The book accompanies the TV series – why did you pick France for your first adventure?
I took a year out to research it and it’s been totally worth it – I’m delighted with the way it’s turned out and the response we’ve had. I wanted to show France not just for its food but its locations. When you venture out and about you discover how beautiful France is. And, how diverse it is. Plus, sporadically, in between the locations we visited the greatest chefs in the world, which was amazing.
What was it like following in Keith Floyd’s footsteps?
I didn’t really follow in his footsteps, but we did go to a vineyard that he had been to. However, he loved France and he made it his home. And it was Keith Floyd’s car. When I bought it, it had a French MOT but I got it tested in the UK and it failed on 32 accounts! It’s a fantastic car and I can understand why they’re so popular in France. It’s still mine and it’s in my garage now.
Had you been to many of the places that you visited before?
There was about eighty per cent of the trip that I’d never been to. We spent 10 months planning it – we had a cracking team. We went back to St Émilion, where I’d started my training and Paris. But we wanted to find what’s new and what people might not have seen. For example, we saw the floating market at L’Isle sur la Sorgue. It only happens once a year and we were lucky enough to be there. It’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever been to.
How much has the food changed since you were there as a teenager?
Interestingly, the top end has changed a bit. It’s gone more poncy. When I was there as a teenager it was very classic, now they’ve got foams and do 50 different ways with a carrot, that kind of stuff. But the ethos of French cooking hasn’t changed - it’s like the wine, would you want to change a good Burgundy, or a good Champagne? For the French, it’s the same with the food. It’s stayed as it was, and that’s the special bit. They may be stuck in their ways but that’s the best thing about it. For them, it’s all about the enjoyment of food.
What was it like cooking on location?
Whatever we do outside we have to do it in one take and we needed to do lots of research so that I’m not short of something to say. This makes it successful because we get the spontaneity like Keith Floyd did. He never pretended to be the greatest chef in the world, but he was a good cook and a brilliant communicator. He was quite unique. On Saturday Kitchen – his were the only video tape shows I used to watch. Some of the clips are the best cookery on TV.
How hard was it to condense all that research and filming into a cookery book?
We weren’t short of content that’s for sure. The key though is that it’s my take on French food. People don’t have time to take hours making a Coq au Vin so I simplify it using my 20 years of experience.
If there’s one recipe in the book we should all try, what is it?
Crêpes Suzette. This was a real highlight for me, I got to cook it at Michel Roux Snr’s house. Amazingly, it’s the first time he’d invited a film crew into his house, and he let us cook this – and the barbecued quail recipe – on his patio overlooking St. Tropez. Because of this series, a hero of mine has now become a mate.
What would you cook to bring your French adventure home?
The classic, French onion soup. So simple, so good.