Not only is James Martin a brilliant restaurateur and TV presenter but, it turns out, he’s also refreshingly honest.
So much so that when RadioTimes.com got James on the phone to chat about his brand new ITV show, he didn’t hold back on… well… anything. TV chefs, food bloggers, The Great British Bake Off – even himself…
Looking back on leaving Saturday Kitchen in April 2016 after ten years hosting the live BBC cooking show, he reveals that he knew it was time to hang up his apron on the series when he was told he looked “like shit” by Michel Roux.
Thankfully, James is making a welcome return to Saturday mornings with his new cunningly titled show Saturday Morning with James Martin. And although he’s a stalwart of the scene, he’s aware that in recent years the number of TV chefs has risen like an over-proved loaf.
“There’s too many of us now,” James tells RadioTimes.com. “When I first started there were about eight of us doing it, now there’s bloody 108. There’s loads of them – winner of this, second of this, third of this and seventh in this competition– they’re all doing it now.”
The worst culprits for him, though, are YouTubers and bloggers who purport to be chefs. “All of a sudden they’re preaching about health food and telling people what to eat. I don’t agree with that. You’re not a doctor so keep your mouth shut. You’re not even a cook. I don’t know what you are!
“I always equate it to teaching,” he adds. “If you want to be taught by somebody you expect that person to know what they’re talking about and that will benefit the person you’re teaching. I’m passionate about people who know their stuff.”
With that in mind, he does believe there will forever be a place on TV for proper food programmes?
“There always has been since the days of Fanny Craddock. But they’ve moved and they’ve evolved,” he says. “Cookery shows have morphed into different things now. You’ve got Bake Off, you’ve got that Family thing that Nadiya’s doing. But they’re entertainment shows. They’re not cookery shows.”
James says that so far he has only caught five minutes of The Great British Bake Off on Channel 4, but from what he saw he was impressed with new judge Prue Leith.
“Prue did an amazing job,” he says. “A good format will stand the test of time. It’s a TV show, it can move from channel to channel. People will find it. If they don’t like it, they’ll find something else.”
He also implores people to “stop moaning” about the furore surrounding GBBO switching channels, and says the “frenzy” generated by Bake Off’s very high profile transfer from the BBC to C4 should be put into context.
“Do you know what I mean? There’s more to life in the world that’s going on,” stresses James. “There’s a lot going on in the world – look at what’s happening with Japan and North Korea, and what’s happening in America and everything else. I mean, put it in perspective for God’s sake!”
Reflecting on the immediate aftermath of leaving Saturday Kitchen, he says he had “quite a few” broadcasters getting on the phone asking him to move to their channels to present something very similar.
“I certainly didn’t want to do a live thing straight on another channel,” James explains. “I didn’t want to do that. I have huge respect for Saturday Kitchen, respect for the show, respect for the people who make it and the BBC. But I’ve worked with lots of people for 20-odd years – not just the Beeb.
“When I left, I wanted to redress the balance in terms of my work, and the balance was becoming too much television and not enough time being a chef, which I’d trained to be,” he says. “Michel Roux and Pierre Koffmann said ‘You look like shit – you need to get back in the kitchen and concentrate on food’, which I did and I’m very pleased I did. The balance is correct now.”
But with a legion of fans, it’s no surprise that people were “constantly telling me that they want me back on a Saturday” so, he says, “this is for them really.”
This is Saturday Morning with James Martin. A new weekly magazine programme on ITV, it has more than a flavour of Saturday Kitchen about it. Filmed in James’s own kitchen and garden, it features the usual mix of celebrities and guest chefs who join James as he rustles up dishes both inside and al fresco.
“People are going to compare it, I’m sure they are,” he says. “And if I’d have done a studio-based programme live with stuff like the omelette challenge I would have been criticised – and rightly so. But it is very different to Saturday Kitchen.”
One of the key differences between Saturday Morning and Saturday Kitchen is that this one is pre-recorded. Less demanding, you would think – especially given James’s craving for a better work-life balance…
“It would be a lot easier if it was live, trust me!” he laughs. “I’d be finished by 12 o’clock, but this takes three and a half days of my time!”
He says filming the show at his house gives a more “relaxed” feel, and that certainly shines through on screen. “I had one eye on my food with what I was cooking and one eye in the garden making sure the dog hasn’t left a surprise for Belinda Carlisle,” he laughs.
There’s certainly a more cheeky streak to Saturday Morning with James Martin. The first episode sees a daft game show where guest Linda Robson has to play ‘Birds of a Feather’ – that is naming which feathers belong to a table full of roast poultry.
Even more silly (and scary) is a challenge at the climax of the show which sees James having to make a fish pie… whilst being driven around a track at top speed by professional racing driver Jason Plato.
Rather unsurprisingly, that idea came about “over a beer and a bag of pork scratchings” at the pub.
“It was quite dangerous,” explains James. “We had four fire engines, two ambulances there and he was getting quicker and quicker as we were going round. I have huge faith in Jason – he’s a great driver and a mate.
“But I think TV’s changed over the years,” he continues. “You need a hook and I think that will be the hook that people will pick up on. But we’ll see.”
Then, honest as ever, he concludes: “All I can do is make a great, fun show and if people watch it, they watch it. If they don’t, they don’t.”
Saturday Morning with James Martin starts on Saturday 2nd September at 9:30am on ITV