Tom Kerridge ahead of Pub in the Park festival in Marlow
PUBLISHED: 12:37 10 April 2019
We caught up with legendary chef Tom Kerridge in the run-up to his Pub in the Park festival, which is coming to Marlow in May 2019
When we think of stereotypically ‘British’ images, we might think of afternoon tea, the Queen, or perhaps a red bus or a black cab. However, you don’t get much more authentically British than the good old pub – they’ve been an intrinsic part of our culture and a focal point for communities for hundreds of years. Fortunately for us, Tom Kerridge is one of the many chefs who are working to ensure they don’t go anywhere anytime soon.
On the weekend of 17−19 May 2019, he is bringing his Pub in the Park festival to Higginson Park, just on the Berkshire/Buckinghamshire border in Marlow; an event that will see the best pubs, chefs, musicians and foodie retailers all come together. The festival started off here in 2017, but in 2019 it’s going to a total of eight different locations around the country, with more people taking part than ever before. “It’s the same as last year in terms of its concept and vibe though,” Tom says. “We just want to cram more in there and make it as fun and as exciting as possible.”
Marlow is particularly special for Tom as not only does he call the town his home, but it’s where three of his pubs are based too. “It’s a wonderful place. I’m lucky to live in a community that embraces everything that happens,” he says.
Despite Tom’s restaurant success in Marlow, his childhood didn’t involve much cooking: “I reheated Pot Noodles and made fish finger sandwiches,” he laughs. However, it all changed the moment he set foot in a professional kitchen at 18.
“I just fell in love with it and I’ve stayed there ever since,” he says.
“Kitchens are wonderful spaces. They’re full of such an eclectic mix of people. It’s a bit like a pirate ship.”
He worked his way up the ladder, and then in 2005, he opened his own restaurant in Marlow, The Hand and Flowers. It quickly earned a reputation as one of the best in the country, and in 2012 it became the first ever pub to be awarded two Michelin stars.
“It’s been an amazing, wonderful journey,” Tom reflects. The menu is all about using the best seasonal ingredients, cooked simply but cooked well.
His second pub, The Coach, also opened in the heart of Marlow in 2014, and more recently, he opened The Butcher’s Tap, which combines the traits of a proper pub with a butcher’s shop under the same roof.
Despite these thriving restaurants, Tom explains that it has not always been easy for the great British pub. “Pubs are going through a difficult, transitional period,” he says. “People’s habits are changing – people don’t drink at lunchtime now, and we’re being told that we’ve got to be healthier and people have embraced that, which is fantastic.” However, what this does mean is that small, local pubs are taking a hit, and they simply aren’t making enough money off pints and the odd pie or burger alone. “Pubs need to work out new ways to showcase what they do, but on a different scale,” Tom says. In other words, pubs are now under pressure to offer a food menu or atmosphere just as impressive as their drink.
That’s where the Pub in the Park festival comes in: it provides a chance to celebrate and support up-and-coming, as well as firmly established, pubs in our local area.
“The pub has changed and grown so much over the years, and their history is so diverse,” Tom says. “They’re not just like they were in the post-war period any more, where blokes would just go behind frosted glass and smoke and get drunk.” None show this better than Tom’s restaurants, or indeed the others who form the Marlow festival line-up, such as The Blackbird, The Hind’s Head or The Beehive, to name just a few. Together, they’re helping to prove that pubs can still be the heart and soul of a community.
“These changes are exciting because it’s giving young chefs a great opportunity, but on the same point, little high-street pubs are struggling to exist,” Tom reflects. That’s exactly why supporting our local pub is so important, and here in Berkshire we are certainly spoilt for choice when it comes to places for great food and drink. Long live the great British pub!
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