Great Pub Chefs - Well in Hand - Tom Kerridge

By Mark Taylor

- Last updated on GMT

Related tags Tom kerridge Good food guide Heston blumenthal

Tom Kerridge has taken the plunge and opened his own pub. He's worked hard to create the right atmosphere and it certainly seems to have paid off,...

Tom Kerridge has taken the plunge and opened his own pub. He's worked hard to create the right atmosphere and it certainly seems to have paid off, attracting a rather famous guest. Mark Taylor reports

Tom Kerridge is in good spirits. Not only has he just heard that his Marlow pub, the Hand & Flowers, has been awarded six out of 10 in the new Good Food Guide (and named Buckinghamshire Newcomer of the Year), but, two days earlier, he cooked Sunday lunch for Heston Blumenthal.

Blumenthal, the three-Michelin-starred chef of Fat Duck fame, turned up out of the blue with friends to eat lunch at the Hand & Flowers, which Tom and wife Beth took over in March this year.

"I was terrified," admits Tom. "I would rather have cooked for AA Gill and Michael Winner together! We knew Heston lived in Marlow because he'd been spotted in Blockbuster getting DVDs, but we had no idea he would come to our pub for lunch.

It was nerve-racking but he seemed to be enjoying himself. He had potted Dorset crab, roast beef and rum baba. "It's fantastic that somebody who's reputed to be the best chef in the world wants to eat in your place. How many chefs would love to cook for Heston? I bet even (Gordon) Ramsay would!"

And there's no doubting the fact that one of the best chefs in the world choosing to eat at the Hand & Flowers will

further enhance its reputation as one of Britain's hottest new eateries. In its first eight months of business, turnover at the pub has increased substantially, to the point where it's now in the region of £10,000 to £12,000 per week. Not bad for a business that was struggling to make £600 per week before the Kerridges took over.

Tom and Beth arrived in Marlow after a two-year stint running the Michelin-starred Adlard's restaurant in Norwich. Initially, they wanted to run another restaurant, but a food-driven pub worked out as a more attractive proposition for the couple, who had a budget of £80,000 for the project.

"We were originally going to open a restaurant, but you're looking at a minimum £250,000 outlay to start with," says Tom. "That's a frightening figure before you've even opened the door of a restaurant that might not tick all the right boxes for people.

Pubs tick more boxes for a wider cross section of people."

"Marlow is a very affluent area and on Friday and Saturday nights our car park can be packed with Mercedes, Bentleys

and Ferraris.

"These are people who can afford to go to a lot of 'posh' restaurants in the area, but they come here in their jeans and have a nice time and relax.

"It's not about how much money they've got, it's about them feeling comfortable in a place and that's something that Beth and I always wanted to do. We just wanted to run the kind of place where we would want to eat on a day off."

Not that the Kerridges have much time for days off at the moment. Since opening, business has been brisk, and the high

score in the Good Food Guide could well be matched by recognition in the Michelin Guide, due out in January. "I know we've already been inspected twice by Michelin," admits Tom. "The first time was after we had only been open two weeks.

"Of course I'd love a Michelin star here, but if it comes, it comes. If we don't get it in January, I'm confident that our cooking is consistent to perhaps get one the following

year.

"Getting a Michelin star really does help turnover, and it puts you on the map, but the only problem is that it can give some people false expectations. They come expecting posh service, glass plates, predesserts, and we don't do that. We try to keep to very simple - strong cooking and

informal service.

"As long as we're full most days, that's what's important to us."

Having previously worked under big names such as Gary Rhodes and Stephen Bull, Tom brings a wealth of experience to

his small kitchen team.

With three chefs to manage, he feels it his duty to teach and inspire his staff and make sure they understand the importance of consistency.

"I try to teach my chefs the importance of trying to get it right every time. I tell them never to be scared of it being

wrong and don't put it on a plate if they think it's wrong. 'If in doubt, throw it out',is the motto.

"If you spend all afternoon on something that's wrong, it doesn't matter. We can always take that dish off the menu and print the menu again.

"I'd rather let the customers have a choice of four main courses and all four be brilliant and spot-on.

"You also need to spend time sourcing suppliers who are as enthusiastic about their food as you are about cooking it.

"Some chefs work on understanding flavours, some chefs thrive on hard graft, and you get all of that in the kitchen and that's what makes kitchen life so exciting.

"It's like a brigade of pirates in there during a service, swashbuckling our way through. The kitchen could be better equipped, the extraction fan goes off when you're plating

stuff up, it's smoky and horrible and you're sweating… but it's brilliant."

The fact that such a talented and passionate chef has chosen to move from restaurants to pubs is also further proof that there has been a sea change in dining out.

"Pubs are a massive area and the fact that Egon Ronay and Michelin now put out pub guides shows that there are a lot of things happening in the pub sector.

"Finally, the guide books are recognising pubs. I can see a lot more restaurant chefs running places like this in the future. You've just got to stick to what you believe in."

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