James Martin

Exclusive interview with TV chef James Martin

by Karen Shaw

Plates, Mates and Automobiles will see James doing what he does best, cooking and chatting with his mates about his love of classic cars. Despite being asked over the last 15 years to go on tour, James believes now is the right time, and promises that his first tour will be one to remember. “It’s going to different,” says James. “It won’t be a matter of couple of stoves plonked on the stage and just me cooking, it’s a two-hour show and it won’t disappoint. I’ve been rehearsing the ending for two hours a day for the last two months!”

What, rehearsing the end for two months? He has obviously not been attempting a chocolate soufflé; surely it must be something physical. Now I’m intrigued. So when I take a wild guess, suggesting perhaps it involves him in a glittery leotard juggling frying pans, he gets rather cagey. He answers in true Yorkshire fashion: “I’m not saying a word,” he laughs, “but it’s knackering.”

Now I’m rather excited.

People will not be expecting it and there certainly won’t be an encore. When I’ve watched other chefs doing their bit on stage, they often tend to be heavily scripted with planted questions in the audience, and I hate all that stuff.”

Despite being a regular face on our screens for nigh on 20 years, and in March he’ll be celebrating his tenth year presenting Saturday Kitchen. Attracting three million viewers every week, the show is now the UK’s longest running Saturday morning TV show, with over 400 consecutive episodes broadcast. It sees James interviewing guests while cooking at the same time. “It’s not just a cookery show,” says James, “it’s about making a show. You’ve got to make it interesting. I love interviewing. I like to have a conversation and listen to my guests.”

My earliest memory of James is him looking like the fourth member of the eighties’ boy-band Bros, always wearing his famous bandana in the early days of Ready, Steady, Cook. James assures me that he’ll be leaving his bandana at home for the tour. “It was never a gimmick. I had to wear one as I couldn’t wear a chef’s hat on TV due to me being six foot three. They’d lock me up if I wore it now!”

As a child, James grew up on a pig farm on the Castle Howard estate and as a youngster held a fascination for food and cars. “The nearest I ever got to a fast car was a Ferguson tractor,” chuckles James. “I was brought up around engines, but not cars as such. I can remember flying my remote control aeroplane as a kid and never thought for one minute I’d ever fly the real thing.”

James earned his pilot’s licence ten years ago. “To be able to fly, well, it’s just amazing.” smiles James. Always aspirational, as a teenager he remembers how he would spend hours staring through car showroom windows and to this day can name all the Ferrari and Porsche dealerships and which restaurants are nearby.

“I’ve never really been into modern cars, I’m more into collectables. I love the story behind them. I’m not one of these people who go to car meetings and sit on a deckchair at the back of the car talking about camshafts. To me, cars are like pieces of art. A lot of people collect marriages and divorces. I collect cars. It’s cheaper in the long run!”

When I ask him how many cars he has, he goes quiet, when I ask him if he has more cars than he does eggs, he sheepishly replies, “Ermm, you could say that. I’ve just added one to the collection, it’s quite cool, it’s Keith Floyd’s old Citroen 2CV!” When I ask him if it still works, he almost grunts: “It better bloody had do, I’ve just paid for it!”

Many of you will have watched James on his show Home Comforts, filmed from his idyllic home in Hampshire. A Yorkshire lad through and through, James’s heart still lies in Yorkshire where he also has a house. “I flit between the two. I love it up there and will probably end my days there. I like the people; I find them to be genuine, honest and reliable, but, most of my work is in London and I’m there four to five times a week. Getting a train down there would be hard work.”

Despite living down south, he has recently launched the restaurant James Martin Manchester and it’s been voted as one of the top 100 restaurants by The Sunday Times. Alongside that, he’s also in the process of setting up another restaurant in Hampshire and in the last year has published two books with another in the pipeline. Not bad for a lad who was diagnosed with dyslexia.

He may have two houses, a few Picasso paintings and countless cars, but this lad has worked hard for it. He’s been quoted as saying “If you can walk, you can work.” He wisely doesn’t consider wealth as a marker for success, he goes on to say: “I believe you get out what you put in and success isn’t about the money. I always take the p*** out of Paul (Hollywood). He loves all the fame and the posh award do’s. I’m not into that at all. I prefer to go home.”

James Martin on Ready Steady Cook

James Martin on Ready Steady Cook

Growing up in a farming family, James’s life was all about food. His mum and grandma were good cooks and he admits that his mum’s roast potatoes are better than his. “She also makes proper gravy. ‘None of that fancy jus’ is what she says!” Although he believes that buying food locally is important, he goes on to say: “I’m not one of those people who preach about it, encouraging folk to buy a chicken for £16. People buy what they can afford.”

That’s James for you, a true Yorkshire man. A lad who clearly loves life in the fast lane and has all the right ingredients for continued success. Not bad going for a young pig farmer who arrived in London at the young age of 17 with just £20 in his pocket.

Quick fire

Food Heaven?
Crab or Langoustines

Food Hell?

Jam roly poly or spotted dick?
Jam roly poly

Cornish pasty or sausage roll?
Sausage roll

Is it pronounced scon or scoan?

Stew & dumplings or Sausage & mash?
Stew and dumplings

Brown sauce or ketchup?

Black pudding or dripping?