Britain's Great Grub
"That love will definitely come across in whatever you cook”
Chef Tom Kerridge has gained himself a name as a West Country traditionalist with a passion for pub grub. “Appearing on The Great British Menu, the thing I was most proud of is that I came across as me,” Kerridge says. “There were no airs and graces, no pretence and I’ve kept up that mantra since.” True to form, the chef cuts a friendly, approachable figure throughout our chat.
Kerridge was just 18 when he entered the kitchen as a commis chef at Calcot Manor in Tetbury. Moving to London in his early 20s, Kerridge honed his skills at restaurants including Odettes, Rhodes in The Square, Stephen Bull and The Capital.
He’s worked with all the big names in the culinary world, and credits “being in the kitchen” as paramount to his education. Today, Kerridge’s recipes, from his lasagne to his pie to his beef brisket (“with a lovely barbeque sauce”), reflect his passion for upmarket comfort food.
Kerridge became head chef at Adlards in Norwich and senior sous chef at Monsieur Max in Hampton before opening his own gastro pub, The Hand and Flowers, in 2005, gaining a Michelin star just a year in. Nearly a decade on – and another Michelin star later - Kerridge has become a familiar face on our telly screens. A Saturday Kitchen regular, the chef calls his double Michelin starred gastro pub his “biggest achievement.”
The Gloucestershire-raised chef is all about “big, strong and robust” flavours, and calls “love” the key ingredient to any dish.
“If it’s created with love then when you eat it you’ll feel the soul that went into it - that’s the thing that makes it comforting.”
With his food pleasing to the eye without being overly fussy, Kerridge is quick to champion the ‘pub grub’ movement currently taking over the UK, paying lip service to the quintessentially British phenomenon.
“There’s about 15 chefs now in pubs with Michelin stars, and that’s a wonderful place to be in,” he says. “It’s a great advert for British food across the world.”
Kerridge adds, “There are great pubs doing great food that haven’t got Michelin stars too, and their understanding of food is just fantastic.”
Living up to his down-to-earth persona, Kerridge says “I‘m not trying to break down boundaries and look for something new with my dishes: I like to look to the old instead and see if we can improve on it.”
“When you look at Great Britain and what it’s built around, whether it’s manufacturing, whether it’s food, whether it’s farming, it’s all solid, rustic, heart and soul and honest,” he explains. “Those are the sort of dishes that I draw inspiration from. I look for tradition and I look for history in food.”
As his series Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes is returning to our screens – “It’s a continuation of the proper pub food that was such a success last year. I enjoyed working with everyone from the camera men to the director” – Kerridge alerts us to his cardinal kitchen rule.
“Never cook something that you wouldn’t want to eat,” he says, sternly. For this chef, total enjoyment is paramount.
“It’s alright to cook something you’ve never cooked before, and to experiment, but make sure it’s something you want to try. That love will definitely come across in whatever you cook.”
Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes airs on BBC2 this autumn.
Cottage pie with blue cheese mash
"When I was a kid, my mum used to knock up a great cottage pie and her secret ingredient was a little bit of curry powder. Topped off with cheesy mash and served with buttered peas, it’s my ultimate childhood memory. I admit this version is a bit fancier than Mum’s; it has two types of cooked beef to give it extra dimension and texture – long-winded, perhaps, but definitely worth the effort".
500g braising steak
50g plain flour
Vegetable oil, for cooking
700ml beef stock
300ml dark ale
2 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
500g minced beef
2 onions, finely diced
2 carrots, finely diced
2 celery sticks, tough strings removed, finely diced
2 tablespoons Curry powder (see p. 290) or use a good quality bought one
Few splashes of Worcestershire sauce
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the mash topping
6 floury potatoes (King Edward or Maris Piper), about 1.2kg, peeled and diced
¾ tablespoon prepared English mustard
150g blue cheese (use your favourite), grated
1 teaspoon paprika
Preheat the oven to 150°C/Gas Mark 2. Cut the braising steak into 2cm dice, dust in flour and shake off the excess. Warm a large frying pan over a medium–high heat, add a little oil and fry the braising steak until it gets a deep, rich colour all over. Drain the steak on some kitchen paper and transfer to a casserole.
Put the frying pan back on the heat and deglaze it with the stock and ale, scraping up any tasty brown bits from the bottom with a wooden spoon, then pour the liquid over the beef in the casserole. Add the star anise and cinnamon stick and bring to the boil. Put the lid on and braise slowly in the oven for 21/2 – 3 hours, until the beef is tender. Leave to cool.
When cool, remove the cooked steak from the casserole with a slotted spoon and place in a bowl in the fridge until needed. Reserve the remaining cooking liquor.
Wipe out the casserole, then place it over a medium–high heat and pour in a thin layer of vegetable oil. Add the minced beef and cook, stirring constantly, until it’s thoroughly browned. The beef shouldn’t be grey, you want it to be dry, roasted and crumbly, the colour of the outside of a beef burger; this should take about 10–12 minutes. Drain in a colander to get rid of any fat, and set aside.
Return the casserole to the hob, warm a little more oil over a medium heat, and add the diced vegetables. Cook for 10–12 minutes, stirring from time to time, until they soften. Add the curry powder and stir, making sure the vegetables are thoroughly coated in the spice.
Add the drained minced beef and the reserved braising liquid and bring to the boil. Turn the heat down to a simmer and reduce the stock until it’s nice and thick. Add a few splashes of Worcestershire sauce and season. Leave to cool for 20 minutes.
When the minced beef has cooled a little, stir in the chilled, braised beef and mix thoroughly, but try not to break up the beef too much. Transfer to a large pie dish or ovenproof serving dish and chill in the fridge for at least 1 hour.
Bring a large saucepan of salted water to the boil and cook the potatoes for 14–15 minutes or until soft. Drain in a colander and leave to steam and air dry a little. Meanwhile, warm the milk and butter in a small saucepan. Either put the cooked potato through a potato ricer into a bowl or mash thoroughly with a hand masher. Beat in the hot milk and butter with a wooden spoon to form a semi-firm mashed potato. Mix in the mustard and season.
Take the chilled beef mixture from the fridge and pipe the mash on top, or spread it and make little peaks with a fork. Sprinkle the blue cheese on top and dust with the paprika. At this point, you can store the cottage pie covered in cling film in the fridge for up to 2 days if you like.
Preheat the oven to 180°C/Gas Mark 4. Put the cottage pie on to a baking tray, stick it in the oven and cook for 20–25 minutes until the middle is very hot. Remove from the oven and place under a hot grill, if needed, just to glaze the blue cheese. Serve immediately with buttered peas.
Extract taken from Tom Kerridge’s Best Ever Dishes, published by Absolute Press, £25.00, Hardback
Photography © Christian Barnett