Healthy food rewards but takes effort
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You'd think a chef – especially one famed for his decadent, £32.50 fish and chips – would struggle to fuse the dieter in him with his professional predilection for butter and all the good (if unhealthy) things that make food delicious.
But Tom Kerridge, the man behind festival Pub In The Park and 2-Michelin Star restaurant the Hand and Flowers in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, has integrated the two, and quite spectacularly.
"It's like pushing two magnets together – two positives can push each other away, but if you turn it around, it can work really, really well," says the 46-year-old. "I have the understanding of how to cook something lower calorie using a chef skill set, which means flavour and taste-wise, it's amazing.
"When we cook at the restaurants it's all about, 'What does it need? Does it need cooking in butter? Do we make that crispy by deep frying it?' We don't compromise, we don't worry about the necessary health element, we look for flavour profile, texture, crunch, acidity," explains Kerridge, with his chef hat on.
"When it comes to eating at home, yes we have to go through those same processes: 'How do you make something taste nice?' But then there's the added thing of how we make it healthy. How do we get things crunchy without deep frying them? How do we get things to taste rich and unctuous in the mouth without there being with loads of butter?"
His latest cookbook and accompanying BBC 2 series, Lose Weight & Get Fit, sets out to answer questions like this, and also addresses the phase Kerridge is currently in with his own health, fitness and diet.
Around six years ago, the dad-of-one made the decision to revolutionise his life – he cut out carbs, quit booze, hit the pool hard, and lost a whopping 12st from his burly, 30st frame. Following that major weight-loss "journey", he took up lifting weights and bulked up, before realising more recently he'd rather "lose some timber" and maintain a lighter physique.
And so, Lose Weight & Get Fit – a follow-up to his 2017 diet book and series, Lose Weight For Good – concentrates on calorie-controlled meals that can support your training (Kerridge is something of a cardio bunny these days), as well as your day-to-day existence.
"I found myself facing the same everyday challenges that pretty much every other middle-aged bloke is," he says wryly. "You're constantly trying to fight against what you like eating, what you want to do, trying to fit in family life, work life, and everything else, but at the same point trying to make sure you try and eat well, and get to the gym and get moving."
Admittedly the words "calorie" and "controlled" don't sound all that fun, but Kerridge is adamant that getting fit is "easier to do if you're enjoying what you're eating" and this collection of 100 recipes reflects that.
Yes, there are copious salads and multiple ways with salmon, but there are also dishes you wouldn't expect to wrangle their way into the average diet book, like homemade chocolate hazelnut spread, tahini and honey pancakes, chickpea scotch eggs, peri peri chicken, steak tacos and lamb bhuna.
In Kerridge's foodscape, diet fare doesn't have to be happiness-free.
That's not to say he believes dieting is easy, or something you can just do on autopilot. "I am very conscious about what I actually put into my body. I try to make the right decisions," says the former Great British Menu winner. "Like if you're stopping at a service station on the motorway when you're on a long journey and you're trying to look for something to eat, I will try to make the right choice and not go with the obvious thing of deep fried chips and burgers."
He says it requires "conscious effort" to swerve the food you crave, especially when so often what we eat correlates with our mood, and how we feel about ourselves.
"Food is used as a support mechanism for all sorts of things that make people happy or sad," he muses. "Food is great for that; it does make people feel good."
It's all about finding a balance and being motivated – physically and mentally – by the food you're cooking and eating. "As you lose weight and get fitter, you see physical changes and you recognise and feel better when you do things," adds Kerridge. "All of those little things, they give you those boosts of energy to keep going."
Having a few kitchen skills supports that and, Kerridge says, can help combat the economic traps that understandably lead to many relying on fast and processed foods.
"Learning to cook a bit more from scratch, learning to not waste things, learning to use leftovers, to do batch cooking," he says, "that's where people can learn more from cookbooks." Take his chicken pho, chicken soup, and chicken ramen, all made from a single stock: "You learn to make one thing, but it gives you three different dishes."
While being fully understanding of economic limitations, Kerridge is also very clear: "We all know that if you're going to buy carrots, broccoli, new potatoes, cabbages – that is way better than going to the frozen pizza aisle and buying oven chips; if you think that is the healthy option, you are lying to yourself.
"We all know what is right and wrong when it comes to that, and I'm not saying that sort of food is never OK, because we all do it and we all have it – there's a time and a place for it. However, it needs to not be the norm."
"There's plenty of information out there, and it's getting accustomed to it, and it's making an effort, and it's taking responsibility," he continues firmly. "Taking responsibility is the biggest thing, and it's no one's responsibility except your own."
Lose Weight & Get Fit by Tom Kerridge is published by Bloomsbury Absolute, priced £22. Photography Cristian Barnett. Available now.