
No it's not easy getting good people but we're very fortunate that we have had some people that have worked with us for a long, long time whether it's Cleo over there (pointing to Cleo) who's part time that's been with us for nearly four years, Cleo, five years?
Cleo - Yeah I think so. Yeah four or five years but who does anything between four and eight shifts a week but, you know, is always a smiler, is always friendly, knows the restaurant, knows us back to front and these people when you find them they're great diamonds and you have to keep them and look after them.
So from our point of view it's"¦but I also think a lot of that is down to the fact that I've been very lucky in the media attention that we had due to Great British Menu, and at the same time it coincided with the recession and touch wood I'm a very, very lucky man.
Tom a pub is often the heart of the community it goes with the post office and that type of thing would you say that you are here to service the local community, you are an important part of that?
Yeah I mean the people of Marlow and the surrounding areas and Beaconsfield they have been so supportive of us since the moment we've opened and yes we're very much we have regulars that eat with us, I don't know, once a week, two or three times a month and these people are always looked after, we are still part of"¦we are I suppose a community-based restaurant, pub that looks after the people that are around in this area but at the same point of view the profile has become higher and we have people that travel from all over, I mean we're beginning to get a lot of international customers as well now and we're very fortunate that we have four rooms as well so it's slowly becoming a bit of a foody destination because I think people are quite interested in the fact that it's a pub, you know, Andrew Pern will be the first one to tell you how fantastic it is to have rooms and a Michelin star and it's great because people are interested in that less formal type of dining but in an environment that it still provides great food.
It's interesting you've got 25 diners and of those 25 you can sell four rooms, from a business point of view it must really help?
Oh absolutely I mean the rooms, the houses, the cottages, were bought by myself and my wife and we have no pension scheme, we're like pretty much most chefs out there, I haven't got an ongoing pension and I haven't got any form of savings ((laughingly)) you know so it's kind of our route into having some form of safety backup for when we eventually retire and play loads of golf ((laughs)).
Did you not think, I mean we talked about this earlier, there is a perception that people see you on TV and they suddenly think it's all about driving posh cars and drinking champagne, you know, I don't think sometimes people understand the other side of it that you are running a business and there's a huge financial responsibility to a degree that you put yourself under and huge pressure and stress
Absolutely every single penny I have is in this business and the moment that we opened, we opened with a very small budget, we had no money, in fact on our opening day we had to borrow £30 off Beth's brother to put in the till for change, for a float because we had not got a single penny left. I opened my kitchen, the first kitchen was done that cost me about £5,000 worth of second hand equipment, the oven door was broken and kept having to be propped up with a veg oil drum and wasn't repaired for about six months, you know, you spend every single penny, you put your heart and soul into making that business work and so many people understand the idea of the amount of work that goes in but anybody who runs their own business and is successful in the restaurant business with their own money I take my hat off to them because I know how much work has gone into it absolutely.
There is no shortcut to success though is there, I mean people see you, Glynn Purnell, Nathan Outlaw, all of these guys on Great British Menu but the bottom line is you all work bloody hard at what you do.
Absolutely every single one of us has worked incredibly hard to get where we are and then decided to ((laughingly)) put every single penny that you have into the business that you don't know whether it will work or not and I think that's the thing that also keeps you going. I'm dead frightened that"¦
"¦that tomorrow I won't have any customers and I don't mean just like"¦I don't mean tomorrow but like thinking, "˜Oh yeah maybe in January it will go quiet,' I mean tomorrow, I'm worried that tomorrow everyone will cancel. If everyone cancels where do I go. So every single day I push and the guys push and I'm very fortunate that I have some amazing staff that work so hard for us, that care as much as I do about this business.
How do you unwind then?
I go and watch Marlow FC play every home game.
So you're their supporter?
I am, I'm one of the 120 that go yeah, so I go and watch Marlow FC which they're actually doing okay this season in Zamaretto Midlands Division which is about nine divisions below the Premier League but with a lot less in wages ((laughs)).
Exactly and then to be fair there's a couple of good clubs and a couple of good bars around here that are open until quite late on a Friday and a Saturday and we all go out as a team and especially this time of year everyone's really, really busy, in fact this coming Sunday we've got our Christmas party and last Sunday we had a massive barbeque here with about 60 chefs turned up, Sat Bains, Daniel Clifford"¦
Yes I was reading all their tweets ((laughs)).
Yes so we were all here.
Was there a lot of alcohol flowing?
There was a huge amount and me and Sat Bains were the last men standing and it was half past five in the morning so ((laughs))
Going forward then Tom you've been very successful, you've been here six years where does the next six years take you? More media, another property, what's the plan?
To be 100% honest with you I would just love the business to balance out because in those six years myself and my wife have bought two houses that we've converted into rooms and that comes at a huge cost and that's been done through us there hasn't been any financial backing, there hasn't been anybody else that we've gone and said, "Can we borrow half a million quid?"
So that's all your money?
All my money.
All against you?
All against me which in turn has put, over the last couple of years, a lot of pressure on the business because you need the return on those houses and the property and selling the rooms it's only just started now to run at an occupancy level that makes sense. So the next six years for me is consolidating and making sure that the Hand and Flowers works and runs. I would love this place to become an institution, somewhere that everybody knows, somewhere like the Star at Andrew Pern's or something, you know, there's some amazing, well known, fantastic restaurants out there with huge histories like L'Ortolan or like the Fat Duck or whatever and these are places that everybody knows and I would love this place over the next six years to be recognised as one of those.
Tom I think you're well on the way and I think you're almost developing a sort of food style that's very much your own, you know, and you're quite synonymous with that and I wish you every success for the next six years and thank you very, very much for your time today.
It's an absolute pleasure thank you very much.