He’s one of P&O’s Food Heroes and will be running the first British cookery school at sea on board new ship Britannia. Here TV celebrity chef James Martin talks to Lynn Houghton about his roots
My father was a pig farmer in Yorkshire where I was born and raised. I came from a family full of chefs but they only ever worked with the food that we couldn’t sell. My mother, my aunty and gran were all great cooks, and they did amazing things with cheap cuts of meat like pig’s cheeks. I learned early on that the art of cooking is being able to work with anything and create something special. I was surrounded by food and cooking all the time when I was growing up; even my father was a caterer for the Castle Howard Estate.
When I was 10, I started working in a restaurant following the family tradition. Then, when I was a teenager, I went to the South of France to work at the Hotel de Plaisance restaurant. I worked with snails and cooked them the entire summer. I learned to love snails – I’m excited that they are now available in the UK.
I failed cookery at school. In fact, I never did well in any of my subjects at school because I am severely dyslexic. But luckily, Ken Allison spotted me at catering college and took me under his wing.
When I moved to London, I worked 24/7. I rarely saw daylight. But I loved it and I just kept at it. I worked in the kitchens of 190 Queensgate, followed by Dell’Ugo and also did a stint at Chewton Glen as head pastry chef. I was offered the position of head chef at the Hotel and Bistro du Vin in Winchester 20 years ago at the age of 22 and had to move out to the countryside when I took up the post. I have never looked back as the countryside is where I am happy.
I still live in the countryside near Winchester because I love space and peace and quiet. I also own a farm in Yorkshire and run the restaurant at the Talbot Hotel in Malton, North Yorkshire near where I grew up. To relax I go out walking with my two dogs, Ralph and Fudge, but, mainly, I walk around my restaurant – the other day I clocked 15 miles on the pedometer at work. Ralph and Fudge are white so I have to have them both cleaned constantly. A mobile groomer comes to my house and he washes both of them in the back of his van.
I went on holiday for the first time three years ago to the Maldives. I am really not the type to sit around on a sun lounger so I went on a 12-night foodie tour where I visited restaurants that my friends own.
I also visited India during the same trip, again, to explore the food and get to know the people. I discovered wonderful places like Kerala with its rivers and lush scenery. The seafood in India is beautiful, I can’t wait to go back and try it again.
I used to work with the cruise line Ocean Village many years ago and considered going out to Australia when the cruise line moved there as I really enjoyed the work. But Saturday Kitchen came my way at the same time, so I decided to stay in the UK. P&O Cruises approached me a while back about being involved with their new ship, Britannia, but I had no idea who else would be part of the group, who else would be a ‘Food Hero’. I was just asked if I wanted to be involved and have a say in the food on the ship. Then I found out that the other Food Heroes are Eric Lanlard, Marco Pierre White, Atul Kochhar and wine expert Olly Smith. Being a consultant is a huge challenge as there are 3,000 meals going out every morning, noon and evening. I’m involved in everything, from the design of the benches to the spoons, knives, forks, blenders, plates, cookery, crockery – it’s a very personal thing.
I’ll be on the ship twice or three times a month to ensure that all is going to plan. I’m also in charge of The Cookery Club, doing my own cookery demonstrations to teach people, young and old, how to cook. And we’ll have a Chef’s Table so in the evening you can have dinner. But we’re also going to involve a few of my friends so about once a month we’ll bring out a named person to do the cookery school and make it unique – there won’t be anywhere else like that. I’m going through my black book now looking at all my names and thinking ‘they’re definitely coming’, so it’s going to be pretty good. Starting with a blank sheet of paper makes it even more exciting. It’s going to be a good journey.
The new series of James Martin: Home Comforts is on BBC Two. Cruise International readers can buy James Martin’s Home Comforts at the special price of £15 (RRP £20), with free p&p. To order, call 01256 302699 quoting reference CW2 and your credit card details.
P&O’s Britannia launches in March 2015 and James Martin will be on board on the following dates: 14 to 28 March (cruise is now sold out ), 13 to 27 June, 6 to 18 July, 14 to 25 September and 9 to 23 October. To book your place, visit pocruises.co.uk or call 0843 373 0111.