doctor martens uk Chef James Martin heads for Oxford book signing
James Martin is flat out. In fact he’s so busy I feel guilty even talking to him. But it’s his own fault for opening a new restaurant, filming a TV documentary, broadcasting Saturday Kitchen, publishing a new cookbook and tackling hospital food all at the same time. So what on earth possessed him?
“I’ve got no idea,” he laughed. “Madness?
If you still don’t know who he is, he’s the good looking one from BBC’s Saturday Kitchen, the James Bond of the culinary world, whose love of food comes marginally ahead of his obsession with fast cars and planes.
We’ve managed to grab a few minutes between shifts to discuss his upcoming visit to Oxford’s Waterstones to promote his new book Fast Cooking, so will he fly here?
“Depends on the weather but I fly, whenever possible, otherwise it would be a long commute from Hampshire [where he lives] to Manchester [where his new restaurant is] and seeing Britain from the air is so memorable.
“Cars and planes are my release from everything. I work 24/7 and have done for the last 12 years and need something to switch off,” he says. “So I go flying or sit in a car and just enjoy it. Everyone needs something.”
You could be forgiven for thinking that James Martin is living rather a gilded life at the moment. In fact he probably was until he went severely off piste by taking on the mammoth task of trying to revise hospital food, the subject of an ongoing documentary, and a four year project, which is slowly making progress.
So why put himself through that when everything is cruising along so smoothly? “I ask myself that every day, because it’s such a headache and no one really gives a damn. There’s not an easyfix,” he shrugged. “Except that I still believe that patients should be given edible food and it shouldn’t be crap you can produce healthy food on a budget, and we have made such a difference already. But the food is the easy bit.”
Two documentaries in, the third and final part is currently being filmed, so does James think he’s made an impact. “Yes we have made a difference to the 1,000 people in each hospital who then get better quicker. But each hospital takes six months to turn around. You can’t just hand them a piece of paper with a menu on it. You can’t make people care because you have an idea. You have to physically get in the kitchen and change things that way.”
Way out of his comfort zone then? “In a professional restaurant everyone is pushing in the same direction and all want to achieve the same thing, so this hasn’t been easy.”
And yet challenges are what this 41 year old thrives on. “I’ve never been afraid of hard work,” he says, “especially when you are passionate about a subject. I can never understand people that aren’t,
why have a chef’s jacket on otherwise?”
Which brings us neatly back to his new restaurant inside the Manchester 235 Casino. “I’m doing 20 hour days at the moment. I get in at 2am and am back out there by 6am. So it’s very hands on, but also very exciting, even though there’s a lot of work and effort involved,” he adds.
So is this the start of something, a chain of James Martin eateries? “No, no, no,” he says emphatically, “Just the hotel [The Talbot, in Malton, North Yorkshire] and Manchester are good for now. I’m a chef by trade and not a full time TV chef, and they work together so well because otherwise your repertoire runs dry. So yes it’s a risk and you could get knocked down, but I’m a great believer in getting out there and doing what you want to do.”
Fighting talk maybe, but anyone can see how much James Martin has on his plate, and with that comes a certain amount of respect. And yet much of his success is down to his continuing popularity on Saturday’s Kitchen, the flagship weekend cookery programme James has been hosting for the past seven years.
“I’m still surprised by how popular it is, [3.5 million viewers]. I don’t understand the success of it except that we try to make every show better than the last one. And people are much more knowledgeable about food now. They want to know how to slow cook lamb as well as rustle up something quick,” he says steering us neatly round to his new book Fast Cooking, which he’ll be promoting at Waterstones in Oxford on Monday.
Sounds like he needs a holiday instead? “There needs to be three of me, I need my two triplet brothers,” he laughs, “I would love some time off to relax, but not at the moment, it’s just too busy.” Forget the flying,
James Martin needs a time machine.