James Martin is starving. He had a late night last night demonstrating his culinary skills for an intimate audience at Chewton Glen.
Today, it’s a rare day off and we’ve managed to collar him before breakfast for a quick chat about his involvement in this year’s Christchurch Food Festival, before he shoots back to his Hampshire home for a game of golf.
He clearly relishes his “me time” and, in fact, can often be found relaxing at Chewton Glen, on the Dorset border.
On this occasion, however, it was work.
“We did a lunch for 150 and a demonstration in the morning,” he said. “I got about 45 minutes’ break and then did a demo and then a dinner in the evening.
“I do this about twice a year.”
James has a special affinity with the venue, as he did a short stint as pastry chef there when he was 20.
“I worked here for about 18 months to two years,” he said.
“It was great. It was kind of a relaxed break for me because I had worked in London before that, so getting your backside kicked in London was very different to working at the Chewton Glen.
“It was hard work, but it was a great time for me.”
The chef is still in touch with his old colleagues and it was his friend, executive head chef Luke Matthews, who persuaded him to get involved in the Christchurch Food Festival again.
James was first a part of the event around eight years ago.
“They always tried to get hold of me, but the dates never matched,” he said.
“I’m taking stuff in my diary for 2016. Luke grabbed hold of me and said ‘we would really like you do to it, I will work in conjunction with you do to it’.
“The dates managed to fit and that was it.
As soon as it was done with last year they asked me again for this year.”
The Saturday Kitchen host will be appearing in two cookery demonstrations in the marquee behind the Regent Centre on Sunday May 12, the second of which will see him team up with Luke.
He doesn’t know yet which dishes will be on the demonstration menu, but says he usually gets ideas on the day by wandering around the markets beforehand.
And he always makes sure the dishes are easy to recreate at home.
Festival-goers also have a chance to meet James and have a VIP seat at the demonstration by booking lunch at either The Kings Arms or The Captain’s Club on the day.
James is clearly delighted to be coming back to Christchurch for a second year, for what is becoming an increasingly popular festival.
He said: “We do the demonstrations and then we go and see what they’re up to in terms of the festival itself.
“The festivals have always been popular, but I suppose the demographic is amazing when you look from young to old, it really appeals to everybody.
“If you have good weather they’re just brilliant. It’s good for us.
“The chefs enjoy it and I’m learning new stuff and new produce – that’s where you go and learn.
“It’s local stuff, so it’s quite good for us lot.
“Luke drags me off and shows me a local supplier that he uses.”
It really is going back to James’s roots.
His family were farmers on the Castle Howard Estate in Yorkshire, where he helped his mother in the kitchen and discovered a love of cooking.
He has a vegetable garden at his home today and remains a big fan of local farmers and local produce.
“Look what’s in the news now,” he said.
“There’s no such thing as cheap, good food in the world.
“This is part of the issue that you’re going to get. There’s always someone that’s willing to cheat the system.”
James has spent part of the last year transforming hospital food in BBC’s Operation Hospital, and travelling around the States sampling various sweet treats for his latest show United Cakes of America, shown on the Good Food Channel.
Saturday Kitchen is going from strength to strength and it’s all James can do to get a day off once a fortnight to enjoy that round of golf or, his other passion, flying planes and helicopters.
“It’s pretty full on,” he admits.
But you get the impression he wouldn’t have it any other way.
- Christchurch Food Festival runs from Friday, May 10 to Sunday, May 19.
The food market takes place on May 11 and 12, with the Great Christchurch Bake Weekend and Fete on May 18 and 19. christchurchfoodfest.co.uk.
Tickets for lunch with James Martin are priced £40, available from the Regent Centre on 01202 499199. regentcentre.co.uk.