I’m not a cool girl. I don’t do elegant detachment, or raising a perfectly sculpted eyebrow when something interests me. No, when I’m having a perfectly sensible conversation and I spot Michel Roux Jr taking a carrot cupcake I baked, I go mute.
‘Oh my god.’
‘So, as I was saying…’
‘Michel is eating a cupcake!’
‘No, I’m not an idiot. I mean, an incredible pâtissier is eating my cake. This is huge.’
And he went back for a second one!
Look, I’ve fed famous people food before. On MasterChef, I had the disconcerting experience of seeing close hand what I imagine Greg Wallace’s sex face to be like. That was flattering. Ok, it was bewildering. It was just syllabub, but who am I to judge? (The man has made a great career out of liking puddings – and I was happy to take the compliment, but it was part of the game).
I had baked cupcakes because I like to think I’m a good hostess. I had people coming, so I baked. I figured the TV crew would have a long day and might appreciate a cupcake whilst they navigated equipment around my garden.
But this wasn’t the stuff in the script I was meant to be discussing. Because Michel Roux Jr was someone whose food interested me. I was young (and certainly naïve) when I went on MasterChef, and I had no particular interest in John Torode or Greg Wallace. I had no particular interest in them afterwards either, as they were aloof characters who seemed rather taken by their own importance and made rather a poor impression on me.
Michel was different. I was different. I was now in my thirties, and taking food far more seriously. Michel was also someone I respected and perhaps more importantly, was an absolutely delightful person to spend time with.
We had just bought Lola (our Chihuahua Papillion Cross) home. General consensus says that you should introduce new people one or two at a time in a puppy’s early days in a new home. Six days in, I had a film crew of eleven in my suburban garden. My mum had come for the day to entertain my three-year-old son, but Lola still needed half hourly toilet breaks.
If my son is fantastically articulate, and my dog is relaxed at parties, then I give my thanks to the people at Boomerang. Everyone was welcoming and understood that actually, it was their garden, and expressed appreciation each time my mum swept them away so we could have quiet for filming.
Michel was just part of the crew. I don’t know whether he kept the dozens of photos he took of Lola, but my son remembers the man who jumped around on all fours and ate the prawn cocktail crisps he fed him.
So, when you meet a hero and he’s not just polite, but makes you feel like you’ve made a friend, you’re really invested in whether he likes your cake.
He did. Or he was really hungry…
I like to think he liked it.
Filming was tough. I’m no diva so I’m pretty easy to work with, but my interest in fame is largely in being able to do what I love. I take every media opportunity that comes my way because I really like feeding people great food. I like planning dishes, and throwing parties. My hidden restaurant requires me to talk about it. But I’m not an actress.
The director explained that I was to open the front door as I would normally.
‘Why are you scowling?’
‘I’m not, but if I don’t know who is there, and they don’t have an appointment, why would I smile?’
Hi, I’m Kathryn and I’m from Yorkshire.
After multiple takes, I eventually passed for a normal human being.
I promise I wasn’t trying to be awkward – and once we got onto the topic of running a restaurant (a far easier task than opening one’s front door, it would appear) I started doing a better job of things. Or at least the director was rolling his eyes less and we were doing fewer takes!
I was also standing beside Michel before each take, and I was getting my first ever training in how to do TV. Michel was warm and friendly, understanding that the more I relaxed the sooner we’d get through this thing. He made me laugh and he made me feel like there wasn’t a series without us crazy chefs with our crazy little restaurants. I soon forgot he was amazingly successful. It’s why I don’t use his full name. It’d be weird because he’s just Michel to everyone who has known him for five minutes.
Chef is a loaded word. I never went to catering college and I didn’t work my way up the ranks in a restaurant under a chef. I’ve studied food, certainly; I did my Leith’s Basic Certificate in Food and Wine alongside my A Levels, and have done a multitude of cookery classes around the world, but I always felt a bit awkward about naming my company Pyromaniac Chef. For me, you’re only a chef when another chef calls you chef.
Michel called me chef. Then smiled. Because he gets that.
It doesn’t matter what anyone makes of my experience. Because I’m not trying to pass myself off as anything I’m not. It’s really important to me that I am open and honest about my food CV. When you book into Gloucester Studio I want you to understand that you’re buying into a playful exuberance around food. For goodness sake – my business grew because I like setting food on fire!
But there was always a hesitation. A doubt that, perhaps, I was being a little too ambitious.
Because it is a shed. A very nice shed. The nicest shed you can buy, I’d argue. But still…it’s a shed!
And I’m putting a rib of beef in a bonfire, then slicing it and saying that this isn’t a supper club; it’s a commitment to perfecting flavour and technique.
“It’s bonkers but it works.”
That’s the first thing I read (in the Daily Mail) that Michel had said about me.
I liked it a lot. Just like it made my year when he called me chef. Like him telling me that my bonfire steak was possibly the best rib of beef he’d ever eaten changed my life.
Because I realised that I was waiting for his approval. Approval from outside sources is really important (as a twice Michelin starred chef, Michel understands that more than anyone) but first you need faith in what you’re cooking.
I realised that Michel was confirming what I hoped to be true. That this adventure I’m on is one worth doing. My confidence had to come first.
That’s what he’s really like. Michel really likes food, and he likes people, children and small dogs. He’s interested in other people – and that makes him more interesting.
And as for all the stuff that really made me laugh, and the advice that changed how I have gone on to consider every dish I work on…well, that’s between me and Michel, because those stories are priceless.
I’m going to try and be a little bit cool for a change.
If you enjoyed this article, why not read the latest issue of my magazine, Flame.