A love letter to British food
BA partner and Michelin-starred British chef Tom Kerridge rhapsodises about kale and fish and chips
I fell in love with restaurants before I fell in love with food. The people involved are so passionate, whether they’re cheese makers, chefs, brewers or farmers, and it’s truly inspiring.
But my first food experiences weren’t gourmet. Growing up in Gloucester, my mum worked two jobs, so I would often make noodles and fish finger sandwiches for me and my brother. I didn’t fall in love with food then, but I loved the feeling of accomplishment that making a meal gave me. Turning on the oven and not setting the house alight felt like success!
For me, seasonal produce is what makes British food special. The moment when the first asparagus peeks out from the earth, when our strawberries start to emerge in summer; the way the soil and the weather changes in winter, setting off cravings for glazed carrots and roasted potatoes in front of a log fire. My favourite British dishes change with the seasons and, in the northern hemisphere where it’s autumn, I love cooking meals that simmer and steep for hours, filling the house with wonderful aromas. A slow-cooked shoulder of lamb is ideal.
Classic British dishes are wonderfully diverse from region to region. Fish and chips, for instance, varies up and down the country. Some people want North Sea haddock from Grimsby, others want Cornish cod. There’s also the choice of cooking the fish in beef fat or vegetable oil. Personally, I would go for a crisp batter fried in vegetable oil – how it’s traditionally cooked in southern Britain – but I’d choose haddock from the north. At its very best, fish and chips is a world-beating dish. If the Japanese can win Michelin stars for tempura prawns, then why can’t we for our battered cod? That’s the kind of ambition we need.
The way I feel about food comes from the heart – it’s a huge part of my life, and it should bring out emotions and create memories. Creating flavour doesn’t mean overdoing it with indulgent ingredients. You can create amazing flavours from herbs, spices and a refined methodology. Sugar isn’t everything. And if you focus on the freshness or purity of the ingredients, you’ll never have to rein it in.
The way I feel about food comes from the heart – it’s a huge part of my life, and it should bring out emotions and create memories
Kale, in my opinion, is the most underrated British ingredient. It’s so versatile. I love its rich, iron-filled taste and the fact that it can be cooked in so many ways. If you braise it for two hours, it becomes this gorgeous purée, or you can chop it and serve with scrambled eggs. It’s abundant in the UK, but I think it’s important to make time for all of the produce we have to offer. If you cook with care and attention, then you bring out the best of an ingredient. You have to cook with passion, love and soul.
A personal high of my career was when Liam Gallagher tweeted about my restaurant, The Hand and Flowers in Marlow (which has just had its two Michelin stars renewed). He ate there, and afterwards wrote, “Hand and Flowers. Food of the Gods.” If Liam thinks we’re making food of the gods, then that’s enough for me… he’s one of the great philosophers of our time.
Visitors to the UK should not underestimate British food, because we’re at the forefront of great cuisine. We have an understanding of provenance and a raft of techniques that we’ve perfected and take pride in. We have no need to be embarrassed about our pub fare – great food doesn’t have to be confined to upmarket restaurants. It’s a thrilling space to be in. There are so many different regions serving excellent food across the country. Britain, as a whole, is an exciting place to eat, and our food is something that we should be very proud of.
British Airways has launched The Speedbird Café in partnership with Tom Kerridge on all Euro Traveller short-haul flights.