Great British Menu’s Tom Kerridge on how he shed 12st – and almost lost his beloved
Chef Tom Kerridge has come full circle. Thirteen years ago he was an anxious competitor on the BBC‘s Great British Menu; now he’s an established judge on the show, which returns this week.
Back in 2010, he’d just set up his first restaurant, working 90-hour weeks and living above it in one room with his wife Beth, never imagining he’d one day become a judge on Britain’s leading cookery show.
Nor did Beth, a sculptor who’d put her work on hold to be Tom’s handyman, electrician, front-of-house, bartender and accountant. She may have ended up leaving him three times in the first year of them working together, but their marriage – and the business – have more than stood the test of time.
They now have a seven-year-old son and a booming Michelin-starred restaurant empire. And what’s more, Beth has become a global celebrity artist in her own right.
Thirteen years Tom Kerridge (pictured) was an anxious competitor on the BBC’s Great British Menu; now he’s an established judge on the show, which returns this week
‘It was a husband-and-wife business when I started and I had to basically beg, steal and borrow to make things work,’ recalls Tom, 49. ‘I was 31 and it put huge pressure on us as husband and wife, but it also made our bond really strong because we knew we could do anything.
‘Now it’s come full circle, not just for me as a judge on Great British Menu but also for Beth. Her career has taken off in a colossal way and she’s now recognised as Beth Cullen Kerridge the artist, not Tom Kerridge’s wife. I very much like being in her world because no one knows nor cares who I am.’
Tom joined the Great British Menu judging panel last year alongside TV chef Nisha Katona and comedian Ed Gamble, having won in 2010 with a main course of slow-cooked Aylesbury duck, duck fat chips and gravy. A year later he won again, this time with a hog roast.
‘To be a judge is incredible,’ he says. ‘It’s a lot easier than being a competitor! I enjoyed competing but I know just how stressful it is, particularly early on. You’re desperate not to go home first and can feel the pressure in that kitchen with the nerves and the new environment. I love this show because it’s all about incredible regional talent and great British produce, creating food of the highest standard.’
Tom joined the Great British Menu judging panel last year alongside TV chef Nisha Katona (both pictured) and comedian Ed Gamble
Tom and wife Beth (pictured in 2022) have a seven-year-old son and a booming Michelin-starred restaurant empire. And what’s more, Beth has become a global celebrity artist in her own right.
In this year’s series, inspired by Paddington Bear’s 65th birthday, 32 professional chefs will compete over nine weeks for a place cooking at the six-course banquet finale celebrating the best of British animation and illustration.
They’ll be whittled down to just eight for Finals Week.
‘In Finals Week we’re trying to find that wafer-thin difference between those dishes fit for a banquet and those that aren’t,’ says Tom. ‘There may be just one or two points between first place and eighth, but the reality is they’re so close everyone’s a winner.’
It’s all a long way from Tom’s first foray into the kitchen as a youngster.
‘I come from a single-parent background and my mum had a day job and an evening job, so I’d cook tea for me and my younger brother – normally a fish finger sandwich or a Pot Noodle,’ he recalls.
‘But it gave me a sense of reward. And my passion for hospitality comes from my mum, who’d bake a roll of sausage meat as if it was a Sunday joint, because we couldn’t afford a real one. We loved it and never felt we were missing out on Sunday lunch. Our house was the one where all the estate kids would hang out. It’s always been about hospitality for me.’
After a brief flirtation with acting when he left school at 15 (he was a borstal inmate in a TV adaptation of Agatha Christie’s They Do It With Mirrors), his mother suggested catering college, and it was there that he found his calling.
‘For me it’s about cooking something that’s got heart, soul and passion – those are the things that make a difference, as you can taste that energy,’ he says.
The big difference between Tom today and when he was competing on Great British Menu is that he’s 12st lighter.
Back then he was sinking up to 15 pints a day and weighed 30st.
‘When I reached 40, a friend said to me, “We’re halfway to death now”, and I thought, “I’m much closer than that if I don’t do something about it.” I needed a complete life change, so I gave up drinking and tried to get fitter. I’m a completely different person now after ten years of not drinking.
‘But I think the reason I’ve been successful over the past ten years is that I’m not a cartoon version of the real me. The only difference between me and the TV me is that I don’t swear as much on TV… or at least it’s edited out!’
Great British Menu, Tuesday-Thursday, 8pm, BBC2.