Tom Kerridge restaurant, The Hand and Flowers, Marlow

The Staff Canteen

Tom Kerridge is chef patron of restaurant The Hand and Flowers in Marlow, the world’s first ever two Michelin star pub. The Staff Canteen spoke to the much loved, 39-year-old chef to ask him about his influences, his love of British pubs and his working class West Country upbringing.

Was Tom Kerridge an actor befpre he became a chef?

I went to school in an all-boys comprehensive school in Gloucester. It was in the middle of three council estates in a bit of a rough-and-tumble area. My mum ended up sending me and one of my friends to a youth theatre to try and give us a bit of focus and something to do. Within two or three weeks an agent had come to look at me and before I knew it I was filming a Christmas special of Miss Marple! It was all a bit weird. It wasn’t really my calling but when you’re 16 years old from a single-parent family with no money and you’re suddenly given 500 quid for a week back in 1989 it’s quite tempting! I spent about a year doing it and then started catering college.

Tom Kerridge restaurant, The Hand and Flowers Had you always been into cooking?

Cooking was something I fell into really. As I said we were a single-parent family with my mum bringing me and my brother up. There was no money so my mum had two jobs. She worked as a secretary during the daytime and in the evening worked in a pub washing up, so I would come home and cook my brother tea, whether that was putting a Findus crispy pancake in the oven or grilling fish fingers; that was kind of my first taste of cooking. It wasn’t exactly learning how to make wonderful spotted dick with grandma or anything like that!

Like most chefs I needed a job so I started washing up at a hotel up the road. I just liked being in a kitchen. It was the atmosphere and the camaraderie that attracted me. It was like a bunch of naughty boys all having a laugh together but within the disciplined environment of the kitchen, so it was all good. And I reacted to the discipline well, which I didn’t do so much at school.

Who have been the most influential people in your career?

Probably the most influential chef in my career was a guy called Jon Bentham. He was the head chef when I worked at Stephen Bull’s restaurant, St Martin’s Lane. Jon’s now the executive chef for Hotel Chocolat. His understanding of cheaper ingredients and cooking beautiful, flavoursome food was amazing. He was a phenomenal British chef using great produce and treating it with love and respect. Also his understanding of food was phenomenal and not just British but world food – Ethiopian dishes or Canadian dishes, New Zealand food, and he didn’t sit still. He was constantly pushing himself. I learnt so much from Jon, like how to get layers of flavour into food but keep it simple – how to make simple food outstanding.

What was it that made you decide to open your own place and why a pub?

We were in North Norfolk at the time which was absolutely stunning but the pace of life was very slow and I wasn’t even thirty yet. I wanted to push on more. We were thinking of moving back to London but then Beth, my wife, said if we’re going to invest all that time we might as well have our own place. So we were looking around for a place and we were having dinner in a pub called The Trouble House near Gloucester where a guy called Michael Bedford was cooking. Michael used to work for Pierre Koffmann and had a Michelin star. I sat there in my jeans and trainers and ate lovely food and drank pints of beer and everyone was really friendly. That sparked a thing in me that this was really the route to go down. I wanted to cook the food that I wanted to eat in the kind of place I wanted to be. If you ask me whether I’d rather be in a pub or in a posh Mayfair restaurant I’d say the pub every time!

Tom KerridgeThe first kitchen cost £5,000 to put in from second hand equipment. There was me and two other guys in the kitchen. Beth and a part time waitress running the front and my best mate behind the bar and that was it. Now we’ve got 16 chefs, two apprentices and 25 front of house staff plus four kitchen porters and three cleaners. We’re booked up four months in advance midweek; if you wanted a Saturday you’d have to wait till next year.

You’re doing a lot of TV work these days; is that something you enjoy?

I do. I made a pact with myself at the start that I would be myself on TV and cook my own style of food. Actually there are a lot or parallels between the catering and TV industries; the people involved have the same passion; they work long hours and work incredibly hard for not a lot money; they are creating something; and they also have the same sick sense of humour, which always helps!

Do you see yourself as consciously flying the flag for the British fine-dining pub scene?

The British pub scene is absolutely fantastic and there are some amazing guys cooking brilliant food in pubs up and down the country. You just to have to look at Stephen Harris, Dominic Chapman, Andrew Pern and James Mackenzie; the list goes on and on. I think those guys would say the same as me: anything which raises the profile of good cooking in pubs – we’ll embrace it.

A new opening is something we’ve talked about but it wouldn’t be another pub. I’d like to do something that goes hand in hand with ‘The Hand’ here in Marlow; whether that’s a chip shop or a delicatessen or a tea room or a bakery, something along those lines, I don’t know yet. I love Marlow; I love it dearly and I don’t want to move. I’ve had lots of offers of moving into London but it just doesn’t suit me. We’re in no rush; we’re just taking things slowly and seeing what happens.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 16th May 2013

Tom Kerridge restaurant, The Hand and Flowers, Marlow