Editor Sally Thomson was lucky enough to catch up with chef Phil Vickery to discuss his latest cookery book and the products he is developing to help coeliac sufferers.
Phil has been a part of the ‘This Morning’ family for over 14 years and is regarded as one of Britain’s favourite chefs.
He has had a very interesting history and at one time was working as head chef in The Castle hotel in Taunton, where he won a Michelin star. He also gained 4 Rosettes in the AA guide, the Good Food Guide’s Restaurant of the Year, The Times Restaurant of the Year, Egon Ronay’s Guide Dessert Chef of the Year and British Meat Chef of The Year.
He first came to the public’s attention when he was asked to fill in for Keith Floyd on the Breakfast Programme, which lead to regular appearances on Ready Steady Cook.
Phil has written 15 books, including his most recent, ‘Game: A Modern Approach to Preparing, Cooking and Curing’ – he also finds time to farm and spends many hours working on the land and with his livestock.
He is the leading authority on Gluten-Free products and recipes, his books sell worldwide, and have won
many awards. He is the National Food Ambassador for Coeliac UK.
How did your love for cooking come about?
I was given a book, Warnes Everyday Cookery; I got it after flicking through it at a jumble sale… I still have it in my library. It had wonderful colour plates of beautiful ornate dishes, and black and white plates with a chef carving a duck, and I thought ‘Woah, I really like this!’ That was the moment that I remember getting interested in cooking. When I told my parents I wanted to be a chef, they said well good luck with that. They wanted me to become a doctor, like my brother!
Would you say cooking has changed much over the years?
Absolutely! When I started, the kitchens were very much like Gordon’s, shouty and sweary. You needed real grit and determination to get through it. Nowadays, it has all changed. It’s slightly more glamorous and trainee chefs say they don’t like the split shifts! We used to work 16 hours a day, and doing television was frowned upon! But to get a book deal, you need to have been on telly or you have no chance!
Do you think it’s going to be a bit swamped?
Without a doubt, I think it’s a bit swamped now. In my day, it was Keith Floyd! I remember watching him as a young chef, thinking he was really cool! He didn’t care if it went wrong, he spoke a few languages and got on with it! Floyd knew about the history of food, that’s the difference, he knew about the background. A lot of chefs have ended up taking slightly different routes to get where they are. Heston Blumenthal was a debt collector! Nico Ladenis came from the oil industry and now has three Michelin stars. I think if you have come from a different route its far more interesting! I used to, and still do to a degree, model myself on the Keith Floyd presentations! Floyd was a genius. The food was sometimes irrelevant – it was him talking about it that made the show so engaging.
Am I right in thinking you’ve just published your 14th book?
Well, my fourteenth book was a game-based book and was published last year.
I am currently working on a book called the Gluten Free Bible, which will be out next February. It’s taken me two years to write with Bea (Harling), we do gnocchi, dumplings, éclairs, chocolate flans and much more!
Did you get your inspiration for the game book from your trip to Namibia or has it always been part of your psyche?
As a young chef, we always cooked game. I loved it and always looked forward to the different seasons; the first grouse in August, the first mallard in September, the first English partridge, the pheasants, the woodcock – fantastic. I was trained and taught as a young chef that the seasons are sacrosanct and you looked forward to them, as they were so interesting. I was brought up on a farm and we did a lot of rabbit shooting. We had a lot of pheasants and venison, and both of my parents always cooked it, so I have always been around it. As a young chef I loved cooking it. The seasons are so short that you wanted to make the most of what you had when. When Clarissa (Dickson-Wright) sent me her game book, it is fantastic but quite ‘old-school’. All the game books seemed to have been written by gamekeepers’ wives – no chef really tackled it apart from Clarissa. The older books had some really awful ways of doing things – too time consuming and sometimes not what you would want to do! And they were all pretty similar. Nowadays, for example, pheasants are reared to be shot, not so much cooked, so I had to write recipes which took their leaness into consideration. I wanted to dispel a lot of myths, a lot of old rubbish and do a modern game cookery book.
You believe we should all consider eating more wild meat and fish?
Yes I do, because it’s largely organic, especially deer! It’s very lean, hardly any fat, and is really good for you.
Tell me more about Gluten Free Bible book?
I’ve worked very closely with Bea Harling, a food scientist. When I decided to do gluten free, I brought her onside as she understands all about structure and protein control.
Why do you think that gluten free has become such a big thing over the years?
I think that people have just put up with it over the years. I had a 93-year-old lady who wrote to me and said that after reading my books, she went to the doctor and got tested. It turned out she needed to go gluten free, and having followed a gluten free diet for 8 months, felt the best she’s ever felt!
What are the symptoms?
You get incredible stomach pains, awful diarrhoea, blurred vision, osteoporosis, constant chronic pains, and nausea. It can be really debilitating. Although it’s not curable, it’s very manageable with a gluten free diet. The only problem I have is that a lot of supermarket-based products have a lot of additives in them. You might just feel a bit bloated, but if you have any symptoms, it is advisable to go to a doctor and get checked out.
You have a range of gluten free products don’t you?
Yes, I have about twenty odd now. It has taken me nearly 5 years, with lots more coming online in the next 18 months. It’s all about awareness these days I think.
You’ve been on ‘This Morning’ now for many years. What is it about that programme and team that you particularly enjoy?
They keep inviting me to go back (laughs). I have been to some amazing places with them. When my wife did it, it was great fun, a real laugh. It doesn’t take up a huge amount of time, and I absolutely love live television! I find it easy to talk to the camera, Floydy once said to me ‘The hardest thing to do on telly is be yourself’, and that is very true, but I love it. You get one go. I remember when filming in Georgetown, Malaysia once, on the Orient Express we stopped and got off and I was told by the Captain that I had 8 minutes to make a meal, but I did it -it was fantastic! It was at the same market that Floydy had cooked in 25 years ago! The thing about television is I feel very relaxed, I love giving people information, and it isn’t too stressful – I have been very lucky! I haven’t really done mainstream TV – I don’t crave my own series, I just love doing what I do, and they trust me not to let them down.
Of all the accolades you have received over the years, of which one are you the most proud?
When I was a young chef, Michelin was fantastic; but it has all changed now. When I got mine, that was a real defining moment of my career. I have never been one to sit on my laurels and I don’t want anything – I don’t need to be recognised, I just love doing what I do! I am still a pig farmer – I am on the farm twice a day. It’s very close to my heart, I love it.