Philippa James meets James Martin for the Wine Series at Manchester235
PUBLISHED: 09:26 27 May 2014
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Saturday Kitchen chef on the Manchester food scene and serving Yorkshire Puddings in Lancashire
Some ladies feel that I have the perfect job… especially when this involves dining as a guest at James Martin – Manchester, in The Great Northern’s Manchester 235, ‘a premier entertainment and gaming destination’, as he launched his ‘The Wine Series’.
I felt honoured that, with a packed room and a special menu pending, James was gracious enough to leave the kitchen, where he admitted that he’d spent most of the afternoon making Yorkshire puddings, which he said he found amusing to serve in Lancashire, to afford me time for a chat.
I have to say, girls, James does have the most mesmerising eyes!
I asked where the idea for ‘The Series’ had sprung from? He replied, “It was a New Year, so new ideas.” The Wine, then The Meat Series, the next of these being on May the 28th, which is sold out, will be followed by another of his passions, on Sunday, the 8th of June, from 11a.m., to 4p.m., on The Great Northern Square, an opportunity for James, and fellow ‘petrol heads’ to showcase their vehicles in ‘Super Car Sunday’, more details on the website.
He continued, “I’ve got to keep a finger on the pulse of the business, it’s a restaurant that people want to come to and it has surpassed all my expectations, we are very busy and often booked to capacity. Things are changing in the food world in Manchester, it was difficult to know which way to jump, I knew I was taking a risk, we have amazing chefs moving into the area, you only have to look at Simon Rogan, down at The Midland… eventually I decided to go down the steak route, with a smattering of traditional UK dishes across the whole menu, but with a few ‘specials’ thrown in, to keep it fresh.”
Fresh doesn’t even start to describe the Jerusalem Artichoke and Brown Butter Veloute (Which James joked with the audience by saying, “That’s a posh word for soup, but I’m a Yorkshire man, so we can get away with charging more for it!”) accompanied, delicately, by the arrival ‘bubbly’, and one of the most sublime dishes I’ve eaten of late, which is on the standard menu as a starter, or main, Thai Crab Risotto with Kaffir Lime Leaves and Lemon Grass; as well as the perfectly cooked and textured rice, the flavours were an utter sensation, bouncing across my tongue.
On this course, and the main, there was a tasting experience, skillfully tutored by hilarious sommelier, Mike Gibson, (Who described himself, placed against James’s rather impressive stature, as, ‘a Tolkien troll’) of old world, versus new world wines. For me the crisp Esk Valley Sauvignon Blanc was much more able to withstand the dominance of Thai spices than the French choice of Picpoul de Pinet.
The Slow Cooked Cumbrian Fillet of Beef yielded to the lightest touch of my fork, and was served with a superb Truffled Creamed Potato, one of the best I’ve had. The Californian Cycles Gladiator Zinfandel, unusually a red, packed the perfect punch against the might of the accompanying Braised Cheek and Red Wine Tartare Dressing; exquisite! The classic Glazed Lemon Tart was the light, citrus finale to a stunning evening of food and wine.
James enjoys passing on culinary skills to a new generation, he commented about ‘Dougie’ Crampton, the talented, twenty-something head chef at the restaurant.
James was brought up on a farm, his family were pig farmers by trade so he was always interested, firstly in meat, then, as he put it, ‘I just fell in love with food’! His first foray into the kitchen was to cook Sunday roasts with his mum, Susan.
James leaned forward and tapped his mobile ‘phone, “You know what? I don’t hold with this idea of everything being local, I source what I consider to be the best quality I can get from great producers across the whole of the British Isles, and further afield if needs be. Part of the success of the steaks is that they celebrate all that is best in Highland cattle, many of my suppliers are now friends and their numbers are in here.” He gave me an authoritative nod.
James said that whilst life is always hectic, splitting his home life between Yorkshire and Hampshire, where he described the garden as, “Too bloody big to enjoy.” he loves the variety in his days.
James hosts the highly successful ‘Saturday Kitchen’, I asked if there had been many disasters, he grinned, “The biggest problem is the swearing, I should know, I’ve slipped up before now! But it’s a live show; you take 3 star Michelin chefs and put them in a high pressure, live television environment, it’s a recipe for disaster! But the programme strips away the mystique behind the doors of these top class establishments; it’s very truthful.”
On personal dislikes James shuddered, “Ugh, horseradish, I can’t stand the stuff, and shoddy room service.”
I asked if he’d been upset by any chefs as he’s travelled through life, “I don’t get upset by what people think. And as for all this social media stuff, they can say anything they want to about me, and what can I do? I just say, ‘whatever’!” However he does have huge respect for many chefs, particularly any who cook on live television, and he quoted, in particular, Pierre Koffmann, Brian Turner, and Michel Roux Snr., whom he described as ‘genius’
James paused, “You know what? I’ve realised in life, I’ve made it, and lost it, failure happened once before, now I’ve got to keep my head down, and work hard, often 18 hour days, to hang onto it the second time… I want to fly with the eagles, not with the crows! And, anyway, if I spent my afternoons on the golf course I’d be twice the size I am!”
Talking of recent food poverty reports he mused, “We’re an island, so food prices will always be an issue, that and the lost knowledge, with aunties and grannies not passing on the basic skills, and a lack of butchers on the high street to explain what to do with the cheaper cuts of meat, many people have never been taught to cook, there’s no real answer.”
With this his ‘phone rang, “Sorry, I’ll have to take this, it’s my girlfriend, Louise.” When he returned from the call he was chuckling, “Louise only wanted to know how long to cook the chicken pie I’ve left for her dinner.” With his last comment about cookery skills still ringing in my ears, we both broke into unified laughter, and, he excused himself back to the action.