With a career that has led him everywhere from restaurant kitchens to TV screens—and with another new cookbook to his credit—ever-popular chef James Martin has his finger in plenty of pies.
Chef and proud Yorkshireman James Martin has had a love of food since he was a child. His family were farmers on the Castle Howard estate in North Yorkshire (and his mum worked in the kitchen) and as James, who is one of the biggest supporters of the British food scene, recalls: “My passion for food began when my father took the role of catering manager at the Castle Howard estate. Coming from a farming background, you learn to respect food and have a miles better understanding and respect for the people who produce it.”
James was just a lad when he started working in restaurants, as he explained to Holly Willoughby and Phillip Schofield on ITV’s This Morning, where he is a guest chef on the breakfast show. “I started cooking in a professional kitchen when I was ten, washing pots. This was in France when I used to go on a summer holiday and I would then be sat in the kitchen and helping in the kitchen.”
Following catering college and training and working in France, James then landed a job at Antony Worrell Thompson’s One Ninety Queen’s Gate restaurant in Kensington, London. In 1993 he became a junior pastry chef at the acclaimed Chewton Glen in Hampshire, where today he heads up The Kitchen, the perfect venue for enjoying and learning about food and cooking.
Two years later, aged just 21, his journey into culinary celebrity was about to begin when he joined Hotel Du Vin in Winchester as head chef. “I was about to achieve one of my biggest ambitions eight years early, I was about to become head chef,” reflected James.
Just an ordinary bloke!
Having starred in TV food series aplenty, penned 20-plus cookbooks—the latest celebrating the humble potato—appearances on a number of high-profile daytime shows, such as Loose Woman, along with Ant & Dec’s Saturday Night Takeaway and Strictly Come Dancing, James is keen to play down his celebrity status. What, does he think then, is the secret of his popularity? “Honestly, I have no idea. I’ve always been honest and straight with the viewer and believe in great food…and have never been one for trends or fads.”
“I can’t stand this celebrity chef status thing,” James has revealed in the past, adding: “In fact I hate it, I mean do you ever see me at a red-carpet event?”
Life in the fast lane
James may have had a love of food for a long as he can remember, but it wasn’t his first choice. “I did want to be a racing driver, but my arse is too big!,” he’s joked in a previous interview. “Don’t forget I’m a farmer’s kid, the closest I got to a go-kart was a Massey Ferguson tractor. It was never going to happen for me.”
But he has never lost his love for speed and is a self-confessed petrol head, with an impressive private collection—from Ferraris and Fords, classics to electric and everything in between—said to be worth millions. He loves to take part in rallies and driving challenges. He also holds his private pilot’s licence and is a qualified helicopter pilot.
Home is where the heart is
James shares his beautiful Hampshire home with his TV producer girlfriend Louise Davies, whom he met on the set of Celebrity Who Wants to be a Millionaire?, and two dogs Cooper and Ralph. It’s from this country retreat that James, who turns 51 on the 30 June, films his James Martin’s Saturday Show. He began hosting the show in 2017 following his departure from BBC1’s Saturday Kitchen, which he hosted for a decade from 2006.
“I come out of my house and I walk exactly three metres,” says James. “It’s so pleasurable to do with the dogs walking around too and hopefully it comes across on screen like that as well.”
On the road
James has several live tours under his belt, which feature live shows and demos, including having participated as a host with Tom Kerridge’s Pub In The Park tour series. What does he enjoy about them? “Going out and about and seeing people enjoying themselves. It’s a bit like performing in a busy restaurant every night of the week, but your restaurant seats like 5,000 people—it’s that kind of an atmosphere. The buzz you get from thousands of people who have made the decision to come out and spend the evening with you is pretty special.”
James is planning to tour again this October/November and he will be appearing at the Yorkshire Dales Food and Drink Festival in July.
From James Martin’s Islands to Highlands, published by Quadrille, priced £25. Photography © Peter Cassidy.