Tom Kerridge: My career in Five Dishes
We catch up with legendary chef Tom Kerridge ahead of the launch of his newest pub in Chelsea. He looks back on a brilliant career in the kitchens, what it means to work in hospitality, and the teamwork and attention to produce that unite his ventures
Five Dishes: Tom Kerridge
To put it simply, Tom Kerridge is a titan of Great British cooking. The Gloucester-born-and-raised chef has been in the international limelight since launching the first gastropub to win two Michelin stars, Marlow’s sensational The Hand & Flowers in Buckinghamshire, and has become a familiar face on television programmes running the gamut from Great British Menu to Spring Kitchen to American Feast and more. His on-screen and in-kitchen success makes sense upon sitting down with him; he’s a supremely likeable guy.
For a chef who excels in small details – or ‘remembering points,’ as he calls them – there’s something refreshingly unfussy about Mr Kerridge. He emphasises the importance of teamwork in the workplace while playing down his own role. In Marlow, he’s become a pillar of the community. We don’t usually like to bandy about phrases like national treasure, but if there’s a chef more in the running for it than Kerridge, that person is yet to be found. It’s been quite a journey, with plenty of hard toil and long nights, too. “I started out as an 18-year-old needing money, basically,” says Kerridge of the early days of his career. “The first evening I walked into a kitchen I fell in love. It wasn’t about the food. It was the environment, the space, the culture of excitement and adrenaline and banter.” Kerridge is happy to call out the many chefs who helped hone his talent in their kitchens in the ‘full-on’ days of the early 90s when names like Philip Britten, Stephen Bull and Gary Rhodes helped him to develop his own take on ‘heartful, fundamental, flavour-led food’.
“The first evening I walked into a kitchen I fell in love. It wasn’t about the food. It was the environment, the space, the culture of excitement and adrenaline and banter.”
He packed it all away and took it with him back to Buckinghamshire, where he opened The Hand & Flowers with his wife Beth in 2005, promptly won a Michelin star, and then a second in 2012, while his second pub, The Coach, was quick to earn one as well. He now has one restaurant – Kerridge’s Bar & Grill at The Corinthia – a venture in Harrods, and four pubs in total, the latest of which is The Butcher’s Tap & Grill in Chelsea. If there’s a thread that ties together each concept, it’s the produce. “We’re always looking to find the simplest, best ingredients and treat them with love and respect. There is a skill set in being able to cook simply and properly. However, a lot of that comes down to animal husbandry, it comes down to farming, it comes down to the butchery process and ageing. I like the way that something as simple as a great piece of meat is connected to so many different skill sets. It’s not just about a chef’s creativity.” Humbly put, perfectly executed.
Big flavours, an obsession with the way that special-occasion dining experiences bring people together, and a deep commitment to his team have all defined his career. After two decades as a hospitality owner, Tom Kerridge is at the top of his game. Hallmarks from all stages of it are present here, in the five dishes of one of the country’s most celebrated chefs.
Glazed omelette of smoked haddock and parmesan
The Hand & Flowers
“This is a dish that’s been on the menu pretty much from the beginning – it’s so heartfelt – probably the thing that I always order when I’m at The Hand and Flowers (if I ever get to eat there). Four ingredients treated with love and respect, and it sits there with two Michelin Stars. It was on the menu when we opened, before all of that, which means it was a two-star dish when we opened. I love how we’ve made it great by rehearsing it, practising it again and again and again. It’s a smoked haddock omelette, with smoked haddock poached in milk. We use that milk to make a kind of thick bechamel sauce, so it’s infused with that lovely smoked haddock flavour. And then, into that, we add raw egg yolks and a hollandaise sauce that acts as the glaze. You have beautiful eggs cooked in a little iron skillet. Seasoned, grated, top-level parmesan. The poached smoked haddock sits on top of that, then the glaze, and then it gets blow-torched to give a deep, rich, dark caramelisation all on the top. So you get these bitter flavours, the saltiness of the cheese, the richness of the eggs, and that lovely smoky undertone that comes with the smoked haddock. It’s big, it’s robust, it’s everything that I want from cooking and from being in kitchens and from the flavours that I like to cook.”
