A familiar face on TV, the 49-year-old Yorkshireman regularly appears on ITV’s This Morning as well as hosting his own weekly show James Martin’s Saturday Morning. A huge exponent of cooking with game, James tells Celebrity Secrets why the upcoming The Game Fair he is hosting is such a good fit for him and his countryside living inspiration.
Do you spend lots of time in the countryside?
I like the city but I’m a country boy at heart because I was brought up on a pig farm. Farming, food and countryside is in my blood. I’ve always been passionate about the countryside and I’m quite fortunate to live just outside of Winchester in rural Hampshire so we’ve got outdoor space right on our doorstep.
Tell us about your working cocker spaniel, Cooper.
Cooper has been in training with Jason Mayhew for four-and-a-half years. I’ve always been fascinated by man’s ability to train dogs. When I was a young kid, there was a gamekeeper in my village who used to look after the Castle Howard estate and he used to have an immaculately trained gundog called Jett. I was always so impressed by him. He would just sit there, without a lead and just wait for his owner to return. Now I finally understand what it takes for that bond to happen. I love picking-up on local shoots with Cooper. His special move is a 400-yard blind retrieve. He’ll also sit on a riverbank all day long watching me bother fish. He’s everything I ever wanted from a dog. Last year we took part in ITV’s The Pet Show which saw Cooper compete in an agility course, and he is still top of the leaderboard. At The Game Fair I will be taking part in a display in the main arena with Jason to showcase gundog training. I hope Copper behaves – he works better for Jason than me!
Do you get many opportunities to shoot, hunt or fish in your own time?
Fishing-wise, a friend of mine has a nice stretch on the River Test and another mate of mine has a bit of the River Itchen so I get out there whenever I can. I’ve really got into fishing but I think that’s an age thing as well, I was never really into it as a young kid. I think the older I’ve got the more I’ve realised what a special pastime it is. On one trip to Scotland I spent four days on the River Tay and caught nothing but a cold but just being there was something I’ll never forget. Shooting wise I enjoy pheasant and partridge shooting but mostly I love picking-up with Cooper. The Guns always look a bit surprised when they see me at lunchtime. At the end of the day I always take away 60-70 brace straight back to my restaurants.
Where else do you enjoy spending time outdoors in the UK?
Scotland is one of my favourite places on Earth, it really is. Orkney, Shetland and the Highlands, any opportunity that I can get to go up there I go because it’s just bloody spectacular. The west coast of Scotland is also amazing. Anybody who knows me knows that I love Scotland and Scotland has always been very kind to me over the years. I also love the New Forest, it’s beautiful. A chef mate of mine Gareth Ward has an amazing Michelin-starred restaurant called Ynyshirin in Mid-Wales and I love to walk up Snowdonia when I visit, it’s wonderful.
What do you particularly enjoy about the larder of the British countryside?
I think we’ve got one of the greatest larders in the world. We’re fortunate enough to be on an island surrounded by water. From Scotland’s seafood – like scallops in Orkney, right the way down to Cornwall with Cornish sardines. I think there’s such a variety there and meat is exactly the same because of the topography of the land. You’ve got amazing beef up in Scotland, amazing lamb from Wales and then there’s fantastic garlic on the Isle of Wight. We have such a variety of weather north to south. I think that’s what makes Britain unique. As a chef you’ve got so many seasons, from the Jersey royal potatoes to Scottish raspberries – and of course game.
How often do you try to incorporate game into the dishes you cook in restaurants or at home?
When it is in season, I use it all the time. I use masses of feathered game and people know that I probably promote it more than anybody on television. Every week I’m cooking with pheasant, partridge, grouse and guinea fowl. I’m a big fan of it because I was brought up on it and I was surrounded by it. I think there’s a real myth surrounding game and a lot of people don’t necessarily understand it.
I think a lot of that is just about education and where I stand in terms of what I do for a living, hopefully I can teach the public there is something else out there. I have been working with Wild & Game to help them develop their recipes so we constantly get given little tasters and testers. I cook it a lot, frozen spatchcocked partridge on the BBQ is delicious in the summer. If you marinade it with a bit of yoghurt and some spices and put it in a tandoor, that’s my kind of thing.
You’ve been announced as the host for The Game Fair restaurant ‘The Enclosure’ for the fourth consecutive year. What keeps bringing you back to the event?
I have been attending The Game Fair for 20 years, so it is amazing to now be involved professionally. My day-to-day restaurant is usually a 100-seater so to walk into a marquee where you’ve got 300 covers in the middle of a field, that’s something very different indeed. I remember one of the times I attended The Game Fair I parked my motorhome in what I thought was next to the restaurant. When I woke up there were dozens of horses all around me. It was quite a surreal moment while I was still blurry eyed!
It’s an amazing event and the food is an essential part of it but it’s one of many parts that make it a very special show. The restaurant is in a great location as it’s at the epicentre of where things happen which is a cool place to be. I’ve worked with James Gower, The Game Fair’s Managing Director, for years and he really has faith in letting me just crack on. You’ve only got to go to The Game Fair once to see why it’s so special.
What other areas of The Game Fair are you excited to see?
I really like seeing the birds of prey at the Falconry Village and the working dogs. I also like Gunmakers’ Row – walking the full length of it is the one thing you’ve got to do if you’re there haven’t you? It is pretty spectacular so I’m looking forward to that.
What can visitors expect to see on the menu this year?
We are going to do a bit of everything. Lamb has always been quite popular, so we’ll certainly be putting that on the menu. Buttermilk rabbit also worked really well last time so I might put that back on again, it’s like our own version of funky KFC. There’s got to be something for everybody so there will certainly be a little bit of fish in there and of course we will put game on there.
Partridge is always a winner and we’ve got a great supplier for that with Wild & Game, whose gamebirds are certified by British Game Assurance so they have the highest welfare standards. I used to go to The Game Fair as a punter and just have a wander round and now to see it on the other side and see all the infrastructure and planning that goes into it, is amazing. It’s great to be involved and hopefully for many years to come we can build up something really special.
Tell us something about yourself that not many people know.
I really want a tractor. Not to plough a field, I want to drive it to my local pub the Wonston Arms with Cooper and park it outside.
For the fourth consecutive year, chef James Martin is hosting ‘The Enclosure’ restaurant at The Game Fair, which is being held Friday, 29 July to Sunday, 31 July at Ragley Hall in Warwickshire.
To experience The Enclosure, you can purchase one of three available VIP packages which includes entry to The Game Fair here.
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