James Martin tells Woman and Home about Strictly, romantic fish and chips on Whitby seafront and playing lead guitar...
What is your earliest memory of food?
I was fortunate and grew up on a pig farm where we ate stuff that we produced at home. So my early meals were always made up of the secondary cuts of meat that we couldn’t sell; the head-to-tail stuff like snout, trotters, liver and all that.
What was your first job?
I cooked my first big meal at about eight years old. I was doing a gourmet dinner at a place called The Mallyan Spout in Goathland, near Whitby. My parents used to know the owners and because I was a wannabe chef they let me in the kitchen at a very young age, working with amazing people like Brian Turner and Keith Floyd, and that was my first ever serious dinner, even though I was mainly turning (peeling) carrots.
Did you ever have a plan B career-wise?
No, cheffing was always it for me. I finished college on Friday and was working in London kitchens by Sunday night. I wanted to be a head chef by the time I was 30 and I got the chance to do that when I was 22 through luck, graft and taking chances. I genuinely enjoy the long hours and I still do them whenever I can.
What’s been your biggest impulse buy?
I have two dogs – a working Cocker Spaniel called Cooper and a little Lhasa Apso called Ralph that I bought p*ssed from the pet store at Harrods one lunchtime about five years ago! It was a boozy working lunch, the day before Saturday Kitchen, and I’d been celebrating. I ended up on the top floor of Harrods thinking I was going to buy a new pair of shoes, but I ended up in the wrong department and saw these two little black dogs. One of them was really looking at me and I thought “he’s pretty cool” so I bought him.
What do you do to relax?
Boats. I got a motorboat last year and I absolutely love it. Not a sailing boat, I don’t do ropes! I take a lot of my mates out on it. Four of us went out for a weekend in the summer to the Isle of Wight and not one of us looked at our phones for 48 hours. Heaven.
When are you happiest?
Right now. For the first time in my life I feel absolutely content, and not a lot of people can say that. I don’t need or want anything. I don’t aspire to be better than anyone else. I’ve pushed negativity away, out of my life. I only deal with good, positive people, and it makes you and everyone around you feel better.
What’s your favourite book or film?
I’ve never read a book in my life. Any book. I’m dyslexic so I can’t read autocue, I can’t read a book. But I like old classic movies like Heat and Bullitt, and Clint Eastwood films. I’m the same with my music, I love classics like the Rolling Stones.
Speaking of music, how are your guitar lessons going?
I’ve just sent a text message to a group of friends who want to put a band together. I think I’ll give it a go – we’re not going to make albums or anything but it’s just a bit of fun. I play lead guitar and they are all semi-professional session musicians. We might even do a big festival and perform a couple of songs.
What are you afraid of?
Pretty much nothing, but the most nervous I have ever been is when I did Strictly because I was so out of my comfort zone. You think “What on earth am I doing here?”
Most famous person you’ve met or cooked for?
I’ve cooked for the Queen and the royal family quite a few times now and I think she is fantastic. And Charles is too. He has been a huge supporter of produce in the UK, long before it was fashionable.
Most romantic meal you’ve ever had?
Fish and chips on Whitby seafront with my partner Louise. Yorkshire is famous for its Michelin-starred restaurants and of course we eat at amazing places too, but when it’s a bit rainy and you’re sat there eating chips? Well, you can’t beat that!
What would you save in a fire?
Apart from my dogs, probably my gran’s old wooden chopping board in my kitchen at home. It’s an old round breadboard and she used to do the greatest bacon sandwiches of all time on that thing. She’d put so much butter on the bread that it would practically come out the other side. Always white sliced bread from M&S, Lurpak butter and bacon from Scott’s the butcher. The best.
James Martin’s great British adventure by James Martin (Quadrille, £25) is out now in all good bookshops.