Fish and chips
Kerridge's Bar and Grill
“When we opened here at Kerridge’s Bar & Grill, we wanted to make sure that there was something that felt very British about this restaurant. We wanted guests to feel like they’d been here before when visiting. A dish that strongly resonates with me in terms of British cooking is fish and chips. It’s often been seen as a sort of cheap fast food, but it is patently not that when executed really well. It’s wonderful if you are using some of the best fish available and putting it in a really worked-out and thought-through batter. Some Japanese restaurants earn three Michelin Stars doing tempura. It’s essentially the same. We give the same heart, soul and understanding to the potatoes as we do the fish, drilling down into things like starch and sugar content to make sure they are perfectly golden and crisp with lovely, soft middles. Just because it’s deep-fried doesn’t actually mean that there’s a cooking skill that’s lost in it. So for us, it was really important to try and put that same heart and soul and care that you would normally put into a restaurant dish such as brill and mash. But our style of service here is fish and chips, and it seems to have gone a long, long way. We want to change the perception that fish and chips is strictly a cheap fast food, it’s actually something that should be celebrated.”
Beef suet sticky toffee pudding
“The Coach is an ingredient-led Michelin-starred pub on the same road as The Hand and Flowers in Marlow, headed up by Sarah Hayward, who’s been on the journey with us for nearly ten years at a number of our restaurants. She worked her way up to head chef at The Coach and has taken ownership of that, maintaining and keeping that star herself, and winning the Michelin Young Chef of the Year award, which has been amazing for her and her career. This dish is again one of those classically British sticky toffee puddings, but done with beef suet, which gives it an extra depth and a layer of richness. But it’s also kind of a testament to how we view our business. You give young talent all the support that they require, build scaffolding around them and let them go and do their own thing. They’re only ever going to grow if they make mistakes and have a go at it themselves. We provide the network to make sure they don’t make too many mistakes. So, this dish represents The Coach, what it’s about, how we cook, but it also represents us as a company, I think, in terms of allowing somebody like Sarah to come through the ranks, grow, grab something for herself and run with it.”
The Butcher's Tap & Grill Marlow
“At the Butcher’s Tap and Grill, we wanted to use the same ingredients, producers and suppliers, and the same mindset and level of quality that we’re looking for at The Hand & Flowers, to create something more community-oriented and user-friendly, where you can walk in without having to book months in advance. There’s sport on the screens and a butchers where guests can buy meat to take away. You can cook it at home if you want to, or stay at the grill and we’ll cook it for you there. The mince is a mix of chuck steak and rump cap, with the fat content sitting at around about 10%. So it’s not super high. There’s aged beef trim in it for that kind of round, aged flavour, which is quite important for us. And no matter what we’re preparing, we’ll serve it on a metal tray with a cone of chips. You sit there and get your hands dirty, you enjoy it. For us, a burger is multi-functional. It breaks down barriers. It doesn’t matter what economic background you come from and what level of food that you are into. A burger fills those gaps. It sums up community-led hospitality.”
Côte de boeuf
The Butcher's Tap & Grill Chelsea
“Côte de boeuf is great. It’s a big piece of meat. We’ll cook it to your liking and serve it sliced, then dump it in the middle of the table to be eaten family-style. We’re not looking for formality here. What we want is a sense of occasion. There’s a huge cost that comes with a côte de boeuf; it’s a very expensive piece of meat. I love how people have to be interactive with the food that they’re eating, but also with each other. That in turn creates atmosphere, energy and an environment that people want to be in. They all go hand-in-hand. It’s not very often that you get côte de boeuf served in a top-end two-star restaurant, where everyone wants refined precision. Cooking a steak is about outward thinking, creating energy. And that’s what I love about things like côte de boeuf, or a T-bone steak, bigger cuts served on the table. Everyone helps themselves, chatting, talking, creating noise and environment. And to me that’s what hospitality should always be about – singing the praises of the produce whilst at the same time creating excitement and electricity.”