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There's no point in being a grumpy chef

Tom Kerridge is never happier than when he's in the kitchen, he tells Keeley Bolger

From MasterChef's steely admission that 'cooking doesn't get any tougher than this', to Gordon Ramsay's foul-mouthed TV rants, it's no wonder chefs have such a fierce reputation.

Happily bucking this trend then, is Tom Kerridge.

Unfailingly jolly, his TV career has been punctuated by good-natured presenting, from the stove in Tom Kerridge's Best Ever Dishes and Tom Kerridge's Proper Pub Food, while at The Hand And Flowers, his pub in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, he often pops out to chew the fat with diners.

"I don't see any point in being miserable," reasons the 41-year-old, who is married to sculptor and The Hand And Flowers co-owner, Beth.

"I try to find a positive in everything. Even if life is a little bit rubbish, the sun will come out again. My wife is always saying I constantly look at life through rose-tinted glasses and am not a realist."

Keeping a foot in reality must be quite tricky though, when your day job sees you cooking for foodie greats like Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall, the Hairy Bikers and Raymond Blanc, as new host of BBC Two's long-running series, Food & Drink.

Not that he's complaining.

"Everybody on the show has their own huge, individual talents and brings something different to each episode," explains Kerridge, who has just opened new pub The Coach, also in Marlow. "Whether it's Monica Galetti's professionalism and quality, Raymond Blanc's family and history, or Richard Corrigan's love of great food.

"But in terms of fun, it doesn't get much better than the Hairy Bikers or Glynn Purnell."

During every episode, Kerridge shares recipe tips and puts his chef's whites on to cook for his famous guests. But even with his 20 years' experience, he was daunted by the prospect of serving these starry diners.

"I was terrified about cooking for all of them," admits the cook, laughing. "As chefs, you open your soul when you cook some food and you just want it to be loved."

And admiration from peers is a bonus, in such a tough profession.

"When I was 19, I burnt the side of my head on a solid top stove at the beginning of service," he recalls, wincing.

"I then continued to cook until the end of service, when a blister the size of a tennis ball had formed on the side of head. I had to go to hospital to get it syringed. Also, I have a scar on my right forearm. It was a huge blister that then got torn in the middle of service.

"Both of those are quite bad in terms of burns, but I think the worse injury was when I tried lifting a 100kg stock pot. I did my back in massively; I couldn't move and I was on Valium."

Nowadays, Kerridge is keener than ever to avoid injury - if only so he can manage his daily swims which, along with giving up alcohol two years ago, he credits for his 6st weight loss.

And as well as helping to shift the excess pounds, the booze-free lifestyle has given him a new focus.

"I get frustrated if I can't manage a daily swim," he explains. "My workload is much more (intense) these days. I wouldn't be able to think clearly, if I was the same person I was two years ago."

But while booze has been given the heave-ho and he's ramped up the exercise, at heart, 42-year-old Kerridge's life is the same as it ever was.

"In terms of adjustment to fame, sometimes I realise in situations that people have come to see me, and I need to give them 100% commitment - for example, at food festivals or book signings," he says.

"I don't think I've changed at all. I'm so comfortable in my skin, I pay very little attention to the fact that people know who I am, I'm just a fat, bald bloke with a farmer's accent who cooks food."

It could be easy to forget old friends and be sucked into new celebrity circles, but Kerridge keeps much of the same company as he did before he was on the telly, with his best friends being "a fireman, a gardener and a painter and decorator".

"But every now and then, I get reminded that I do have a voice that people listen to," he adds. "And that scares me a bit."

  • Food & Drink is on BBC Two, Fridays at 8.30pm

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