Tom Kerridge has just published his 11th book. That’s 11 books over ten years, but who’s counting?

Pub Kitchen is a kind of revisit of my first book, Proper Pub Food,’ he tells me as I chat to him via Zoom, with – I’m keen to point out – his beloved Gloucester Rugby Club within spitting distance of where I’m sitting (his mum is a season ticket holder).

‘We’re seeing how pub cuisine has moved forward over the last ten years. It started off as being comfort food – really homely and with familiarity being a big thing – and now it’s completely grown and adapted and become so diverse.

‘We’re such a culturally rich nation,’ he continues, ‘we’ve taken food from up and down continents that have become part of our daily eating in pubs. There are no other restaurants in the world where you could go and have spiced spareribs, a grilled Korean-style starter, followed by a Sri Lankan curry or an American-style brisket for a main course, and then back to the basics of a sticky toffee pudding for dessert… and think it’s completely normal.’

Our well-travelled palates are demanding more exotic tastes. He stresses that the important thing, though, is that among all those world flavours, most of the ingredients used are British. ‘The mackerel may be from Cornwall, but it’s been brushed with a Korean-style glaze. I love how we do that; it’s very exciting!’

I show Tom my copy of Pub Kitchen, stuffed optimistically with yellow post-it notes, and his eyebrows raise ever so slightly. ‘You’re not going to cook all those, are you?’ Ah, he’s seen right through me; I would love to be able to whip up these classics with a Kerridge twist – in fact, I have a need for one of his Chicken and Mushroom Pot Pies right now – but I’m rather hoping my husband will cook them for me. I’ve fessed up and I’m going to make sure Tony reads this.

Although all the dishes in his books are intended to be created at home, in kitchens – big or small – across the country, he’s certainly not dissuading us from eating out. Far from it. In fact, he wants us to go out as often as possible.

‘Oh my God, yeah,’ he says, ‘but not many people are able to go to the pub seven days a week to eat, are they?’

I can but dream.

Great British Life: Tom's Marlow pub, The Hand & Flowers. Photo: Nikki EnglishTom's Marlow pub, The Hand & Flowers. Photo: Nikki English

Tom has three pubs in Marlow – The Hand & Flowers, The Coach, and The Butcher’s Tap and Grill – and is just about to open another one in London. He has a restaurant in London, with a ‘fish & chips space’ in Harrods, but this will be his first pub in the capital.

So, what makes a good pub?

‘It’s energy and it’s atmosphere,’ he says with trademark enthusiasm. ‘You can’t quite put your finger on it, but that atmosphere can be sensed even when it’s empty. If it’s 12 o’clock when you walk into a pub and there’s no-one there, you still get a sense of what that place is about. That sense of hospitality will come down to the people who run it, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a Michelin-starred pub or a local boozer that’s wet-led and serves pork scratchings, pubs are all about creating an environment. That’s what’s really important.’

Tom is, famously, a Gloucester boy. Brought up on various housing estates in the city with his mum and younger brother, he has since put the suburb of Matson on the map with his curry sauce, inspired by visits to his childhood chippy. Even Oprah’s a fan.

In his recent brilliant BBC TV series The Hidden World of Hospitality, Tom reveals the hardships the industry is facing – particularly in the wake of the pandemic – with rising energy bills, food inflation, and increasing rent and mortgage repayments. Even his own two-Michelin-starred pub in Marlow, the Hand & Flowers, has seen its insurance bills rise from £26,500 to £51,500.

Great British Life: Tom Kerridge at The Hand & Flowers. Photo: Cristian BarnettTom Kerridge at The Hand & Flowers. Photo: Cristian Barnett

‘Energy bills are killing businesses,’ he says. ‘There are cases of 700% price rises, and that’s forcing closure. If a place makes eight or ten per cent profit on a yearly basis, but your energy bill goes up 700%, then you’ve just got no chance. That’s it. You’re done.

‘All of the support we were given by the government during Covid has been taken away, and loans have to be repaid. We’ve been hung out to dry while big corporation, funded oil companies are declaring obscene, ridiculous, colossal profits they’ve never seen before... whilst small, independent businesses are closing up and down the country. It’s definitely time for change.’

Ironically, as I write this Rishi Sunak is saying the same thing from the Conservative Party Conference in Manchester, promising a ‘fundamental change’… we’ll see.

‘I think the next couple of years are going to be much more about, “OK, let’s see what we can’t lose rather than what we can make.” If you get through the next couple of years and you’ve broken even – or even just kept losses to an absolute minimum – then you’re going to be in a strong position.’

Optimistically, though, he says it offers new opportunities for young entrepreneurs to dip their toes into the world of hospitality. It will also force pub companies into rethinking the way that they charge for beer, rent, etc.

Great British Life: Freshly-baked produce at Gloucester Services. Photo: percydean.comFreshly-baked produce at Gloucester Services. Photo:

‘The great thing about hospitality is that we are flexible, we are fluid, and if every pub, bar and restaurant shut down tomorrow, they would be reopening again. OK, the owners wouldn’t be the same, but there would be new owners and new jobs because human beings are social animals. We want to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries, we want to go for a drink after work or a cup of coffee on the way into work, and we want to go and have a sandwich at lunchtime. Hospitality will always exist in some form.’

