Celebrity chef James Martin says exactly what it is he loves about Yorkshire

Yorkshire chef James Martin will soon be on our screens again with a new series – Islands to Highlands, featuring recipes from around the UK. He was born in Malton, North Yorkshire, and was trained in Scarborough.

James Martin.Picture: PA Photo/David Venni

What’s your first Yorkshire memory? Being on our family pig farm in Coneysthorpe. I remember my mum walking around the farm, it was very much a family-oriented thing.

What’s your favourite part of the county – and why? I love the area between Malton through Pickering to Whitby around Fylingdales. It’s the first place I drove when I passed my driving test. It is very isolated but I love it over there.

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What’s your idea of a perfect day, or a perfect weekend, out in Yorkshire? My perfect day would be driving over to Whitby for fish and chips at the Magpie Cafe or Trenchers.

York born composer John Barry Picture Ian West/PA Wire

Do you have a favourite walk – or view? I have a working dog so I have to do a lot of walking. I particularly love walking around Castle Howard where I was brought up. There’s a particularly lovely walk from the Obelisk at Castle Howard from the A64. It is a long straight road and stunning no matter what time of year.

Which Yorkshire sportsman, past or present, would you like to take for lunch? My grandad George Smith was a cricketer. He was a big sports man. He worked in the ticket office at York Station.

Which Yorkshire stage or screen star, past or present, would you like to take for dinner? This might sound corny but my grandmother is a 
star in my eyes. I don’t really get star struck. In fact I have only been star 
struck twice and that was by Her Majesty the Queen and Jackie Collins. My mum’s mum was called Granny Smith and she 
was a huge inspiration in my life. I’d take her to Bettys, in York. When I got well known she loved the fact that we didn’t have to queue.

If you had to name your Yorkshire ‘hidden gem’, what would it be? It would have to be the Stapylton Arms, at Wass. They do the best scampi and I go there with my mum when I am back in Yorkshire.

The Gatehouse of Castle Howard, originally called the Pyramid Arch, built by Vanbrugh in 1719, frames the Obelisk that was built in 1714 . picture mike cowling

If you could choose somewhere, or some object, from or in Yorkshire to own for a day, what would it be? York Minster. My uncle was a stonemason and helped to rebuild the circular window after the fire in 1984.

What do you think gives Yorkshire its unique identity? It has to be the people. People make a place. Yorkshire folk are famous for their honesty and camaraderie. People sometimes say they are too honest but I quite like it. You know where you stand with a Yorkshireman.

Do you follow sport in the county, and if so, what? I am not a great sports fan at all. My grandad wanted me to be a cricketer but I really wasn’t interested. I do take an interest in motorcycling and the Oliver’s Mount Race, near Scarborough.

Do you have a favourite restaurant, or pub? As above – the Stapylton Arms, at Wass, for its scampi. I love the work Tommy Banks is doing at the Black Swan, at Oldstead, and I was at the same college as Andrew Pern (The Star Inn, Harome) and James Mackenzie (The Pipe and Glass, Dalton) but there is something about an ordinary pub doing pub food well that I just love.

Do you have a favourite food shop? Bettys – it’s a classic. It’s the quality of the things they do there, not just the food. Everything is of a particular quality. They have resisted over-expanding or watering down the brand and they should be applauded for that.

How do you think that Yorkshire has changed, for better or for worse, in the time that you’ve known it? Its diversity has definitely improved. We now see things like the Tour de Yorkshire and all the Michelin starred restaurants – the most outside of London. There has been a change since I was a young chef in the kitchen plying my trade.

If you had to change one thing in, or about Yorkshire, what would that be? I would go back to a time when there were more independent butchers like Scotts, on Petergate, in York. They closed in 2008 after more than 130 years in business – that’s generations of the same family with all that knowledge and I believe the loss of many family butchers has left a huge hole.

Who is the Yorkshire person that you most admire? My mum. She was the person that got me into cooking. Mum is my biggest critic and biggest fan. If I could be 10 per cent of what my mum is I’d be a 100 per cent better person.

Has Yorkshire influenced your work? Absolutely and in so many ways. I attended Scarborough Tech and a chap called Ken Alensen was a lecturer there. He taught me and Andrew Pern and James Mackenzie – that is just three of us who have gone on to do pretty well and shows what an influence he had on our lives. Then there is the produce and the place.

Who is your favourite Yorkshire book/author/artist/CD/performer? John Barry. The Yorkshire composer who wrote Born Free – it is the music of hope.

If a stranger to Yorkshire only had time to visit one place, it would be? My mum’s house! You’d have to call in on my mum. She still lives between Malton and Scarborough and everyone should meet her.


James Martin’s new series, Islands to Highlands, is due to be shown on ITV in April and the cookery book of the same name, featuring 80 recipes, is out now.