With each small step – and a personal battle with a potato – Tom Kerridge made his way to two Michelin stars and his fourth book, The Dopamine Diet.
Tom speaks with ease about how he grew up in a single-parent home on a Gloucester council estate, making sandwiches out of frozen fish fingers and cooking beans on toast for his younger brother and himself. It would be the classics that eventually taught him the process of cooking. The simple home life lessons of making bolognese with his mother.
Fresh faced and eighteen, he worked as an actor straight out of school, but it was the feeling that it was time to get a “proper job” that landed him in a busy restaurant, washing dishes.
“You get sucked into the life and the enjoyment of the life,” Tom says of working in the restaurant business. “It wasn’t the love of food that drove me there, it wasn’t that I enjoyed making apple pie with my nan when I was young, it wasn’t that I wanted to be a chef one day – it was actually the environment, the people, the industry…I like the work ethic, I like the drive, you can’t be lazy in the catering industry because you won’t get very far. I fully enjoy the camaraderie and the work space.”
When asked about his journey from washing dishes to being a celebrity chef Tom says, “That work ethic, that I so thoroughly enjoyed, was where I found that the harder the work in the kitchen, the better the food, the more I enjoyed it, and the bigger reward I got.” Once Tom had found his feet in the kitchen, a healthy addiction to hard work and achievement soon kicked in. Wanting to take his and his wife’s, Beth – a sculptor, careers to the next level, the couple made the move to London where they opened the now two Michelin Star pub, The Hand and Flowers. “We grew from a team of five to over one hundred, which is a big growth but it was over twelve years. A lot of talk goes on about the Olympians. For example, the British cyclists – which has become one of the most dominant forces in the world and they talk about growing small percentages across the board. Tiny bits of effort from everybody, everywhere make that big difference. That’s exactly the ethos we’ve put into our restaurants and that drove us forward to winning two Michelin stars in 2012.”
As Tom moved into the next part of his journey namely, losing over eleven stone, his work ethic in cooking naturally spilled over. “From running a business to being comfortable in my own skin, I had to make the decision for myself. I wasn’t intimidated so much by what I needed to do, I was intimidated by how much I needed to do. And I had to make that conscious decision of stepping off and going, ‘Right, I need to do this and to do this it needs to be 100% full on,” says Tom.
Even when it came to exercising as part of a new, healthier, lifestyle, Tom’s ability to see change as a gradual process helped his push. “I massively enjoyed swimming when I was younger, so I got back into the pool to see what I could do. Every day I found myself pushing harder and harder. First, I’d do ten lengths, then fifteen lengths, and I just pushed and pushed until I found myself swimming a mile a day. It was very hard work, but I enjoyed it because that was the one point when there was no mobile phone, there was nobody talking to you and it gave me loads of mind space,” he explains.
Kerridge’s fourth cookbook, The Dopamine Diet, offers his experience of changing his lifestyle by giving recipes for low-carb meals that are proven to release dopamine, one of the chemicals released by the brain to make you feel good. He says, “There’s two advantages of me making the book: One, it’s a chef’s technique and understanding that helps you make dishes that don’t feel like diet dishes when you’re eating them. I use those techniques with the understanding that there are foods that are high in dopamine releases, so you focus on enjoying food rather than worrying that you’re missing out; And two, I was a 40-year-old overweight person. When your diet and exercises are taken from a 20-year-old fitness instructor with a six pack, there’s no belief that you can do it because you just can’t see yourself being that person.”
The Dopamine Diet veers from traditional cookbooks in that you’ll scarcely find a salad-based dish. “I had an understanding of the things you’d miss. There’s nothing worse than feeling like you’re missing out or not being able to go for a meal because you’re on a diet. I wasn’t interested in calorific content, I focused solely on carbohydrate content. I’ve gone for low-carb, high-protein dishes. Then it becomes a very social diet. You can still make all these dishes for everybody at home. You can still have family-style Sunday lunches, just skip the potatoes or rice. When you have the choice between rice or extra lamb curry, you’re going to choose extra curry every time, aren’t you? It’s a simple choice,” he explains.
When asked what advice he’d give to someone who’s looking to make a change, Tom offers, “Focus on the good things and the things you can eat and not the things you can’t.” It’s clear that Tom is still embracing his journey to a healthier lifestyle and still mentally battling against potatoes, “I think of it like a personal battle, like you’re going to war – go to war with the potato! The reality is that you’re not going to get beaten by a potato are you?! The moment you start to rationalise it and begin to think about it slightly differently; Rather than thinking of it as a craving or a need, think of it as a potato standing there smiling at you. You can walk away from it can’t you?!” But it’s the small steps that get us there. Each day, the battle gets easier. Tom says he wrote this book because people were interested and, “If it makes a difference to one person, then it has been worth writing the book and telling the story and showing my way of doing it.”
He shows no signs of slowing down with a new restaurant opening this year, and new ideas coming to him constantly during his laps at the pool. But, wherever he goes, Tom is sure to enjoy the ride getting there. EJ
Spicy chilli with green beans
This is a real favourite in our house. It’s simple to make and layered with so many deliciously spicy flavours. Green beans with cooling yoghurt and mint provide the perfect foil to the heat of the chilli. You won’t even miss the rice, I promise.
Carb count: 30g per person
800g best-quality minced beef
8 plum tomatoes, halved
Vegetable oil, for cooking
2 onions, diced
4 garlic cloves, grated
250g chorizo sausage (for cooking), diced
2 tbsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp chilli powder
3 tsp cracked black pepper
2 tsp ground coriander
4 celery sticks, tough strings removed, diced
400ml tin beef consommé, such as Campbell’s
2–4 green chillies (depending how hot you like it), sliced, seeds and all
Juice of 1 lime
75g dark chocolate (70 per cent cocoa solids)
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
For the green beans:
600g fine green beans, finely chopped
2 tbsp thick yoghurt
A handful of mint leaves (about 10g), roughly chopped
1. Preheat the oven to 190°C/Fan 170°C/Gas 5. Put the mince in a roasting tin and roast for about 40 minutes, turning every 10 minutes or so, to get a very dark, even colour all over the meat. It should be crispy and resemble instant coffee granules. You can colour the meat in a large frying pan on the hob if you prefer; just keep stirring until it is dark brown. Drain in a colander and set aside.
2. Preheat the grill to high. Place the tomatoes, cut side up, on an oven tray and grill until caramelised, about 6–8 minutes. Set aside.
3. Place a large heavy-based pan over a medium-low heat and add a good splash of oil. Add the onions and garlic and sauté, stirring from time to time, until softened, about 10–15 minutes.
4. Add the chorizo and cook until some of its fat renders and colours the onions. Stir in the cumin seeds, chilli powder, cracked black pepper and ground coriander. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 5–6 minutes.
5. Stir in the celery, browned mince and grilled tomatoes. Pour on the beef consommé and bring to the boil. Lower the heat to a simmer and cook gently, uncovered, for 1–1½ hours, until thickened to a rich chilli. Stir in the green chillies and lime juice, season with salt and remove from the heat.
6. To cook the beans, melt the butter in a pan over a medium-high heat. Add a good splash of water and some salt and pepper. Tip in the green beans and cook for 3–4 minutes until they are just tender. Remove from the heat and stir in the yoghurt and chopped mint.
7. Divide the green beans between warmed bowls, spoon on the chilli and grate some chocolate over the top to serve.