Essex on the menu
PUBLISHED: 14:15 01 April 2014 | UPDATED: 14:15 01 April 2014
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You don't get awarded two Michelin stars unless you know a thing or two about food and few people in Britain know their way around the kitchen quite like Tom Kerridge. Now he is on the search for more great producers and he is looking for Essex to help
The Hand and Flowers at Marlow in Buckinghamshire is perhaps the most famous pub in the UK, and definitely the first one to be praised with two Michelin awards. Its owner, Tom Kerridge, has a standing among chefs and the general public that is at its pinnacle. A TV star too, courtesy of various BBC projects, and a best-selling author thanks to his book Proper Pub Food, the 40-year-old is recognised as one of the best in his profession. Thus, any project that Kerridge lends his name to automatically gains traction and that’s certainly the case with Britain’s Next Top Supplier, a venture in association with online supermarket chain Ocado to find the next big thing in food and drink production from the lesser known forces in this £96billion annual market. Could there be an Essex winner?
Pitching their idea and produce to Kerridge and retail legend Sir Stuart Rose, the winner will receive a £10,000 marketing package to promote their product and the Wilshire-born chef is more than happy to lend his expertise as the search goes on for great produce. ‘The reason I am behind it is because it feels like such a massive opportunity for a small scale supplier,’ explains Tom. ‘It’s the sort of guys we use here at the Hand and Flower — small, artisan, good food suppliers that have good ideas and want to take it to the next level. This scheme means they would be able to reach a whole new level of people,but stay artisan and within their means. It is very honourable and I am delighted to be involved.’
Is part of the appeal of this project the chance to give some help to an industry that has struggled during the economic downturn, I ask?
‘Absolutely. Like anything it is very difficult for people to make their way in business and in the food sector it’s especially difficult. We are hoping for people who have got heart and soul and love for their product. Relationships with suppliers is a huge issue in catering. We always look for new people and new ideas, but you can’t change people because things go up a few pence. Ocado knows it is all about relationship building and that then
goes onto the customer.’Yet relationships are a two-way street and suppliers queue up to work with Tom because of his status in the food industry. The chef’s forthright nature is well known. ‘I look for the best − just because it is local doesn’t mean it is good. Local is a catchphrase just to make things sound good. Just because tomatoes are grown down the road, it doesn’t mean they are good.‘
Nevertheless, Tom’s love of food and the process of creation is there for all to see. His enthusiasm for the lifestyle that comes with being a chef (including the long days, hard graft and unsociable hours) is remarkably infectious. ‘That is what I love about the job, the way of life. Being in that kitchen, in that environment with a load of other blokes, that is what drew me to it and that is what I really enjoyed. ‘People you find in a kitchen are looking for something different in their lives. Being a chef is a way of life and if you love being a chef, that is your life. It is social, but it is just different. It is fantastic, that nocturnal lifestyle. It’s different. We don’t go out at 8pm on a Saturday, but chefs can always find that bar. If we go to a town for one day, chefs will always have found that late bar.
We have a nose for it.’
Yet aside from the lifestyle, Tom loves food above all else. ‘When you first start your business you just want to be a success and you try to get better every day. Now the awards have come, but we don’t cook for awards, we cook food that is lovely and not fashionable. We don’t aim to please guide books, we aim to please customers, and everything I put on a plate I want to eat myself.’ And even with lots of work in the pipeline for 2014, Tom refuses to rest on his laurels. ‘I don’t ever feel like we’ve made it. I am terrified it will end tomorrow. So we’ll keep pushing on, working hard and enjoying it. The moment we stop enjoying it is the moment we stop. But at the moment everything is great.’
Tom is a judge for Ocado’s Britain’s Next Top Supplier giving food producers the chance to have their product sold at ocado.com and a £10k marketing package. Find out more at www.ocado.com