Saturday Kitchen presenter Matt Tebbutt’s weekend starts on Friday morning with rehearsals, recipe testing and researching that week’s celebrity guests, then it’s early to bed and absolutely no booze allowed.
He rises the next day at 5.30am and then there’s the small matter of getting through a 90-minute live cookery show without mishaps.
It sounds stressful to us but, says the former chef, it’s a breeze compared to the breakneck speed of restaurant service.
Tebbutt quit the Michelin-starred kitchens of London to run gastropub The Foxhunter in Wales with wife Lisa for more than a decade, before he was asked to stand in for former host James Martin, taking over completely in 2016.
The chef, who studied at the renowned Leith’s School of Food and Wine before working under legends like Marco Pierre White and Bruce Poole, said: “I’m 48. Your average head chef is 25 now, so it is very much a young guy’s game because of the nature of the job and the hours.
“I’m usually lights off by nine. I don’t eat, I don’t drink, because I know I want to get as much sleep as possible. And then my alarm goes off about half-past five on a Saturday, and we start rehearsals at about seven. We do the whole thing, and then we do it all again. So by the time you see it live we’ve covered it once, and we’ve done the food twice.”
Was he nervous about following Martin at the helm of the programme – loved by everyone from hungover students and frazzled parents in need of some comfort telly, to fervent foodies looking for cooking inspiration? “Massively,” Tebbutt says. “I mean, he was adored, so it was a big ask, but then you think, ‘Well, I’ve got to give it a try’. How can you turn that down? If people liked it, then great. If they didn’t, then they’d soon tell you.”
Speaking of which, some viewers weren’t happy about recent Saturday Kitchen guest, Rick Stein, saying on the show: “What I like about female chefs is that they’re very practical, they stay within what they’re capable of doing and they do it well.”
“There’s something written most weeks about something on the show and it’s largely clickbait,” Tebbutt says with a sigh. Defending Stein, he said: “You could say one thing and somebody will get upset and somebody else won’t. You can’t really say much at all anymore without upsetting somebody.”
The chef’s telly gig also inspired his new book, Weekend, taking readers from Friday nights when you want “something tasty, but you don’t want to be too fussed with it”, through to brunches, big Sunday lunches and puddings to impress guests. With the British chef offering his take on everything from marinated roast lamb and French onion soup to dim sum dumplings and South African bunny chow curry, it’s a wonderfully international mix.
A big fan of Asian cookery, he got plenty of practice with Chinese flavours during lockdown: “Lots of recipes in the book are incorporating a lot of those elements that I really missed in restaurants. Braised pork belly and soy, or dishes laden with coriander and chilli and limes.”
Aware of how lucky he was to continue working during the pandemic, Tebbutt relished the quality time he had with his children Jessie, 19, and Henry, 18. “We could go for walks for hours on end and not see a soul,” he says. “We sat in a garden, we demolished a lot of rosé. And it was nice, just spending time at home with the kids, cooking, doing recipes for the book.”
Still, he won’t be hanging up his Saturday Kitchen apron anytime soon: “I think it’s the best job in the world. So I’ll happily stay as long as I’m asked.”
Recipe: Warm halloumi with watermelon, Parma ham and herbs
Chunks of cheese and bread make this a satisfying lunch or brunch dish.
“Some time ago I visited a halloumi producer in Cyprus,” says chef Matt Tebbutt. “I was never a big fan of this cheese until then, but the producer showed me the best way to eat it – straight from the warm salted brine it sits in. It was a revelation, and the resulting texture is totally unlike the dry grilled stuff. It’ll change your life!”
- 1 x 250g (9oz) block good-quality halloumi cheese, still in its packet
- 2 slices of stale crusty bread, torn into chunks
- 2 tbsp sherry vinegar
- 3 tbsp extra virgin olive oil
- 2 thick slices of watermelon, cut into 8cm (3in) chunks
- 4 slices of Parma ham
- ½ small bunch of mint leaves
- 1 handful of basil leaves
- 1 handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
- Bring a pan of water to the boil then add the halloumi, still in its plastic packet. Turn down the heat and let the cheese simmer for 20 minutes to warm through and soften. Remove from the water and allow to cool before opening.
- While the halloumi is cooling, put the bread chunks in a bowl and drizzle over the sherry vinegar and two tablespoons of the olive oil. Allow to sit and soak for 10 minutes, then toss together. Drizzle the remaining olive oil over the watermelon and season with salt and pepper.
- Arrange the watermelon chunks on a serving dish, lay the ham slices on top, then scatter over the mint, basil and parsley. Open the packet of halloumi and drain off the liquid. Tear the halloumi into chunks and add to the salad to serve.
Weekend by Matt Tebbutt, photography by Chris Terry, is published by Quadrille, priced £22. Available now.
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