Chef Profile: Phil Vickery
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Ahead of his appearance at Clumber Park’s Festival of Food and Drink, celebrity chef Phil Vickery speaks out about discovering his passion, going gluten free, reality TV, and, er, fondant icing.
There’s a reason Phil is still on our screens. He’s one of the original TV chefs, held dear to the hearts of the British public for his passion for and knowledge of food.
What inspired you to become a chef?
PV: My father was a caretaker of a village hall and when they had any jumble sales or the like, I’d go and help him out. I remember I found a book called Walls Everyday Cookery filled with all these black and white images of chefs in white overalls and tall hats. I showed it to my dad and said ‘That’s what I want to do, I want to be a chef.’ That was 1967 and I still have that book now, with my family bread pudding recipe added to the inside cover.
When you started out, what sort of things did you like to cook?
PV: After two years in college, I went to work in a seaside hotel cooking what was essentially everyday hotel grub with everyday ingredients. When I moved to a hotel in the Lake District, it was there I discovered what good food was as the standard of our ingredients was like nothing I’d seen before. It was then I started to make more desserts as chefs mostly hate doing them. That was all I did for about 10-12 years. I even used to make fondant icing from scratch. They have it easy nowadays!
Are there too many shortcuts now that result in chefs not learning their craft properly? Especially for those who rise quickly in the ranks through reality TV?
PV: Definitely! So many short cuts now, especially that rely on technology such as water baths and pressure cookers. But what happens when that technology lets you down? So many chefs are trained now without using traditional methods.
PV: With chefs and bakers coming from reality TV, it’s much more commercial, so they don’t have to earn their stripes when it comes to being educated about food because it’s more about the personality rather than the talent. I’ve been on TV for 19 years but people forget I was a chef long before that with a cabinet full of awards to my name. I’ve always been passionate about food and firmly believe to be a good cook you have to understand the food you are cooking with.
New cooking shows seem to be popping up on TV all the time these days. What makes these shows such a tasty offering?
PV: The personalities involved are a much bigger part of these shows than the food is which makes them much more accessible to amateurs, more than they probably should be to be honest. I still make sure the food is the star of any of my demonstrations, on screen or off.
You've championed Gluten Free cooking for many years and helped raise so much awareness. Is there more still to do? And what’s next?
PV: I started talking about Gluten free 18 years ago and still talk about it all the time now. I started working with Coeliac UK, which I am still the National Food Ambassador for. I remember going to my publisher in 2008 about an idea for a Coeliac themed recipe book. They thought I was mad but decided after some persuasion to take a chance on me and the book. It’s now sold 300,000 copies and is available in 16 countries and 14 languages. I’m planning on another Gluten Free book in two years’ time.
Next is a book that is out in November that I’ve been working with Diabetes UK on which is a recipe book for Diabetics that shows them how to reduce sugar in cooking and use sugar substitutes to help maintain a simple healthy diet. Again this stems from my passion for food and I’ve worked with scientists to research how we work with ingredients. The results are incredible.
About Phil Vickery
Phil is the leading authority on Gluten-Free products and recipes, with his books selling worldwide and winning many awards. He is the National Food Ambassador for Coeliac UK.
He is a chef trained to the highest standards. He began his career as a Commis Chef at The Burlington Hotel on Folkestone seafront. He worked his way up the kitchen ranks and has worked in Michael’s Nook hotel in Grasmere, Cumbria, the Michelin starred Gravetye Manor in East Grinstead and Ian McAndrew’s Michelin starred restaurant 74.
Phil went to the West Country and to The Castle hotel in Taunton as Head Chef where he won a Michelin star, 4 Rosettes in the AA guide, the Good Food Guide’s Restaurant of the Year, The Times Restaurant of the Year, Egon Ronay’s Guide Dessert Chef of the Year and British Meat Chef of the Year, among many other accolades.
His first TV appearance came after he was invited to fill in for Keith Floyd on the Breakfast Programme, and over the past 18 years he has appeared on the BBC Holiday Programme, Ready Steady Cook, Proof of the Pudding, his own series Phil Vickery’s Pudding Club and of course This Morning, presenting live and pre-recorded cookery items.
Phil appears at the Festival of Food and Drink, Clumber Park, on Saturday 16th September. Festival of Food and Drink is the biggest event of its kind in the region, bringing together delicious food and drink producers, artisan specialists and food experts, with over 150 exhibitors all under one roof in the Food and Drink Marquee. For more info, visit www.festivaloffoodanddrink.co.uk