James Martin to spice up NHS hospital food

“I said: don’t even think about getting the politicians involved. I’ll probably end up eating one of them because I get so frustrated”

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James Martin to spice up NHS hospital food
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James Martin is to do for hospital food what Jamie Oliver did for school meals – or so he hopes. "It's turned into a monster," the Saturday Kitchen chef told RadioTimes.com, “The latest count was 132 hospitals.”

It's a follow-up to his 2011 series Operation Hospital Food in which he overhauled the menu in just one hospital in Yorkshire. “They’d been nominated the worst food group in Britain and now they’re in the top 15 best hospitals for food in the UK. It’s saved them half a million quid a year.”

After it aired, Martin received a phone call from an eminent viewer. “Prince Charles rang me up and asked if I could come in for a meeting and we discussed what we could do to make things better. He’s a big foodie and has been working with a hospital in Westminster for the last 15 years to help make them better at it, which is why I'm a big fan of his.”

Soon there came another knock at the door: “The BBC found out about it and asked whether they could join me on my mission. I said ‘fine, but don’t even think about getting the politicians involved. I’ll probably end up eating one of them because I get so frustrated.’”

“Over the last 15 years, the government has spent 60 million of taxpayer’s money on trying to make food better and none of it has worked," the Saturday Kitchen chef continued, uncharacteristically tart. "Well, it’s not going to work unless you actually get off your arse and go into a hospital because each one is different. You’ve got to change each one individually and make them feel proud about what they’re doing and not just keep throwing tomatoes in their face.”

“Don’t just write a piece of paper in Westminster saying ‘we’re going to put deep-fried bloody brie on the menu’ when three-quarters of the hospitals haven’t got a bloody fryer. Don’t be so stupid. Change each one individually and that’s what we’ve done. It’s been making them sustainable so it doesn’t cost the tax-payer any more money.”

In the end, having the BBC on board was critical. “Trying to get into a hospital has been hard work because they don’t want you there. They don’t want you to uncover the secrets and that’s why the politicians don’t want to talk about it.”

Did he ever wonder whether he’d bitten off more than he could chew? “Yes! It’s been ridiculous as you’ll see – even after this monster we’re not five percent of the way there.”

James Martin presents Saturday Kitchen Live (Saturdays, BBC1, 10am) and has a new series out in February – James Martin’s United Cakes of America (Good Food, Sky 247, Virgin 260)