Michelin star food for just a tennerBy Tom Fahey
May 15, 2009
Marlow is apparently undergoing a food revolution that has seen it dubbed “the new Ludlow”.
As proprietor of The Hand & Flowers, holder of Marlow’s first and only Michelin star, Tom Kerridge is arguably the key figure in the town’s new-found foodie destination status.
Instigating a food revolution probably sounds like a rather Machiavellian activity but from spending time with Tom, you don’t get the impression he’s ever had the intention of doing anything more than being his own boss and cooking the food he wants to cook.
Things just seem to have happened around him as a result of this.
The Hand and Flowers is a pub, Tom is a chef. Decisions about anything else he is involved in revolve around this – everything must ultimately enhance the reputation of the pub, or his reputation as a chef.
“I’m not interested in who can make the biggest Yorkshire pudding – if I wouldn’t cook it in the restaurant, I won’t cook it anywhere else,” Tom says.
When you win a star, though, the phone tends to keep ringing.
”We were invited to do Great British Menu two years ago but with the kitchen like it was then we didn’t think it was a great idea.”
Tom actually won his Michelin star cooking from the pub’s old, L-shaped kitchen, which is somewhere between four and five square metres.
Considering his brigade is now between four and five, that’s something of an achievement.
Since then, Tom has made two appearances on Market Kitchen (“they just rang up and asked me”) and at a number of live cooking events – he has Grand Designs Live and The Restaurant Show coming up this year.
He will be demonstrating at The Henley Food Festival, the second time he has been at the event.
He says: “Henley is close by, it’s a good event and they’re all about the food, so why not do it? It’s good for people to know what we do and who we are.”
So what will he be demonstrating? “The mussel dish on our à la carte menu.
“When I was 19 I worked in a hotel where they had a different mussel dish every night – I’ve always remembered the one they did with Guinness.”
The dish is a twist on moules mariniere, with the mussels cooked separately and topped with a creamy sauce-flavoured with Guinness.
For someone who hasn’t gone out of their way to develop a media profile Tom is very at ease with the idea of cooking in front of lots of people.
“After doing the Norfolk show five or six years ago] I learnt not to do too much – keep it simple. Some people like to hear about the food, other people want to hear about you – I try to get both in and not take it too seriously. It’s just about people enjoying themselves and seeing what we cook in the pub.”
Ultimately, in these tough times, pubs have to keep people coming through the door, and I don’t think there can be many better incentives than Michelin star food for £10.
I’ve had three business lunches here since Tom started his lunch menu but for him there are more benefits giving customers a bargain.
“The menu changes a lot so it keeps the guys [in the kitchen] interested....and we can use produce across the menus.
“We buy whole chickens, do stock from the bones, breasts on the à la carte and legs on the lunch menu....we can be more flexible about what we use – more responsive to produce.”
The day I was in, a green-fingered customer donated a sack of rhubarb which immediately becomes crumbles for tomorrow’s lunch.
The food on the lunch menu changes almost daily but some of the highlights for me were an intricate little salad of smoked duck, beetroot royale (calling it a beetroot custard does not do it justice) and a poached quail’s egg; a light Scotch broth with generous chunks of lamb which had a real spring feel; and the best rum baba I’ve ever eaten, topped with the smoothest pineapple sorbet.
Even after being in the kitchen for a day I was still no closer to understanding how Tom can sell this food for £10 – it is an unbelievable bargain.
Tom will be cooking at 4.15 on Sunday, May 17. If you’re intrigued by the mussels and Guinness combination – or just want to see a food revolutionary in action – be sure not to miss him. Below are recipes for two dishes featured on the Hand and Flowers lunch menu.