May is now motoring in the kitchen
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He’s no celebrity chef – but he sure is beginning to sympathise, as James May tells Ella Walker on the release of his debut cookbook.
James May is not on a mission to become a celebrity chef, regardless of the fact he has – against type, and against the odds – written a cookbook, and nabbed an Amazon Prime cookery show to go with it.
He has however, “become very sympathetic to them” as a telly species. “I used to occasionally watch a cooking programme and think, ‘Oh Gordon, stop being such a big diva, standing around swearing’. But now I’ve had a go at doing it, I realised what the problem is,” says Bristol-born May, 57.
That problem, he continues, is everyone on set sticking their oar in. “Everybody has a view on cooking because most people do it,” he says. “This is not true if you’re making a programme about science or engineering or car history, where you have some authority, but I’m working on a cooking show, where I avowedly can’t cook anyway, so everybody is part of the advisory committee and it does get bloody annoying, quite quickly.
“Every time we do something, somebody in the eight or 10 assembled people in the room pipes up with, ‘Have you thought about doing it like that? Well why don’t you do it like this?’ I just think, ‘Well, why don’t you just shut the f*** up?’”
Admittedly, watching the series back, he says he comes across “quite bad tempered, which I never am normally. I’m slightly ashamed of it,” he adds, “but that’s what happens when you try and cook on TV.”
The book itself – Oh Cook! – is less fraught (although May does share his ire for chefs who go on about using ‘freshly ground pepper’ – “You don’t need to say it EVERY time,” he says with a sigh). In essence, Oh Cook! is “not about learning recipes. It’s about learning the basics,” which you can then apply to everything else. After all, “once you can roast a chicken, you can roast anything.”
He says it’s “not for accomplished chefs, or celebrity chefs or people who collect recipe books. This is a book designed to be propped up on the worktop and used like a Haynes Manual for beginners, and once you’ve made the stuff in this book, you should give it to Oxfam and move on.”
Had there not been a lockdown though, the book probably wouldn’t exist at all. “I’m very good at putting off writing, because I find it quite painful,” says May ruefully.
“I couldn’t go anywhere or do any of the things I normally do to distract myself, like riding motorcycles and playing around and so on, so I sat at home and did this book.”
And like the rest of us, he also ended up doing far too much home cooking. “To the point that I was told by Sarah, my other half, to stop cooking because she was getting annoyed with me.”
Oh Cook! 60 Easy Recipes That Any Idiot Can Make by James May is published by Pavilion, priced £14.99. Photography by Martin Poole. Available from October 29.