Despite a stellar career that has spanned almost 30 years and included writing 20 best-selling books, TV chef James Martin says he still has regrets.
James has spoken on a special two-part episode of White Wine Question Time about his disappointment at never having earned a Michelin star.
“If there was one regret now, it would be [that] I haven't got a Michelin star,” James told podcast host Kate Thornton.
“My mates go, ‘What you talking about? You've got a boat!’ But all I ever wanted when I was a young kid was the accolade of that – a badge of honour. Nobody can take it away from you. You can lose it, but you've got it.”
James went on to say that it’s the one thing that separates him from many of his culinary friends.
“I was having a conversation with my mates the other day,” he explained. “They are all Michelin star chefs: Sat Bains, Tom Kerridge, Claude Bosi, Paul Ainsworth. They're all sat in the room and I'm going 'I'm the odd one out'.
“I am the odd one out, but do you know what? It's a thing that narks me. It's a thing that will always nark me and my mates can't understand why it narks me, but it narks me!
“I'm sure if television didn't come along when I was 21/22, then possibly I would have stood a chance.”
Asked by Kate whether he thought he would ever attain that sought-after Michelin star, James said it was unlikely now.
“The difficulty is now you're older, you've got other things,” James admitted. “Now I employ people. You've got other responsibilities. That's the difficult thing now. As much as you'd love one, you have to work so hard and dedicate your life so fully for it.”
During the podcast, James revealed he didn’t do that well at school, failing lots of O-levels… including cooking.
“I failed it all. I failed cookery!” James exclaimed. “Mrs. Baxter was my cookery teacher. She failed me. The last word she said to me, 'You would never be a chef' as I left school at 16 years old.”
Despite only getting one O-level in art, James had enough qualifications to get into catering college where he met someone who would become paramount in making him the chef he is today.
The TV chef said: “It was there – and I think day two – where I met a guy called Ken Allanson. It was a bit like that Karate Kid moment.
“He was the one that made me a chef. He was the one that moulded me to do what I do.”
When asked by Kate why Ken was such an influence, James said it was because he took great pride in his work and had high standards in the kitchen.
“At college, if you were late – if you were one minute past nine – he [Ken] was like, ‘Go home’,” James said.
“He was pristine. His apron was pristine. His chef's jacket was pristine... Everything was immaculate. Chef's hat, knives, mint workstation. It was fantastic. And I learned from that.
“He just inspired me so much. He made me become a chef.”
When someone inspires you so much, it’s only natural that you want to thank them – and James did this for his lecturer Ken in quite a special way.
“What do you get a gentleman like that to say thank you?” he asked Kate.
“I remember we did a dinner down in Bournemouth, a big charity dinner... So, I invited my old college to come down; got Ken to help out in the kitchen. [Ken] always used to wear this watch, this amazing watch, but he wanted a Rolex.
“I went out that afternoon and bought him a Rolex. Well, what do you do to say thank you? What you see now, I owe to him.”
Hear James Martin chat more about his career highs, his biggest inspiration and more in our special two-part episode of White Wine Question Time. Listen now on iTunes and Spotify.