TV Chef, James Martin has been on the hunt for Britain’s best potato dish made by you at home. Working with www.manyfacesofpotatoes.co.uk for the second year running, James set out to find the UK’s most original, easy to follow and versatile potato recipe.
The winner has been chosen from 13 regional finalists and will win a luxury farm stay and an exclusive role as the home economist on the www.manyfacesofpotatoes.co.uk 2013 national TV ad shoot.
We caught up with the celebrity chef to talk potatoes, his love of gnocchi and growing up on a farm.
You teamed up with www.manyfacesofpotatoes.co.uk in search of a new potato dish. Could you tell us a little more about the competition?
We wanted to find a simple, versatile and healthy homemade potato dish that all the family would enjoy. The competition was open to everybody – all they needed to do was upload their recipe on to www.manyfacesofpotatoes.co.uk. We then shortlisted a recipe from each region of the UK before picking our final winner - it’s as simple as that really. There are so many recipes you can do with potatoes so we received loads of different ideas.
What kind of dish were you hoping to find? Is there anything in particular that stood out for you?
We wanted to find a dish that tasted delicious without being too complicated, and we received loads of great recipes that were unique yet simple. Some of the best dishes just rely on the great flavour of potato.
Why have you chosen to join forces with ‘Many Faces of Potatoes?’ Are you passionate about people’s awareness of the importance of potatoes in a balanced diet?
I’m passionate about great ingredients - particularly potatoes and local British fish. I’m a local farmer’s kid. Being brought up on a farm helped me to understand how difficult it is to produce food and I learnt how to respect it a lot more. When you’re a chef, it’s only natural that you would support anything that is associated with food. That’s why I do what I do.
Potatoes have many health benefits - Do you think it’s important that families try to maintain a healthy diet?
It’s massively important. Potatoes are the most accessible vegetable out there for anyone to include in their diet. It doesn’t have to be chips, chips and chips all the time. There are so many other quick things you can do with potatoes that form part of a healthy diet. It’s probably the most versatile vegetable available and one that we often take for granted.
Do you think this will inspire families to get more creative in the kitchen?
Hopefully- yes! We hope that people will get lots of different ideas and learn more about the different varieties of potatoes and their uses. Although it’s a competition, we want people to understand what’s in season and what is suitable for their chosen dish.
If you were to enter the competition yourself, how would you approach it in terms of deciding what to make?
I would probably do Gnocchi - I love it! All you need to do is bake them and then add a little parmesan cheese, it’s great. You can do so many things with Gnocchi and incorporate it into so many dishes without it being too expensive. That’s why potatoes make such a good base for so many recipes – you can start off with a cheap ingredient and make use of the great flavours it already has.
What’s your favourite potato dish?
In the winter I love a good baked potato, but this time of year, the new potatoes are coming into season and they taste delicious in salads.
As you were involved in the event last year, you will have seen many potato dishes. Do you think you have been a little tougher on contestants, as you were expecting something completely original?
When you’re judging something like this, you’ve got to think “Do I want to eat it?” You need to envisage the recipe first, but most importantly think: “Is this dish something I would choose to eat?” And if you want to eat it, you want to see how it’s cooked. I’ve judged one of the toughest catering competitions in the world, and it’s the same sort of thing – am I interested in seeing it cooked in front of me?
Last year’s winner, Angi Slater, won with the dish, smoked salmon with potato cakes, soured cream and chives. What are you hoping to find this year?
I was looking for something slightly different, something that I’d not seen before, or a combination of flavours that I hadn’t tasted before. It’s like looking at a restaurant menu, you pick dishes that you want to try - this is the same sort of thing. Every year there’s something new.
What tips/advice did you give to the final 13 contestants?
Practice, practice and practice (laughs). That’s key. You want to be confident. Ask yourself if you can make the dish any better or if you can experiment with it. The main focus needs to be potatoes, so if you start to put in too many other flavours, you’re going to move away from what the competition is all about. Cottage pie, for example, is no good, because the main base is mince beef.
What is next on the agenda for you?
I’ve got many projects at the moment. I will be going into hospitals again towards the end of the year to look at the food they offer, which is something I did last year. I’ve also got a restaurant, so I’ve got a busy year ahead, and I’m not getting any younger (laughs), so it’s a balancing act.