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11:14am Monday 14th November 2011 in Features
SURELY there's nothing left to learn about the Mediterranean's sunkissed food culture? Not so according to TV chef James Martin who has just finished filming his new Good Food series, James Martin’s Mediterranean.
The show, which begins on Sunday , takes Martin to his beloved France where he trained as a chef, plus Italy, Greece, Spain and Ibiza to explore the best dishes their coastal areas have to offer.
“When you look at all the places in this series, I would have put them in order and said Italy, France, Spain, Ibiza and then Crete. Now they’ve been flipped,” he explains.
“People look at Greek food and think it’s all kofte, hummus and salads, but it’s not like that at all.
“I was astounded by what I saw. And Ibiza’s the same.
You think of mad Brits on holiday eating takeaway, but Ibiza is absolutely fascinating.”
Martin did get to see the infamous tourists, sunburnt and drunk – but maintains that just a few miles away from the party town of San Antonio, the Iberian island throws up some of the best eateries he’s ever visited.
“We went to this little restaurant. They have no menu, no booking, but you sit down at 1pm and get what you're given for 30 euros a head. It’s packed every day. There was no choice, but it was utterly magical.”
The Malton-born star of Strictly Come Dancing isn’t the first chef to go to the Mediterranean, of course.
Padstow’s finest Rick Stein has spent much of his TV career bobbing around the region, while Keith Floyd, the man who put the flag in the ground for so many cooks eager for a career in front of the camera, highlighted much that was good about the Med in the early eighties.
“It’s great to get out here and see these places, because I’m normally on Saturday Kitchen, introducing episodes of Rick Stein or Keith Floyd wherever, while stuck in a kitchen in London,” he says.
“They all have such a good time filming here, and now I can see why.
“People around the Mediterranean embrace a certain way of life, and there’s also a big knowledge and history of food. In the UK, we have this obsession with cheaper and cheaper food. It’s not good food, but it’s cheap.
“Food is a way of life around the Med, but we seem to view it more as fuel. You wake up, eat and go to work. It’s about energy rather than actual food.
“And here,” he says, gesturing along the beautiful promenade in the Italian town of Gaeta, around 90 miles from Rome. “It's hard to find a supermarket. If this was the UK, there would be three or four along the seafront, but here, it’s all independent sellers.
“We’re all very different in Europe, but we could really learn something from our European partners when it comes to looking after producers and maintaining quality food.
“Before we started filming this series, I knew the food was going to be amazing and the locations would be beautiful, but here, they do what chefs have been banging on about in the UK for years – buy local produce and support the farmers.
“It reminds me a lot of home in North Yorkshire.
Only instead of selling pigs, they’re selling olives. I love it.”