Celebrity chef James Martin has spent the past fifteen years teasing the taste buds of telly watchers across the UK. A man with a clear passion for the dishes he produces, Martin’s engaging TV presence has seen him consistently on our screens across the years. From Ready Steady Cook to today’s Saturday Kitchen, the Yorkshire man may alternate from Red Tomato to Green Pepper but he’s remained one of TV cooking’s most recognisable faces. We spoke to the chef about his tools of the trade…
Growing up on a pig and cattle farm, James Martin discovered his aptitude for the culinary world at an early age. He may have struggled with undiagnosed dyslexia during his school years, but in enrolling at catering college at 16, found himself thrice awarded Student of the Year and at just 22 was appointed head chef at Hotel du Vin in Winchester. Martin’s spent the past six years hosting Saturday Kitchen, and when he’s not whipping up dishes against the clock, you’ll find the chef devising cookbooks or collaborating with his long term cookware partner, Stellar.
“Stellar approached me and asked if I’d like to work with them. I said ‘I will if it’s actually beneficial to you, if I can help you develop stuff,’ and that’s where we’ve come from. It’s not a matter of ‘there’s the product, stick your name on it’, it’s been a relationship we’ve had for 16 years – they come to me with ideas, and I come to them with ideas.”
Martin’s partnership with Stellar has seen him produce wide ranging kitchen products.
“Firstly pans, then we worked on knives, cutlery, an accumulation of a lot of things from salt and pepper mills to pizza wheels to all manner of different stuff.”
A professional chef, Martin obviously needs equipment that will serve him well in the kitchen, stressing, “we really try to find the best quality that people can afford. And that’s a tall order when you’ve got everybody else doing cheap, cheap, cheap…
“Take baking tins; whenever you get a cheap tin it’s flexible, the minute you apply strong heat or anything it’ll twist and then you end up wrecking your cake. So it’s gotta be made out of a decent material, now that comes from how we develop that material, knowing what we want, what it needs to do, what it needs to work like. And then they come back and say ‘what about this…?’ and it goes back to the drawing board again. And then we eventually come to a medium where we are both happy and off we go.”
Like any creative process, there exists an element of trial and error. Take Martin’s custom knives, for example. “I can’t do my job without them!” he tells us, but the product took time to perfect.
“When we were looking at knives to sell retail wise I originally asked for the handle to be too thick. When I gave it to my mother and friends to test, they turned around and said, ‘it’s a nice knife, it’s great in the dishwasher, but the handle is too thick.’ So we went back to the drawing board with a thinner handle…”
Now, Martin’s baker’s dozen range covers just about everything you can think of.
“It’s all the stuff that I’ve worked with over the years of being a pastry chef put into one collection so you’ve got muffin tins that you can do Yorkshire puddings in, to Swiss roll tins to cake tins…”
And with shows like The Great British Bake Off causing a nation of amateur bakers to jump for their rolling pins, Martin agrees that “baking’s still a huge, huge thing. Not as big as it is in America by any means but it’s getting there.” Though whether or not people are routinely kneading their own bread is another question…
“They’ll have a go and probably make a cock up of it and don’t bother again!”
Happy that people are getting back into the kitchen, Martin warns against premade supermarket produce.
“It’s not the stuff chefs are cooking on TV that’s unhealthy, it’s all the crap that Joe Public’s eating from burgers to readymade pizzas to bought in lasagnes to all that stuff. What makes you fat is the stuff that’s in fizzy drinks, all the hidden stuff that’s everywhere, not the food on your Sunday lunch table.”
Sceptical about recent research recommending people should eat ten different fruit and veg a day - “Well good luck to anybody who wants to try that one…” the chef laughs – Martin reveals his own food heaven and hell to use before he’s off – “crab and horseradish!”