In the final part of my Chef Q&A, I got to meet the delectable James Martin. He was just about to open his brand spanking new restaurant James Martin Manchester (more about that later) and his palpable excitement about his Mancunian venture was deliciously infectious. Manchester is a fantastic city and it was great to see James agree with this sentiment. Here’s what happened when I caught up the delightful chef with bucket loads of northern charm.
*When did you know you wanted to work with food?
James: All my life, as far as I can remember; I must have been around 3 years old. My family is into agriculture and I was surrounded by pig farming from a young age. I left home for London when I was 18 years old, because I figured I had to be either a farmer or a chef. Farming is incredibly hard work, so I decided to go for the warmth of the kitchen! I’ve always been surrounded by good food, I’ve been lucky like that.
*Who would you like to see on Saturday Kitchen?
James: I have a few people in mind who I’d like to see on my show. I’m slowly ticking them off, a hit-list! When we started Saturday Kitchen, I had a list of chefs I wanted to get on. It could have been risky, because normally with cookery shows, the more well-known chefs in the public are usually approached. I wanted to go with the well-known chefs in the industry. Because of that, it’s quite difficult to make the public understand how good these chefs are. But you let the food speak for itself. When you get a 3 star Michelin chef creating a dish, people will see what the fuss is about.
*What advice would you give to a budding chef?
James: Work hard. Be dedicated and as with any other job, do it because you love it. Never hour watch. There is always someone else who can do your job, it’s as simple as that. Even now, I know that if I gave up Saturday Kitchen, there’s a queue of chefs to do my job. If you work 20/30 years in the industry, there is always going to be someone who is keen and working harder than you are. Work with the best people you can, because that way you’ll learn from the best.
*What is your favourite restaurant?
*What do you think of the dining scene in Manchester?
James: It’s getting better. You’ve got Simon Rogan, which is fantastic for the fine dining side. Manchester deserves it! There are a lot of great restaurants there at the moment and I think we’re just going to add to the mix. It’s very different to my other restaurant (which focuses more on the formal / fine dining aspect). The Manchester one is not – it’s something totally different for me. I think people will like it.
*What do you consider to be a cardinal sin in your kitchen?
James: Seasoning. I don’t like people who under-season. Tasting food is such an important part of the cooking process. I get really upset when people don’t taste. TASTE, SEASON, TASTE. During cooking, after cooking – it can never be enough. I tell my chefs not to bring anything in the kitchen to me unless they’ve seasoned properly. Because if they don’t, they’ll get it straight back.
*What is your ultimate comfort food?
James: Fish and chips from Whitby, seasoned with Sarson’s vinegar is fantastic.
*What do you do to chill out?
James: I race cars as hobby to chill out. In my 1st day off in 39 days, I spent the day at CarFest racing cars up hills.
*Tell me something that’s not well documented in the press.
James: I’m not allowed to make an omelette in public.
*What is your idea of food heaven / hell?
James: That’s easy. My Food Heaven is anything with seafood or crab. My Food Hell is horseradish or wasabi. It’s food of the devil. You have a perfectly nice piece of meat and you just destroy it with horseradish.
*What did you want to be when you were younger?
James: A part of me wanted to be a racing driver! Being 6 ft 3in, I couldn’t fit in the car so that was never going to happen. My true passion is food, I always wanted to be a chef and I wouldn’t want to change it for the world. To me, it’s the most fun, best job there is. It’s also the most varied and lets you travel. I feel very privileged and honoured to be able to do it.
It’s always a real pleasure chatting to James. If you haven’t checked out his restaurant, please do hop along. I dined there a few weeks ago and loved it (review coming up shortly). What are you guys up to this fine (albeit chilly Thursday evening)? I’m ploughing through my writing pile and exceedingly happy, because it’s been a mega constructive day so far. Must dash, I’m on a roll!