The Grand Designs presenter reminisces about eating frogs' legs and cooking up conger eel
Photographer: Glenn Dearing
My mother cooked a lot of offal because it was cheap. We ate liver, heart and pig’s head brawn – which I still like.
My family would say I’m good at pancakes and roasts. I lived by myself for a while, so picked stuff up along the way – partly from people like Jamie Oliver.
I made an amazing fricassee of rabbit when we filmed Kevin McCloud’s Man Made Home. When it’s fried with herbs, it makes a great dish. Does it taste of chicken? No, it tastes of rabbit.
People say that lots of things taste of chicken. In fact, frog’s legs taste of frog’s legs, snails taste of snails, crocodile tastes of crocodile … actually, that’s not true, it tastes a bit like pond. I cooked conger eel once – just the once – it’s very blubbery.
I had a fabulous meal with some mates at Matt’s Kitchen restaurant in Somerset. It’s very small because it’s in his actual kitchen. He grows his own veg, makes his own sausages, barters with local growers and gamekeepers and picks up herbs on his travels.
I’ve always designed and built my own kitchens. Whether you’re building one out of reclaimed furniture or spending £20,000, there are some basic rules. The magic triangle’s important – that’s the relationship between sink, fridge and cooker.
I do like a larder. They use zero energy, keep food cool and fresh and don’t kill the taste.
Funnily enough, I’m not a big gadget person – although I do love my tiny espresso maker and take it along when I’m working. You pour in water then pump it up with a thing like a bicycle pump, add the coffee and it makes fantastic espresso. I also have a great corkscrew, which pulls out the cork in just four moves, it’s all about instant access. Bring on the screwtop I say.
We don’t have a catering unit on Grand Designs, it’s more likely to be a runner with a packet of Jaffa Cakes. In winter you’re outside in the mud and rain, chilled to the bone, and the director says it’s sandwiches for lunch (mainly because they don’t want us to go to the pub!)
I don’t eat wheat and dairy because I’m asthmatic, and have a low tolerance to chilli. It’s made me less picky about other stuff.
Who would I ask to a fantasy Sunday lunch? Mark Twain, Inigo Jones, the 17th-century architect – he’s a hero of mine – and Dorothy Parker. I would just serve the food and listen to these enormously funny, erudite people. Oh, and my dad, so I could tell him all the things I didn’t when he was alive.
What do you mean 'do I have to watch my weight'? How dare you! Just keep me away from the Haribo …
- Crisps or chocolate? Crisps every time – with a pickled egg and Worcestershire sauce.
- Lager or bitter? What’s lager? Real ale or, actually, given the choice, a pint of cider, which I make in Somerset.
- Starter or dessert? Starter – scallops or crostini.
- TV dinner or at the table? The last time I ate dinner in front of the TV was 1986, I was probably watching Crossroads at the time.
- Salad or veg? Sprouts – and if I’m not doing anything for the next few days, lots of them.
• This article first appeared in Sainsbury's magazine, February 2013. Interview by Michelle Dickson