Housewives’ favourite James Martin is embarking on a tour in the new year that blends his passion for cooking with his love of racing cars. The TV chef talks to Chris Bond.

JAMES Martin has a theory about foodies and fast cars.

“I think there’s a direct link between them because a lot of drivers like food and a lot of foodies like fast cars,” he says. “They say it’s about being able to multi-task.”

The latter is certainly something he’s mastered as regular viewers of his BBC TV show Saturday Kitchen will no doubt agree, juggling, as he does, interviews with guests while somehow managing to create all manner of culinary delights at the same time.As well as being one of the country’s best known chefs, Martin also has a love of fast cars and classic motorbikes and is bringing these twin passions together for a new stage show which he’s taking on tour around the UK early next year.

His Plates, Mates and Automobiles tour includes dates at Bridlington’s Spa Royal Hall, St George’s Hall in Bradford, Sheffield City Hall and two shows at the Barbican in York, at the end of February.

Most celebrity chefs tend to stick to straightforward cookery demonstrations when they take to the stage, but Martin insists his show is going to be different.

“It’s very important for me that we put on a show and a performance. It’s not just going to be me standing at a stove baking a few scones,” he says.

Although food will be at the heart of the show Martin will also be joined by special guests, including an ex-Formula One racing driver, and has a few other surprises up his sleeve.

“I’ve been learning something new, it’s something I’ve been working on every day. I can’t tell you what it is people will have to find out on the first night,” he says.

It turns out that he’s been thinking about doing a big show like this for quite a while. “I watched the Hairy Bikers do their tour and people like Paul Hollywood and Gino [TV chef Gino D’Acampo] and when my tour starts I will have been in the business 20 years, so it felt like the time was right.”

But he insists he’s not doing it for the money. “There’s no financial incentive, I don’t have to do this. For me it’s about trying to make this as good as it can possibly be, it’s definitely unique because I’m never going to do this again, there’s no encore.”

Martin has made his name as a chef but also has a passion for motorbikes and racing cars. He has built up an impressive collection, including a 1960s Ferrari, and in 2012 he teamed up with racing legend Sir Jackie Stewart to drive through the Alps in a Pantera supercar and also took Stewart’s Tyrell Formula One car around the famous Monza racing circuit.

As with his interest in cooking, his fondness for cars can be traced back to his childhood growing up on a pig and cattle farm near Malton, in North Yorkshire. “The nearest I got to fast cars was watching the private diners arrive at Castle Howard when I was washing up in the kitchen as a 12 year-old,” he says.

“We had tractors on the farm and my first car was an old mini, I painted flames on the side of it and used to rally it round the field.” His next car was a humble Vauxhall Nova which he used to drive himself to and from Scarborough College where he learned his basic chef skills.

Having cut his culinary teeth in Yorkshire he headed down south when he was 18. It was a big step and one he remembers well. “I left York station with £20 and a dream. I finished college on the Friday, my mum dropped me off at the station on the Sunday night and I was in London and working on the Monday. I’ve never forgotten that.”

When he moved down to London to work in one of the capital’s top kitchens – under Anthony Worrall Thompson – he still dreamt about cars. “On my days off I used to look through the windows of the car showrooms thinking ‘one day.’ Of course I knew it would never happen, only it did.”
He started at the bottom of the food chain (at one point sleeping on the bakery slab in the restaurant and using the potwash water spout as a shower). But he quickly, and doggedly, worked his way up the ladder and a few weeks shy of his 22nd birthday was appointed head chef at the first Hotel du Vin in Winchester.

“Back then people hadn’t really heard of boutique hotels but there was a team of us there who knew what we were doing.”

He put in the hours, working six, sometimes seven, days a week and it was here that he was spotted by a TV producer. Shortly afterwards he had an agent and was appearing on Channel 4’s Big Breakfast and Ready, Steady, Cook.

Not that it had crossed his mind about becoming a TV chef. “That just kind of happened because being on TV was never a thought, I just wanted to be a chef.”

james martin 3As well as his hugely successful cookery career and his passion for fast cars, he somehow found time to learn how to fly. “I was having my house built and I was bored of choosing which skirting boards to have and where to put the plug sockets and one day I drove to Goodwood and decided I was going to learn to fly,” he says, as if this was as simple as flipping an omelette.

That was eight years ago and he now has his helicopter pilot’s licence, too. “Flying gives me the same buzz as driving racing cars, it’s a level playing field if that makes any sense. There’s no distractions, you haven’t got people ringing you up or asking you questions.”

It’s also tied to his deep-rooted desire to do things well. “If you’re going to do something you should do it properly, otherwise what’s the point?” he says. “I like to do things properly and the only way you can do that is by learning from others and through practice, I think that’s the same in all walks of life.”

To make something look easy, whether it’s playing football, singing, or knocking up a twice-baked souffle, takes skill and dedication, and talking to Martin you’re struck not only by his tremendous work ethic but also this innate desire to succeed at whatever he turns his hand to it.

“You’re constantly learning, there’s no way I could do Saturday Kitchen without all those years of knowledge and experience behind me,” he says.

It’s an attitude that has stood him in good stead and one he’s channelling ahead of his forthcoming tour.

He’s looking forward to it, especially heading back to God’s Own County, because even though he lives in Hampshire these days he still regards Yorkshire as his “home.” “I do cooking demos in London, Birmingham and Scotland, but it’s always good to come back to Yorkshire because the people are so friendly and it’s home to me.

“The Barbican in York is the only place on the tour that I’m doing twice and for my mother to see my name above the stage door … that’s pretty special.”

James Martin’s Plates, Mates and Automobiles tour starts next February. Tickets are priced £30 and are on sale via

Read more:

About The Author

Let us know what you think