James Martin - why I'm taking Christmas off, and I won't be having turkey
PUBLISHED: 11:34 23 November 2014 | UPDATED: 11:34 23 November 2014
Everyone talks turkey at Christmas, but TV chef James Martin has other ideas
‘Turkey’s an ugly bird and no amount of stuffing or 15 hours in the oven is going to change the way it tastes’.
If James Martin sounds a bit ‘bah humbug’ about the traditional centrepiece of the festive feast that’s because he hates turkey - he won’t even have it on his restaurant yuletide menus.
But of course, he’s usually the one to be found in the kitchen of one of his establishments, cooking up a delicious alternative for discerning diners.
But not this year. ‘It’s the first Christmas I’ll be off - to the shock of my team,’ he reveals.
‘It’s time I let the boys carry on without me. I’m like their dad. I’m 42 and can’t keep up with them so I’ll be letting them take over this Christmas while I spend time with my family in Hampshire.’
It’s been a busy year for the Saturday Kitchen chef, not least in Manchester where his Restaurant in Casino 235 has really taken off beyond his own expectations.
‘We’re still there and it’s still busy,’ he says in his no-nonsense Yorkshire way.
‘Things have changed but it has been a great time to come to the city with the opening of restaurants like Simon Rogan and Manchester House because what we offer is something different.
‘Restaurants are all about adapting and tweaking and you are constantly trying to improve, trying to adapt to people’s taste and push forward, so it’s the same restaurant but different and much busier than I ever imagined. We have a big team both at the front and back of house and we are often full at weekends. It’s a real testament to Manchester.’
James was born into a world filled with the aromas of hearty home cooking thanks to the grandmother he adored. Influenced too by his dad who was the catering manager at Castle Howard in Yorkshire, the budding chef went to Scarborough Catering College at the age of 16 and was spotted by the renowned chef Antony Worrall Thompson who brought him to London to work at Queensgate and Dell’Ugo.
In the 90s he served under many great chefs and worked in France but it was in 1996 that his TV career took off and he became a regular on the Big Breakfast and Ready Steady Cook, taking over as host of Saturday Kitchen in 2006 - where he gets to choose the chefs who appear (but not the guests).
Following a visit to Martin’s Talbot Hotel restaurant in his home town of Malton Jay Rayner raved: ‘the single best plate of, food I have had all year...three beautifully poised, close to faultless dishes’.
‘Food should fundamentally always be about taste and flavour not about fancy gimmicks,’ says James.
‘ I always say to the chefs the greatest meal you’ve ever had in your life is never in a restaurant, I guarantee you, it’s always at home and it’s probably one your grandmother cooked or your mother cooked.. .You as a chef have got to create that.’
Of course, it goes without saying he’ll be cooking for the family on the big day. Beef or goose is most likely to be on the menu instead of turkey but what about the night before Christmas?
‘I like fish and seafood,’ he says
‘There’s some fantastic fish to be found in this country, langoustines and other shellfish are spectacular. Simply served with bread and butter there’s nothing better.’
And for those who would like nothing more than to have James cook for them in their own home, there is the second best thing - OK third best, as he will be starring in a live BBC show in the run-up to Christmas that will take viewers through the preparations set by step.
There’s no doubt his TV appearances add to the allure of his 235 restaurant in Manchester but ultimately it is the cooking that is winning him fans in the city centre and that gives him pleasure.
‘Me a celebrity?’ He mocks the very idea. I’m not a celebrity. There are no photos in magazines of me sitting on my sofa. I never talk about my private life. I’m not a celebrity. I’m a chef.’
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