As you’d expect, with its focus on high-quality local produce, Tom has high praise for the M5 Gloucester Services, set on the edge of his old stomping ground of Matson.

‘It’s great. They haven’t seen it as a place where people stop for a wee and get a really cheap cup of coffee from a vending machine. What they’ve done is to make a really good farm shop that just happens to be on a motorway. It’s nationally famous; everyone knows that if you’re heading down that way, it’s a good place to stop at.’

There are only two of its ilk across the country, sadly; the other being Tebay Services in Cumbria.

‘The reason for that, of course, is the cost implication,’ he says. ‘We all know that better produce costs more money. I get that argument all the time on social media: “Why does everything cost so much?” It costs more because it’s a better product. The question we should be asking is why is everything so cheap?’

Tom Kerridge cares deeply not just about food provenance, but also that we should all have access to good food. And so he set up the ‘Full Time’ meals campaign with Marcus Rashford to tackle food poverty and give children and families the skills and confidence to cook good, proper food in their own kitchens.

‘Food poverty is massive,’ he says, shaking his head, ‘and is something we touch on a lot with our campaign. I also push a lot for free school meals. Food inflation is the highest it’s ever been, and part of the problem is that we’re a throwaway society. Compared with most of Europe, our food is actually very cheap, but that’s because we’ve driven our pricing to be so low over a period of time. Since Brexit, it’s suddenly caught up with everyone else, and has even overtaken it. It’s very, very difficult for people without money in their pockets to buy healthy, nutritious meals. One of the big problems we’ve got is an understanding of cooking and of food wastage... So many of us are time-poor, but there are quick things you can do.’

Tom Kerridge has, perhaps unfairly, been accused of being out of touch with the nation’s cost of living crisis.

‘I realise now that I’m in a very different position,’ he says, ‘because of the world of books, and media and television, so I know I am slightly removed from it. However, I’ve been in this industry for 32 years – only ten in the public eye, and the other 22 years was all about being a chef and loving it. That’s where I’m most happy.’

It all comes back to an education system where many of the basic life skills, such as woodwork and domestic science, have been eradicated, he says. ‘Chefs, builders, plumbers – these are the people we need. We don’t want to be studying maths until we’re 18!

Great British Life: Tom's Chicken and Mushroom Pot Pies. Photo: Cristian BarnettTom's Chicken and Mushroom Pot Pies. Photo: Cristian Barnett

‘Since the ’80s it’s been slowly dismantled and taken away, and what we need to do is go back to an understanding of where produce comes from, to be connected to farmers and agriculture, and understand supply chains and seasonality.’

In Tom’s utopian – but achievable – future, every child will have access to free school meals, with farmers and producers going to the schools and educating them about where food comes from.

‘Short-term, however, we are in a space where we are in a lot of trouble,’ he says. ‘There are nearly 9,000 children whose parents qualify for Universal Credit, but they don’t qualify for free school meals. They have to be means-tested twice, which is ridiculous. We already know these kids are from the most vulnerable areas of society, we know that parents are struggling for money, we know they’re having to make serious decisions about the way they live. Surely those kids should be going to school and having access to nutritional, filling food at lunchtime.’

His frustration is palpable. Of course children should be given the basics they need in order to thrive – good food, an education, a roof over their heads, and love. Lashings of love. Surely it’s not too much to ask?

‘It all costs money,’ he says, ‘I get it – but there’s an awful lot of money that gets wasted on the wrong things. We have a crumbling health system, we have a dismantled transportation system, and we have a really poor education system... particularly when it comes to food education. These are such basic, simple things that, for a nation like ours that has money, we’re so far behind where we should be.’

Tom’s kicking off this year’s Stroud Book Festival on November 8, where he’ll be taking to the stage with Lotte and Miles of Stroud’s wonderful Prince Albert, whom he first met when filming his TV series Saving Britain’s Pubs. Also appearing is Tom Herbert of Hobbs House Bakery, who set up his social enterprise The Long Table in Brimscombe as a means of addressing food poverty – as well as that of community – asking the pertinent question, ‘What if everyone in our community had access to great food and someone to eat it with?’ Chairing the evening will be the festival’s programme director, Caroline Sanderson.

‘I’m really looking forward to the chance to catch up with Lotte and Miles,’ says Tom. ‘They are absolutely the best landlord and landlady; a little bit eccentric, a little bit mad, maybe, but they love creating an energy and atmosphere. The Prince Albert is a one-off beautiful pub that has brilliant soul and energy to it, and that can’t be replicated.’

So, the Gloucester boy is coming back to the shire – albeit briefly – and I’ve a feeling that Gloucestershire is going to throw open her arms to welcome home our Matson food hero.

‘I love coming home,’ he says with a smile, ‘it gives me a chance to pop round my Mum’s for a cup of tea.’

Pub Kitchen with Tom Kerridge and guests, Lotte Lyster, Miles Connolly and Tom Herbert, is at Stroud Subscription Rooms on Wednesday, November 8, 7-8.30pm. Tickets £12/£20. The Festival continues until November 12.

Great British Life: Pub Kitchen: The Ultimate Modern British Food Bible, by Tom Kerridge, is published by Bloomsbury Publishing. £27, hardback.Pub Kitchen: The Ultimate Modern British Food Bible, by Tom Kerridge, is published by Bloomsbury Publishing. £27, hardback.