TV chef James is hot in Thomas Cook kitchen!
IT’S hard to know how many women watch Saturday Kitchen Live to pick up a few hints on perfecting a dish of the day or whether to ogle handsome host James Martin.
The first thing that struck me was that the towering, well-built chef looks just like he does on telly.
“That’s because I spend two minutes in make-up,” he said. All there is time for on a Saturday morning is a can of Red Bull and a couple of eye drops.”
And when I admit that I am more interested in what he is wearing than what culinary delights he is about to create, he says: “Well not much thought goes into that. I just look at a shirt and say ‘that’ll do’.”
My heart sinks like a fallen soufflé when he points out that his mum Susan also remarks on his clothes.
“She’ll ring me up and say ‘for goodness sake, you were wearing that black shirt again’."
My favourite meal is mum's roast chicken dinner
James may be 40 in June but it’s obviously still important to him that he continues to make his mum proud.
His favourite meal is still her roast chicken and after he started to hit the big-time, she was the first person to see the rewards.
After buying his first Ferrari at 24, he drove it straight round to show his mum.
“She said, ‘well done son’. It was a great feeling but unfortunately I had to sell it a few weeks later to pay a tax bill.”
Since then, there’s been lots more fast motors for car-nut James, who writes a weekly column after test-driving latest models.
What would he save first if his house was burning down? “My Mini and then my other Mini,” laughs James.
I catch up with the charismatic chef in a London kitchen where he is showcasing his latest project – airline meals.
James, who has a pilot’s licence and occasionally charters his own plane, has spent the past year concocting a new menu of over 50 dishes for Thomas Cook. His food will be served 35,000ft in the air from this week.
He’s been responsible for everything from the design of the packaging to the maple syrup inside his fantastic banana muffins (he gave me one to sample and I sneaked a few more to bring home).
Holidaymakers served some real treats in the air
James says: “It’s amazing how I started out with six muffin tins in my kitchen at home and now millions of the cakes will be produced every year.”
Holidaymakers will be served mouthwatering treats from specialities such as beef bourguignon and bourbon vanilla and ginger cheesecake to traditional British food such as bacon and eggs!
He adds: “I think I am giving people what they want to eat. If you are flying back from a holiday in Cuba or Spain, it is very likely that you’ll fancy a roast chicken dinner with Paxo stuffing.
“I look on it as if you’ll be given a nice little hamper.”
James’ blunt, no-nonsense Yorkshire manner undoubtedly influences his cooking.
When asked why he used dried-out Jamaica ginger cake for a cheesecake base, he retorted “Because that’s what I had in the cupboard.”
The quick-witted chef will always call a spoon a spoon and recently made waves when he revolutionised the menu of an NHS hospital in Scarborough for the BBC series Operation Hospital Food.
He says: “The only way of changing hospital food nationwide is by going into each individual hospital and working with what you find there. You can’t write a menu from London.
“Some hospitals don’t even have their own kitchen.”
It’s important to James that everything he does, he does well.
He goes into the TV studios every Friday afternoon to rehearse his script.
Jackie Collins was my best guest, a fabulous lady
“I am massively dyslexic so can’t read an autocue like everyone else. I have to rehearse and rewrite the script in my language.”
James is back in the kitchen at 7am the next day to practice cooking the dishes before the show goes out live at 10am.
He also makes sure he has done his homework on his guests.
“About five years ago Parky (Michael Parkinson) told me to make sure you know more about your guest than you do yourself.
“Asking them questions and cooking at the same time is the hardest part of the show.”
As for a favourite guest... “that has to be Jackie Collins. She was such a fabulous lady and just came on her own and even wrote a letter afterwards to thank me for having her.
“What a difference to Peter Andre who came along with an entourage of more people than we have to make the show!”
The one guest he would love to get on reflects his addiction to cars: “Stirling Moss and I might yet.”
As for his food heaven (he’s already admitted being addicted to Diet Coke and Mars Bars): “Bacon sandwich.” Food hell? “Horseradish. It is in my restaurants but the chefs have to hide it from me.”
Has he ever done his Omelette Challenge: “No, sorry I haven’t.”
James, who has cooked for Prince Charles and William and Kate, has just opened his second restaurant in his beloved Yorkshire — “a magical spot”.
One is in Leeds and the latest at the Talbot Hotel in his home town of Malton.
“I walk down the street and people I have known for years shout ‘Ey up, I hope you are not cooking any of that posh stuff from down South’.”
James has a home in Hampshire with his own vegetable garden but spends a lot of time in his restaurants and enjoys teaching the kids who are starting out in his kitchens.
If he gets a break, he’s more likely to drive for fish and chips in Whitby, then head for an exotic location.
“I took a holiday at Christmas for the first time in about 14 years and went to the One & Only in the Maldives. But I wouldn’t rush back as there is very little to do. I slept for about four days – the food was great though.”
He will be taking a few more flights a year now though, checking that his Thomas Cook food is up to scratch.
“I’ll get on one of their planes, take my golf clubs, play a round and then come back again having sampled the food on board.”
So, if you are flying off this summer, you could find yourself being served by the Saturday Kitchen heartthrob.
Let me know what he’s wearing!