United Plates of America – James Martin
by Karen Shaw
With his rich Northern tones and Yorkshire grit and determination it’s no surprise that James Martin is more popular than ever. The superstar chef and TV personality continues to dominate our screens with his ITV hit James Martin’s Saturday Morning cooking up hearty dishes from the comfort of his own home. However, his latest adventure saw him undertaking the ultimate American road trip. Travelling from coast to coast, James had one mission… to sample the very best food the States has to offer. I caught up with James to discuss his trip, being a Yorkshireman and why he wanted to log his journey in his new book and TV show, James Martin’s American Adventure. It’s not exactly the first place I’d think of going for fine cuisine, but James insists that’s the reason he wanted to go. The last time I spoke to James was in 2016. At the time he was looking forward to hanging up his pinny after ten years on Saturday Kitchen… fast forward a couple of years and it seems our Yorkshire lad is busier than ever!
“Yeeha,” I bellow in my Yorkshire tones when I catch up with James, followed up with “where’s your Stetson?”
“The Stetson was fine to wear in Austin, but I’d look like a right plonker wearing it in Hampshire!” he laughs.
It’s great to chat to a fellow Yorkshire person, but I wondered how the Yanks took to his accent… “It went down ok in middle America, but they found it peculiar on the West and East coasts, they thought I sounded funny!”
“I wanted to dispel that myth,” says James. “When you look at the best fifty restaurants in the world, America holds the most in terms of country. I’ve had the best meals of my life in American restaurants,” he smiles, “but it’s not just another restaurant trip, it’s not here’s another Michelin star. America is so rich and diverse – it’s a lot more than pretzels and a burger stall. It was a real journey based on honesty.”
And James explains that there are a lot of things we wouldn’t believe originate from America:
“Tabasco sauce comes from one island in the middle of a swamp in Louisiana – yet we take that for granted in the UK.”
Although the swamp was home to more than just Tabasco sauce… “There were four million alligators in that swamp!”
Although James didn’t fancy a dip in ‘that swamp,’ he was keen to get as close to the ‘real’ America as possible travelling on a range of different machines, from his beloved classic Harley Davidson to an Aston Martin, a giant Pickup Truck and a 70s Pontiac.
“Often in TV land you’re sat in a luxury, air-conditioned car asleep in the back then you wake up when you’re on location. I didn’t want that on this trip. I was on a Harley and I rode it from location to location,” James enthuses, “I wanted to see the places and talk about them. We passed an artichoke farm and we just decided to started filming there.”
Artichokes hold a special place in James’ heart. His book is dedicated to chef and friend, Antonio Carluccio, who sadly died last year and it was seeing Carluccio whip up an artichoke dish that acted as James’ first foray into TV cooking.
“I’ll never forget the way he cooked it so I did my variant of it. It’s the first dish we cooked while filming, the very first day we were there.”
It’s obvious that James is passionate about his food – after all you’d have to be to trek from one end of America to another – but James explains that with only a limited time he had to plan carefully:
“America is a massive place; you can only scratch the surface in eight weeks. We did the East coast and the West but in LA we didn’t do the usual Hollywood crap. I take you to Patsy D’Amore – it’s in a farmers’ market, it’s where Sinatra and James Dean used to go for pizza! It’s a take-out and you sit and eat on these crappy stools but the pizzas are unbelievable!
“You get to see everything. We went to a doughnut shop in Salem which is called Ziggy and Sons and are proper old school donuts. America is so different from region to region.”
But it wasn’t just the landscape that differed region to region, James’ experiences did too. From blending his own wine to cooking with native chilli, James has experienced it all but which location was the most memorable?
“Texas. We were filming in a place called Fort Worth and it’s a bit like Disneyland for cattle! We were filming there, and every dish we do is filmed in one take – I don’t like this ‘here is one I did earlier carry on’ – everything I do is done in front of you. it was so hot and it’s the only time we’ve stopped filming in 25 years. I went to crack an egg and it was cooked! We finished filming at twilight when the sun was setting.” James sighs wistfully as he remembers, “We went to this creek and I cooked by it. It was probably the best location I’ve ever been to in my life. I sat down, lit a cigar and I watched the sun set.”
There’s something for everyone in James’ new book, from garlic risotto with maple salted steaks to turbot with pumpkin and peas, all deliciously delightful, so delightful that James admits to piling on the pounds while in the States, so I was curious to discover if he saw a direct link to the Americans’ diet and their growing issue with obesity.
“People are entitled to do what they want to do. Give them information by all means but don’t lecture. People have a choice. They are old enough to make their own decision; we’re not a nanny state! Besides, imagine saying to the Yorkshire lot your fish and chips are sh*t, you’re not having them again! There’d be riots!”
I imagine James would be the first person to riot given that his preferred northern dish is fish and chips! He’s also no saint when it comes to clean eating and admits his favourite breakfast consists of Rice Krispies, milk, cream and sugar!
“Rice Krispies with the top of the milk, then add double cream, sprinkle with caster sugar and leave it for three minutes… oh my god!”
James believes that everyone is entitled to their own opinion in life and will always try to cater for people’s dietary choices although he warns we must be careful not to go too far. On the day I spoke to him he’d just appeared on ITV’s This Morning alongside a gentleman who, to promote veganism, was threatening farmers. Hailing from farming stock, James admitted that’s when he has a problem.
“These are people’s livelihoods. They are respectful of their job, the last thing a farmer will do is disrespect his produce.”
This lad has travelled the world in pursuit of discovering food, but, despite living in Hampshire he’s always keen to return home to Yorkshire and will be back demonstrating his culinary skills at the Yorkshire Dales Food and Drink Festival in Skipton on the 21st and 22nd July.
“The first one was in a cattle market, then the next in a field with a top hat and circus it’s great to be back at home. Food festivals are getting bigger and better and they do it right at the Yorkshire Dales Food and Drink Festival and it shows because people want to go!”