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Matt Tebbutt: ‘Saturday Kitchen is the best job in the world’

Classically trained top chefs don’t eat instant noodles. Or do they?

Matt Tebbutt – who studied at the renowned Leith’s School of Food and Wine before working under legends like Marco Pierre White and Bruce Poole – begs to differ.

“Have you ever been to Chick’n’Sours?” Tebbutt asks on a video call from his home in Wales, holding up a beige cardboard tub from which he’s just slurped a speedy lunch.

“It’s a fantastic fried chicken place in London by a guy called Carl Clarke, and he’s brought out these Future Noodles. They’re a bit upscale, but still a pot noodle.”

The Saturday Kitchen host needed a quick foodie fix this afternoon. He’s got a busy day of promoting his new cookbook, Weekend, then he’s dashing off to London to film another TV series.

“The TV thing just sort of happened by luck,” says Tebbutt, who 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 on the much-loved BBC show.

“I spent a lot of time running between the restaurant and the media side of things, and eventually it just sort of spiralled, so here we are… I’m just gonna let my cat in!” he says, jumping up. Seconds later a black and white feline leaps into view and settles on the arm of the sofa.

After the “seismic shift” from full-time chef to TV cook (he took over from Martin permanently in 2016) – does Tebbutt ever miss the adrenaline rush of restaurant life?

Not really, is the answer: “I’m 48 at Christmas. 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.”

Hosting a live TV show is, in comparison to the breakneck pace of restaurant service, a breeze. Buckinghamshire-born 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.

“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.”

His new book ‘Weekend’ is for when you want ‘something tasty, but you don’t want to be too fussed with it’

Was he nervous about following Martin at the helm of the programme – loved by everyone from hungover students and frazzled parents in need of 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 insists: “He said, ‘I want to see more women in kitchens, because they bring a different energy’, that’s what I remember him saying.”

But he’s aware everything is open to interpretation: “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.”

And that’s the challenge of helming such a popular show: “The hard bit is remembering it’s on live TV, and not saying something inappropriate or swearing or something like that. Because you do get very relaxed.”

Tebbutt says he get star-struck “all the time” by the famous faces pulling up a pew on Saturday morning – such as “Gary Barlow, obviously. That was great. Who else? Tom Allen. Love Tom Allen. He’s lovely. He’s hilarious.”

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.

The book features everything from brunches to big Sunday lunches to 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.

Tebbutt believes both chefs and home cooks “don’t have to stay in one lane, as it were. You can sort of dip in from here and there and everywhere. And some of the most delicious dishes are, you know, a bowl of miso soup with some salmon dropped in, fresh ginger and stuff like that.”

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 hat anytime soon: “I think it’s the best job in the world. So I’ll happily stay as long as I’m asked.”

‘Weekend’ by Matt Tebbutt (published by Quadrille, £22; photography by Chris Terry) is available now.