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Our interview with everyone’s favourite chef Phil Vickery


With his boundless energy, enthusiasm and laughter, Phil Vickery is everyone’s favourite chef! Whether cooking up a storm on TV or just talking food, his positivity is infectious. We catch up on all things culinary and how his new cookbook, The Canny Cook is topping all the bestseller lists.


Phil can’t remember a time when he wasn’t in love with food. Not just the taste and smell, he was also endlessly fascinated by the whole cooking process and the science behind it. He can pinpoint a moment at eight years old when his school caretaker gave him an old jumble sale book – Warne’s Everyday Cookery. He was instantly hooked by the black and white photos of chefs in action and from then onwards his culinary passion was sparked despite his mum saying “You want to be a chef – good luck with that one!”.

He has fond memories of his mum endlessly cooking and special birthday treats of a chinese takeaway or Kentucky Fried Chicken, but with his elder brother going into medicine it was hoped he would also follow in similar footsteps. At primary school he didn’t do any cooking and in secondary school Home Economics was seen as “girly”. So school was not an influencing factor in his choice of career.

Like Heston Blumenthal, Phil wanted to know how and why things worked so he brought another book, Cake and Sugar Craft, so he could make the royal iced buns of his childhood. Armed with gum paste and a sugar thermometer he built a church in pastillage and discovered the science behind why a clear fondant then goes white. It’s this endless quest for the ‘why’ and for explanations that he still incorporates into his TV work today.

Aged 15, during Wednesday ‘release days’ from school, he started a catering course, this was followed by a chef’s course and with several prizes (more books) under his belt his future looked mapped out. His first job was in a seaside hotel in Folkestone, where he got fired for not cooking breakfast. It was then onto the Lake District where he worked for five years before deciding to up sticks and explore Australia and New Zealand. On his return home, the fun was over and he needed to earn money so it was back into what he knew best, restaurant life.

Then followed a stint at the famous Gravetye Manor in East Grinstead, at Ian McAndrews’ Michelin starred ‘74’, before landing his own position as head chef at the Castle Hotel in Taunton following on from Gary Rhodes. Not surprisingly more ‘prizes’ followed in the form of a Michelin Star and 4 AA Rosettes amongst many other illustrious awards. At the time the Michelin Star meant everything, now Phil is keen to point out they “give them out like confetti!”.

Around this time Phil’s TV career also took off. He was approached by Ready Steady Cook which he flatly declined. The producers persevered and after an audition he was hooked and never looked back. “It changed my life and it filled my restaurant overnight”. He realised this commercial decision was the “way ahead”. In a similar way, he ignored the criticism of “selling his soul” when he partnered with Aldi and together they turned it into Supermarket of the Year. Phil is keen to point out that he doesn’t like being told what to do or to plan ahead, in short he has always “ploughed my own furrow”.

With regard to advice for the next generation of aspiring chefs, Phil believes it’s all about hard work. “Being a chef is a fabulous job but for a single person.” Phil is the first to admit that he lost his marriage by working too hard. “You need to love what you do and be interested and keen to learn. I was working at a fishmongers and bakery and doing courses on coffee and chocolate on my days off.” This single-minded dedication to hard work is less tolerated today but Phil is adamant “you’ve got to put yourself out”. As a friend once told him “it’s like a bank account, you only take out what you put in” and this philosophy has continued to under-pin his approach to both work and life.

Phil’s simple approach to cooking is hugely popular with his fan base. He doesn’t believe in the ‘Roux Robots’, he wants people to cook from the heart in order to give food ‘soul’. Yes, you need a certain amount of skill but for Phil it’s about artistic flair and imagination and not just talent. “Taste what’s not there, not what is there. Find the easiest and most efficient way of cooking and use stock cubes if they create the taste you want.” For Phil, cooking is about letting your character shine through and not just following the motions.

With 23 years of TV cooking, Phil knows that demonstrating in front of a camera is very different to normal cooking and requires certain skills. The legendary Keith Floyd gave him three invaluable pieces of advice. “Be yourself and talk to the camera like it’s a mate, when you start thinking it’s the real world you are in trouble and in TV you don’t get the sack, they just don’t ring you anymore!” To this, Phil adds “keep it simple, listen to the presenters and know your job inside out. Also, give the viewers one little nugget of information they won’t ever forget such as one tablespoon of olive oil has 123 calories!”.

Being ahead of the curve is something that Phil has mastered – just look at the success of his gluten free cookbook which was published over 10 years ago and has sold over 300,000 copies in 14 different countries. This was followed by a series of books on diabetes, all of which were ahead of their time. Amongst his 18 published cookbooks, he has covered, pork, game and is still stopped all over the world about his turkey recipes. When asked which book he is most proud of, Phil comes back to the gluten free books as they were ‘ground breaking’. He is hopeful that The Canny Cook might also be high on this list as “it bucks the trend” and likewise is ahead of its time.

Looking ahead, what other trends can Phil see emerging in the culinary world? For him it’s all about healthy diets, “we’ve done street food, Asian food, foams etc, now we are back to tasty and honest food with humble ingredients that people can afford”.

Of his many recipes, there is one dish that he always returns to – “I love a pilaf, it’s my comfort food, you just need onions, garlic, rice and stock cubes and then you can add whatever you like”. In his store cupboard, you will always find, Oxo cubes, rice, tinned tomatoes and a tin of Spam. In the freezer there will be mash pellets and frozen chips! For his last meal on earth “it would have to be smoked salmon, cottage pie and meringues with Rodda’s clotted cream”.

So what’s left to achieve? Phil is adamant he won’t be doing Strictly or I’m a Celebrity – that’s just not his bag. He doesn’t want to retire but is happy to take his foot off the pedal a bit. He’s found a happy place where “life’s not too shabby”. The key to his life, like his recipes, is simplicity, honesty and a lot of laughter thrown in for good measure. “Get up every day and have a laugh at yourself” and as his brother once told him “I’m here for a good time not a long time”. Hopefully Phil is here for both!


Don’t miss more fantastic celebrity interviews in our recent Spring Noticed magazine! We chat to wellbeing guru Liz Earle, naturalist Steve Backshall, Charlie Bingham among many others.


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