For those of us who have had to work from home these past few months, there’s definitely been some perks.
No commute, more family time, dressing for work from the waist up to name but a few.
But when this particular job came up – an interview with Tom Kerridge, renowned Michelin-starred chef and TV food expert – the work from home situation wasn’t working to our advantage.
Had we not been experiencing a global pandemic and national lockdown, we would probably be chatting over a white linen clothed table in one of his fine dining establishments.
Maybe even sipping a glass of Sauvignon Plonk. So if we’re honest, we felt a bit miffed when the Zoom meeting invite dropped into our Inbox.
‘Oh, I’m so sorry,’ he apologises while feeling our pain. ‘We really should be sat in my pub, totally. But it’s all about back-to-back Zoom calling now.’
He’s talking to us from his office space at his house in Marlow, Bucks where he lives with his sculptor wife Beth, and their four-year-old son Acey. The leafy, affluent village is also home to his two Michelin-starred pub restaurants, The Hand & Flowers, and The Coach.
Tom describes Beth as his best friend. Beth has a hugely successful career herself and is also Tom’s business partner.
‘We’re in it together, 50/50,’ Tom says. ‘She’s amazing. She’s up at the Hand & Flowers now rearranging it and getting it ready for opening.’
We spoke to Tom just days before the reopening of his restaurants and he was fidgety in his seat with excitement. But things didn’t go as smoothly as he’d have liked – when 27 people booked tables at his Kerridge’s Bar and Grill in London but didn’t turn up, the chef took to Instagram to say their behaviour was ‘disgraceful’ and ‘unhelpful’ at a time when the industry is already struggling.
Despite this, Tom is positive people are still keen to dine out.
‘I think everyone is done with making banana bread. People are desperate to go out and have a meal cooked for them – and cleared away!’
Not having to do the washing up is definitely something to celebrate. But there will be no corks popping for Tom.
‘I’ve lost the concept of celebrating with a drink,’ says Tom, who has been sober for seven years. ‘Celebrating for me is about being happy and having fun with people, not about the champagne.’
The Gloucester-born chef, who once revealed he used to start a drinking session with a pint of Negroni cocktail and go on to sink 15 pints on a normal night, decided to quit booze at 40 or face the possibility of not reaching 50. He and Beth wanted to start a family and grow their business, and hangovers didn’t fit with their plan.
‘I stopped drinking all by myself,’ he reveals matter-of-factly. ‘I knew what I wanted to do and then I got on with it. It was all about mental strength. I have an addictive personality. People ask me whether I’m an alcoholic, but I think it could have been anything, it’s just that alcohol was the thing I found. Maybe I am an alcoholic, I don’t know.
‘Some days are really, really hard and some days are easy. Most of the time it’s not relevant in my life. I channel all that old drinking energy into work now.’
Today, a self-confessed workaholic, Tom has grown a business empire which includes his two pub restaurants in Marlow, a central London restaurant, a head chef role at a VIP hospitality suite at Old Trafford (he’s a Man Utd supporter), as well as an events team hosting food and drink festivals, a TV career and eight self-penned cook books.
He lives and breathes his work, but he admits that lockdown gave him time to reflect. ‘One thing lockdown taught me was to value our family’s life. I want to make some changes and free up some time to try new things,’ he says.
‘I don’t really do outdoorsy things. It’s not something I say no to, it’s just I’ve never found the time. But I’m up for trying new things – jumping out of a plane, scuba diving, you name it. I’m not scared of having a go.’
He’s also cherished many a family moment. ‘It’s been an absolute privilege to spend time with my little man, Acey. I’ve regularly done bathtime and bedtime and read stories to him. You know, you can’t beat a beautiful story like Poo In The Zoo!
‘During lockdown, I’ve seen Acey get on a bike and learn to ride in the space of seven weeks. I would have ordinarily missed that. We’re now hanging out at the BMX stunt park. It’s very special.’
Tom also likes to make sure he fits in his exercise, after shedding a massive 12 stone in the past three years. ‘With all the gyms closed, I go for a run. I maybe do 20-25km a week. I get up early and get it out of the way. I don’t enjoy it but I like how I feel afterwards.’
Is he now at his happy weight? ‘Is anyone ever happy with their weight? As a personality I’m quite extreme – a couple of years ago, I would lift the heaviest weights trying to tone muscle and put on nearly 3 stone. But that stopped in lockdown so I’ve shrunk back down again.
It makes me feel a bit weak,’ he laughs. ‘I’m looking forward to getting back on it and to start lifting again. No doubt I’ll put weight on again… and then I’ll think I need to lose it.’
And when you see the food he whips up, how could you resist? This month, he’s on TV showing us the best way to cook up the perfect barbecue.
‘I’m very conscious of what I eat all the time. However, when you’re filming 36 recipes in nine days for a barbecue series, you’re just eating everything. So I did, and then I have a couple of good weeks,’ he says with a wink. ‘It’s all about finding a balance. Wouldn’t we all like to eat burgers every day, but we all know where it goes…’
Not that he’d ever beat himself up about it. Tom clearly doesn’t get dragged down by life’s small gripes or groans. ‘I’m always looking at the bigger picture,’ he says.
‘You should never regret anything you’ve done as your mistakes will always form part of your life. If you’re going to have a regret, make it something you haven’t done. I always say yes to everything – even if it’s a bad decision.’
Does that include eating a barbecue burger with both cheese and bacon? If so, we’re on board.
Lie-in or up with the lark?
I’ve got a kid, so you’re up when they’re up. You’ve got no choice. Usually around 6.30am.
Describe a typical Sunday.
It’s a family day. I head out for a run first thing. Then we’ll go for breakfast with friends at The Coach and then head to the park with the little man to ride bikes. We might go on to soft play or trampolining. Honestly, that’s my idea of fun. I love it. Then bath, story and bed.
Sunday roast in the pub or at home?
I like to cook at home. I usually shove a slow roast in the oven for tea and we’ll all sit together to eat. Acey sometimes joins in with the cooking. He’s only small so he’s got a short attention span – a bit like his dad – but he likes to have a job like cracking eggs or rolling out pastry.
Food is my life, so I love cooking together as a family and eating together. But I’m also looking forward to going out for a local curry to Malik’s in Cookham, it’s amazing.
Sunday papers or telly?
I mainly read Twitter or news online. I feel very connected to politics right now although it can make me incredibly angry and upset. I’ll make time in the evening to catch up on Match Of The Day .
I’m a massive football fan and supporter of Manchester United. I love how you can get emotionally immersed in football. It used to affect my mood if my team lost. But I’ve realised it doesn’t matter how much you shout at the TV, you can’t control the game.
– Tom Kerridge Barbecues is on Thursdays from July 30 at 9pm on Food Network and available on dplay