Celebrity chef Tom Kerridge was nearing 40 when he realised he had been using food and alcohol to escape the stresses of running his businesses. Now he has transformed his life, and wants to encourage others to do the same
Tom Kerridge is full of apologies. He’s running 20 minutes behind schedule after a morning in London marking the first birthday of Kerridge’s Bar and Grill, his Michelin-starred restaurant at the city’s Corinthia Hotel.
“I’ve been all over the place,” says the TV chef, his cheerful West Country accent diluting any hint of lateness-fuelled panic. By the time we speak, he’s back in leafy Marlow, Buckinghamshire. Home. It’s also where Tom runs his pub, The Hand and Flowers – the only pub to ever win a pair of Michelin stars, and a place so popular, customers apparently wait up to six months for a table.
For Marlow residents too ravenous for patience, there’s fortunately another Tom-owned boozer nearby, The Coach, which also boasts a Michelin star. In this pocket of South-east England, pub grub has never tasted so good.
Lately, however, Tom has become better known for making healthy food taste extra good. Following his 2010 foray into television on BBC2’s Great British Menu, and landing his own telly series Tom Kerridge’s Proper Pub Food, in 2012, he realised his lifestyle was putting his health at risk.
Four months before turning 40, and weighing almost 30 stone, Tom realised he had been eating and drinking too much, to help him cope with the pressure of building the reputation of The Hand and Flowers. Overnight, he made drastic changes. Healthy protein-rich foods replaced high-fat, carb-heavy options, and exercise – swimming and bike riding – became a non-negotiable part of his routine.
What’s been the greatest reward since transforming his health?
“The ability to move, to feel that I’m quite active, to keep up with a four-year-old!” answers Tom, referring to his son, Acey.
“In general life, feeling fitter is wonderful. I can now run a 5K, and as a 46-year-old that feels nice, because I never used to be able to.”
Tom considers himself very lucky for not having experienced self-esteem issues or anxiety.
“I’ve always been very comfortable in my own skin [and] communicating and talking to people on a professional basis. Even when I was at my biggest, and drinking and eating, professionally the business was succeeding.”
Yet at the helm of a growing, thriving business where he felt huge pressure, Tom began playing as hard as he worked, in a misguided attempt to find balance.
You should never regret something that you’ve done. They’re all learning curves. Every negative can be a positive experience
After last orders, he’d sink up to eight pints with his staff, before heading home in the wee hours to eat chilli sauce-topped cheese on toast. Just four hours of sleep later, he’d wake up, do a full day’s work and hit repeat. Alcohol, he admits now, was his ‘escape’ button.
“I recognise that for some people, when they have low self-esteem, the comforting thing is to eat a packet of biscuits – and that is a mental health issue. It’s the same with me and alcohol,” he says. “It was an escape and a release from reality. My escape from the pressure of running multiple businesses.”
Tom has now been tee-total for six years.
“I have an issue with it, and I wouldn’t be able to have just one, that doesn’t exist,” he says matter-of-factly, adding that although he’s ‘100%’ happier since knocking alcohol on the head, he has no regrets about the part drinking played in his life and career.
“I wouldn’t go back and do something different, because without being that person, without that drive, I wouldn’t have achieved two Michelin stars,” he says. “You should never regret something that you’ve done. They’re all learning curves. Every negative can be a positive experience.”
Did he ever have counselling to help him on his journey?
“No, I just did it all on my own. I worked it out for myself,” says Tom, who wrote his new book, Lose Weight & Get Fit, to encourage others to be more active while eating more healthily. It’s packed with nutritious, home-cooked recipes that are both filling and flavour-packed.
“For me, it wasn’t about reaching a target weight, but more about getting fitter and healthier. Setting fitness goals alongside weight-loss goals is a win-win formula for lasting success,” says Tom, adding that planning healthy meals helps him to feel more emotionally in control, especially when work is so busy and “things aren’t quite balanced enough”.
“My life is like other people’s – I have a young son, I have a job, some evenings I manage to get home on time, but not very many. I know how it feels to get through the door at 7pm. The last thing you want is to then spend three hours cooking dinner. It’s about organised structure, and getting your head in the right space,” he explains.
So many parents worry about the quality of their children’s diet and, naturally, Tom is often asked by mums and dads for the secret to getting youngsters to consume more fruit and vegetables.
“I’m not overly stressed about it, and I don’t think parents should be either. But parents should be making an effort for themselves to be eating the right stuff so they’re leading by example,” he says, pragmatically.
“That’s the right way to do it. If [Acey] wants fish fingers and oven chips one day, that’s fine – but we aren’t going to sit there and eat fish fingers and oven chips with him. We’re going to have a lovely salad so it gets to be in his consciousness that he’s having something different.”
What about making sure we’re always prepared in the kitchen to achieve maximum flavour with our cooking, to avoid getting stuck in a rut and feeling uninspired to eat healthily – is there one ingredient every kitchen should stock?
The biggest reward is helping people. One of the nicest things that happens is when I bump into people, and they say, ‘thank you ever so much’
“Honestly, it’s only one – smoked paprika!” laughs Tom. “That goes on everything and makes it taste amazing! Most people have their home repertoire of recipes that they cook for friends and family. You can get into routines. But you should restock your spice cupboard so your cooking repertoire becomes super exciting.”
He’s wealthier than most of us dare to dream possible, but Tom’s relatability is rooted in his appeal as an average Joe, and the fact he doesn’t pretend to be perfect. And despite getting healthier in the glare of the public spotlight, Tom denies feeling under pressure from anyone but himself to continue making progress.
“I do it for me. I did it for me in the first place,” he says. “I’m not doing it because it’s on television or it’s for commercial gain. I did it because it’s the right thing to be doing as a 46-year-old bloke who wants to try to be a bit fitter.”
Before Tom departs, we talk about how he’s welcomed the public into his kitchen, but also his private life, by being so honest about his reasons for transforming his lifestyle and his subsequent journey towards better health. Has he always felt comfortable with that level of exposure?
“From the moment I was asked to do TV, I promised myself I wasn’t going to be a caricature of me. That if I was going to do it, I was going to be honest,” replies Tom.
“The biggest reward is helping people. One of the nicest things that happens is when I bump into people on a weekly basis, who I’ve never met in my life, and they say, ‘thank you ever so much’.
“It’s hard work putting a book together, but my life is about food so it’s enjoyable, and if it helps someone else out there, then that’s brilliant.”
‘Lose Weight & Get Fit’ by Tom Kerridge (Bloomsbury Absolute, hardback £22) is out now