As Tom Kerridge’s latest cookbook spills the beans, Sandra Carter is inspired to try harder...

This crazy year for pubs and restaurants hasn’t stopped Tom Kerridge in his tracks.

As well as steering his mini-empire of eateries in Marlow, London and Manchester and local guest rooms through lockdowns one and two, the Marlow-based chef has rallied the community to fund meals for vulnerable people.

And he still finds time to carry on filming and writing.

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His latest cookbook was published this month and a BBC2 series, Saving Britain’s Pubs, was due to begin.

The two events reveal two sides of the celebrity chef.

The TV show features Tom the friendly guy with the common touch, who has long won fans with his common sense advice on family eating.

But there’s another side to the chef who turned a struggling Marlow local into the most acclaimed pub in the world, the only one with two Michelin stars.

While Tom’s other cookbooks offer healthy, simple supper dishes, in The Hand & Flowers Cookbook, a large and lavishly illustrated volume, Tom pours out his passion for cuisine that is ‘robust in soul, yet refined in manner’.

Bucks Free Press:

Tom Kerridge outside the Hand & Flowers

He recounts the fascinating journey from the pub restaurant’s opening day 15 years ago, when he aimed to fuse his experience as a fine dining chef with what he loves most about pubs.

The book then gives detailed recipes for 70 dishes.

Each one can be pages long as he explains the rationale and complexity behind its development.

You begin to understand what it takes to win those stars.

A couple of days before lockdown 2.0, a friend and I enjoyed a rare treat by taking lunch at The Hand & Flowers in Marlow. Tom still calls it a pub.

He’ll offer you pie, or fish and chips, or cheese and onion scraps, but when they arrive they are such clever-clogs reinventions that the tastebuds fair freak out.

I choose two dishes that feature in the cookbook.

Bucks Free Press:

Duck for a banquet

Smoked haddock omelette has been a popular starter since opening and is still.

Tom said: “Probably my favourite dish on the menu”.

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What can possibly turn the humble omelette into a star-studded success?

I take a mouthful and this is so, so different from any other I’ve tasted: rich yet moist, the smokiness perfectly poised, the glaze adding a bitter edge to counter the richness.

What’s the secret?

It takes two pages in the book to explain. First poach the haddock lightly.

Use the liquor to make a béchamel. Cook omelette in a dainty little pan, add parmesan and flaked fish, top with béchamel and hollandaise sauces combined with yolks then blowtorch to a deeply caramelised glaze. Serve and savour.

My main is slow-cooked duck breast.

Tom said: “Some dishes end up defining you, chef and restaurant - This is one of them.”

He cooked it for Prince Charles and the Duchess of Cornwall in TV’s Great British Menu in 2010, and diners have travelled from afar to sample it ever since.

So how can duck that has been cooked for an hour or two still be so tender and almost pink inside?

The answer involves vacuum pack, water bath and thermometer and the cookbook reveals every complex detail.

The original recipe had side dishes of duck faggots and peas with crispy confit duck leg, but on our visit, the duck comes with a juicy chunk of plum, plum puree, and the most amazing sweet and sour onion tart topped with a swirl of mousse and crunchy almond crumbs.

Bucks Free Press:

Fish & Chips

The tart is truly extraordinary and the whole dish a delight.

As for the gravy, I had to go back to the book to find out how it could taste so good.

It takes half a page to explain.

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We asked for an extra side of maple-glazed pumpkin with Gorgonzola, coffee and Amaretti crumb simply because it sounded intriguing, and it proved to be delicious.

There is no end to the inventiveness that can be applied to a humble veg.

If you aspire to be a chef, want to raise your home cooking to celebrity heights or simply need a project to inspire you through lockdown 2.0, this book provides a complete masterclass.

Where’s my apron…

The Hand & Flowers Cookbook, by Tom Kerridge (rrp £40, Bloomsbury)