IN two days time he will be at the wedding of his step-brother, Prince William. But all Tom Parker Bowles wants to talk about is the food. Catherine Scott reports.
TOM Parker-Bowles loves food.
When he talks about his beloved food, the absolute joy is clear in his face and his whole demeanour becomes enthused.
“I am greedy, and that is the long and the short of it,” he says.
“My dad was a massive gardener and my mum was a good cook and I just thought that was normal – until I went to prep school at the age of eight.”
“Dad” of course is Andrew Parker Bowles and mum Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, wife to the Prince of Wales and step-mother to William and Harry. Just how much time she now gets to rustle up some of Tom’s childhood favourites is debateable, although, apparently, she does a mean roast chicken. She also loves to spend time with Tom’s two small children.
Prep school was not an unhappy place for young Tom. “I wasn’t bullied or anything – but the food! It was horrible,” he recalls passionately.
To Tom Parker Bowles, sub-standard food was more abhorrent than the odd bout of humiliation by older boys.
“It was this food that made a healthy appetite turn into greed,” he says ruefully, although it wasn’t until a bit later in life that he would fully understand the significance food would play in his life.
Aafter leaving Eton he attended Oxford University, but Tom says he had no idea what he wanted to do.
“I just fell into food writing,” he says. After a stint as a film PR after leaving university – which ended in him hitting the headlines for all the wrong reasons – Tom started to write about his first love, food.
Now he is a national newspaper columnist, TV presenter (of The Market Kitchen on UKTV), and the author of three foodie books, including Full English, A Journey Through the British and Their Food. He has worked hard to be taken seriously among foodies.
He admits that getting married (to Sara Buys, former fashion editor of Harper’s and Queen) and having two children, Lola, three, and baby Freddy, born last year, has changed him.
He has grown up and seems to take his responsibilities seriously.
He also takes being part of the food establishment he may have criticised in the past, quite seriously, too.
This is not a privileged man just playing at work; Tom Parker Bowles truly believes he has a part to play in championing the small producer and getting us to eat and cook better.
He believes that we have become a nation of voyeurs when it comes to cooking.
“Everyone loves to watch the television chefs but how many people actually go on to cook the things they see them cooking?” he asks.
“How many people go out and buy glossy cookery books and then leave them on the shelves? We have got to get people into the kitchen and cooking again. There is an entire generation out there who just don’t cook.”
He is all to well aware of his very privileged up bringing – Eton then Oxford – but he takes it almost as an added responsibility on his shoulders revelling in championing small food producers.
“That’s part of my job to go out and find these people,” he says simply.
It is one of the reasons the 36-year-old agreed to be patron of the Malton Food Festival – a title he is looking forward to using well.
He will be joining more home-grown talent in the form of Andrew Pern, from the Star at Harome, Yorkshire celebrity chef Brian Turner and cookery course grande dame Rosemary Shrager.
He says he is looking forward to catching up with these chefs, for whom he clearly has a lot of respect for.
“I love Yorkshire and I love Yorkshire food,” he says with genuine enthusiasm.
“You are so lucky. You have Whitby with all the fantastic fish, and then fantastic producers like The Ginger Pig. Malton is smack bang in the middle of some of the best farming country in the world.”
He realises that food from these smaller producers is more expensive than the mass-produced goods available at the supermarkets, but he believes it is worth it.
“Good meat is expensive,” he says bluntly. “Farmers who take that much care and wait longer to kill their animals and choose rare breeds, will have to charge more for their meat as it costs them more.”
He is worried about the rise in the price of feed for the farmer and, in turn, the increase in prices to the consumer.
“People assume that farmers are rich; they aren’t. I believe it is our duty to support local farmers rather than buying cheaper imported meat.
“It’s fine for me, a privileged man, to say this, but we have to start to look at the way we eat.
“We think it is our right to eat meat every day. Perhaps we should be eating a little less meat but making sure that we buy the best possible quality and possibly eat the less-fashionable cuts which take a little longer to cook.”
Tom believes we have lost our way when it comes to buying food.
“Take fish, for example. We are still remarkably scared of any fish other than the big four (cod, salmon, tuna and haddock). Farmed salmon is becoming an ecological nightmare.”
He believes we have a lot to learn from traditional cooks.
When I speak to him, he has just returned from an auction where he had bought a lot of cookery books about Yorkshire cooking – about 70 of them.
“They are fascinating; 50 to 100 years ago there were so many recipes coming out of this area and we seem to have forgotten a lot of them.”
Could this be the subject of another book in the making?
But for Parker Bowles, food is much more than something you put in your mouth to sustain you.
“It is economics, politics and culture. Food is everything.”
It seems then that he is in the right profession where eating, talking and writing about food is all-consuming.
“To be a food writer, you have to have a good appetite; you get chance to do field work three times a day.”
And food goes beyond work. Tom does virtually all the cooking at home for Sara and the children, and he hopes to pass on his passion for food to his youngsters.
“I cook everything fresh for the children. They do want to eat sweets and crisps, what child doesn’t? But it’s a balance. I think if you try to make food fun and exciting, then they will be interested in it.”
Although he loves to spend time with his young family at their London home, Tom’s work takes him away a lot.
At the moment, as part of his job for Esquire magazine, he is spending a lot of time abroad. He has another cookery book out next year Let’s Eat: 10 Years of Food Writing, which chronicles his decade in the food business and includes many of the recipes he has come across around the globe during that time.
“I am an amateur cook and this book is for people who want to cook like me. It is full of recipes that I want to eat.”
It is hard to mention Tom Parker Bowles’ name without thinking of his Royal connections; he is step- brother to the future King of England after all.
Despite this, he has remained amazingly level-headed.
Of the forthcoming nuptials of his step-brother, Prince William, to Kate Middleton on Friday, at Westminster Abbey, he becomes almost bashful.
“They are a lovely couple and both incredibly nice people, but there are many people queuing up to talk about them who are far more entitled to do so than me.
“It is just a wedding – a day out with wonderful food and, hopefully, a celebration of everything that’s British.”
Back to food again.
* Malton Food Lovers Festival is on May 21 and 22.
TOWN CELEBRATES ITS MENU OF QUALITY
MALTON Food Lovers Festival was launched in 2009 as a one day celebration of Malton’s top quality local food and drink specialist, producers, chefs, retailers and eateries to around 5,000 visitors. For 2011, this quintessential market town will be part of the weekend celebration with special offers, festival menus and enticing weekend attractions all in the pipeline, promising a delicious destination for all food lovers. Some 90 stalls, featuring regional specialities and local seasonal produce will be the central feature of this foodie festival.