We Grill: James Martin
Yorkshire born chef James Martin is best known for presenting BBC 1’s Saturday Kitchen. He has written nine cookery books plus his latest release ‘fast cooking’. His new restaurant is James Martin Manchester.
What food trend has surprised you the most since you started your career?
It’s got to be the fact that the British food scene wasn’t as successful then as it is now. As chefs, we always try and reinvent the wheel but fundamentally we have to appreciate what great food we have on our doorstep. To be honest, I’m surprised the British food scene isn’t more popular.
What chef inspired you the most at the beginning of your career and who inspires you now?
The Roux family is a huge inspiration for me, in what they have achieved, what they keep on achieving and what they stand for.
What are your favourite ingredients for this time of year?
We still have the tail end of the asparagus season and the Jersey royals, so both of them. Scottish raspberries are amazing and English peas are great too. All of our seasonal food is what’s great about living in the UK.
What’s your midnight snack?
It used to be Mars bars – but not since I got over 40! Now, my guilty pleasure is steak and chips.
Favourite restaurants in and out of the UK?
My mum’s conservatory! The Waterside Inn in Bray is still a magical place, and Per Se in New York is one of the best. Daniel’s in New York is amazing too. I think New York has a lot to offer in terms of food. It’s very unique, clear and forward thinking.
We know you love butter. Is there any substitute?
What is, for you, the top Yorkshire dish?
It’s got to be the Yorkshire pudding, hasn’t it? It’s the staple of a good old Sunday roast. There is a whole manner of fancy food out there but no one can beat chicken with roast potatoes and gravy – it’s bloody lovely!
What kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
My pot washer! They are the most important person in my kitchen and first person to get a staff lunch. But being more serious, it would be my knives. A sharp knife is something you can’t do without.
Why did you choose to open James Martin Manchester and not London?
I opened The Talbot up north not a million miles away, so when I got offered the site in Manchester I thought it was a great opportunity. I made a conscious decision not to go down the Michelin-star route and I think that was a good one. For one, it doesn’t make money and two, I don’t think anyone in Manchester wants that. The busy restaurants in Manchester are all about great food and I think that was the key for us. Fine dining is great but it comes down to serving your customers, and through research we found out that what people wanted was not fine dining. The risks of opening a restaurant in London are higher and that’s not something I feel like doing at this moment in time in my career.
Who has been your favourite guest on Saturday Kitchen and why?
Mark Webber, the Australian racing driver and Michael Parkinson. Never in my life did I think I’d be interviewing Michael Parkinson!
You say the basis of your cooking is simplicity; do you think then that dishes can be overcomplicated?
Relying on the quality of the ingredients is key. In truth, the greatest meal most people have had is not one in a restaurant but probably one at home – cooked by your parents or grandparents. So, you’ve got to give the customer what they want and that is a great quality meal, cooked simply – and I think that’s the key to anything really. Many chefs become obsessed by what they want, when in fact it should be about what the customer wants.
What’s next on your agenda?
I visited New York recently to do a tour of its restaurants and ate in some great places to get inspiration and ideas for my next venture. It’s going to be an eatery somewhere in the UK – but that’s all I’m saying!