James Martin: '˜Concentrate on what's in front of you and do the best job you possibly can'
Last month, on the eve of his starting his first ever live tour, celebrity chef James Martin announced that he was going to leave the hugely successful show Saturday Kitchen at some point in March.
While Martin is not the show’s first host – Gregg Wallace and Anthony Worrall Thompson came before him – he has been getting up early on Saturdays for 10 years and has made the BBC1 programme his own. He has since confirmed that his last show will be screened on March 26.
When Martin spoke with WOW247 late last year about the then-pending tour and his career, he didn’t talk about what he was about to do. But perhaps reading between the lines, there’s a hint or two.
The chef began his TV career in 1996, but has never been on the road before.
‘This is the first time – 20 years of doing live TV, but this is the first time I’ve ever done something like this.
‘I’ve been approached for maybe the past 12 years or so and always turned it down. It was never the right time or right people, but everything seems to click on this one.
‘I’ve had 20 years of doing this hobby – my main job is as a chef. I just kind of dive in and out of the studio.’
The tour has been dubbed Plates, Mates and Automobiles to reflect James’s other great passion – cars – and will also see him bringing some surprise guests on stage.
‘It’ll be exactly what the title of the show suggests.
‘There’ll be VTs on the cars to explain a few bits and pieces, and some mates along the way, I’ve spoken to a few who are going to be involved, and the kind of thing is to have a bit of fun.
‘This is going to be something different from what I’ve seen other chefs do, something unique.
I wanted to make it something fun, make it something informative and give people something they’ve never seen before – certainly not from me anyway.’
Can fans of Saturday Kitchen expect it to be like that?
‘It’s not like Saturday Kitchen. Obviously the dishes I’ll be cooking live, there’ll be none of that “and here’s one I did earlier” stuff.
‘There’ll be all manner of stuff on this.’
Rather cryptically, he goes on to mention a surprise he’s been working on for the end of the show: ‘I’m in training two hours a day, every day seven days a week for one element of this tour – if it all turns into a disaster by December you won’t see it on the tour, but I am trying to get this element in for part of the tour to make it interesting.’
The tour is taking in 25 venues across the UK and will finish in Portsmouth.
‘You are the last one – mainly because it’s local to me,’ says James, who lives near Winchester, ‘and I can drive home from there at the end of it.
‘I might actually not know what I’m doing by the time I get to Portsmouth,’ he jokes.
‘The idea was to start in the north, start in Glasgow and work south.’
With his home in Hampshire and a plane based at Goodwood aerodrome near Chichester, James is more than familiar with this part of the world.
‘I fly over Portsmouth a lot, I fly out of Goodwood and I used to use Spinnaker Tower as a turning point and a reference point. I used to go sailing all round the Solent as well, so I know the area really well.’
Was learning to fly an extension of your love of racing cars and the need for speed?
‘When I was building my new house, I was so peed off with builders coming up to me and saying: “What skirting boards do you want?” and “What light fittings do you want?”
‘I thought sod this and took my motorhome off to Goodwood and learned to fly.
‘And that’s the honest truth.
‘I based myself down there and was working from there for pretty much two years while they were building my house.’
And James adds: ‘I admire Lord March for what he’s achieved there at Goodwood.
‘ I’m a regular there for Revival and the Festival of Speed – you never know, there may be a racing driver turn up in Portsmouth.’
Right after James announced he was quitting Saturday Kitchen, rumours appeared in the national press that he was doing so because BBC bosses had blocked him making a move to host Top Gear with his old mate Chris Evans.
However, when asked by WOW247 if joining the new-look car show was something he fancied, Martin was most emphatic in his answer: ‘Oh no, no, definitely not.
‘I think the cooking has got to be the priority. It’s where it’s going to end and everything else in the middle is “fluffy clouds” as we call it.
‘My whole life is surrounded by food, so that takes priority over everything – everything else sort of fits in.’
After finishing at catering college James worked in various Michelin-starred restaurants before coming to Chewton Glen in the New Forest as a pastry chef.
After two years there he set up the Hotel du Vin in Winchester.
He now also has James Martin Manchester, which opened in 2013.
With a popular restaurant bearing his name in the north, a home in the south and a busy TV schedule, how has he managed to fit it all in?
‘Last Saturday I was in at 3am and I got home at 8.30pm in the evening, as we did Saturday Kitchen and then we had to do a Christmas special. That was a long day though.
‘There’s so much going on on that show you just about keep control of it, you’ve got to grab it by the horns. If you let it slide it would be a disaster, but it’s like anything – live TV is tricky, and with the food and everything else we’ve got going on, that makes it more tricky, so you’ve got to be really on the ball.
‘So on a Saturday, I’m doing that, and then when I’m finished with Saturday Kitchen, a lot of the time I’ll get on the train to Manchester and go work in the restaurant.
‘I try not to tell people when I’m going to work in the restaurant, otherwise it creates a bit of mayhem, so what I try to do is keep it quiet, do a night’s service and then I’ll go home.
‘I’m just one of the team, and that’s what I enjoy more than anything else – and it is a team, I can’t do it by myself.
‘We recently got into the Sunday Times’ Top 100 restaurants, so ever since then everything’s gone a bit crazy, so I’ve got be up there and support them as much as I possibly can.’
But no Michelin star?
‘No, not yet. But that means nothing to me.
‘The restaurant last night did 246 covers. For some chefs the star is their priority, but for us, it’s serving our customers.
‘If you get the accolade for it, then great.
‘It was the customers that put us in the top 100, so it’s them we want to thank. If it comes, it comes.
‘Awards and accolades are one thing, but customers are the priority.’
Our chat ends with asking James about his post-tour plans. From his answer, it’s clear, hindsight is certainly 20/20.
‘Well I’ve been doing this for 20 years and this tour is the biggest thing I’ve been involved with in a long time, and next year is next year, and whatever that brings, it brings.
‘The main thing is to concentrate on what’s in front of you and do the best job you possibly can.’
n Portsmouth Guildhall, Wednesday, March 23
Tickets £33, cafe open from 6pm, main venue open from 7pm.