Food Writer: Tom Parker Bowles

PUBLISHED: 11:56 29 January 2010 | UPDATED: 15:36 20 February 2013

Tom Parker Bowles

Tom Parker Bowles

Acclaimed food writer Tom Parker Bowles asks to meet me at a deli-cum-cafe - no surprise there....

Acclaimed food writer Tom Parker Bowles asks to meet me at a deli-cum-cafe - no surprise there. But it's a deli that shamelessly flaunts bottles of tomato and HP sauce on its tables. Why did he choose it? Because it serves good, honest, unpretentious food, made from prime ingredients; and that's what's important to him.

This month, the country acknowledges its food heritage with British Food Fortnight: a celebration of regional ingredients and cuisine. Tom, with his Cotswold background, is a great supporter of the initiative. "British Food Fortnight is a huge force for the good, and the Cotswolds have long been famed for their fantastic produce. But we need to remember to support our farmers throughout the whole year; they are at the heart of the community."

He's also an admirer of one of farming's greatest champions: his stepfather, the Prince of Wales, who married his mother, Camilla, in 2005. "He was way ahead of his time with organic food and the environment," Tom says. "He speaks total sense and is a great Cotswold hero."

Where do you live and why?

I live in London, despite having grown up on the edge of the Cotswolds, in Wiltshire. I think we will go back to the country at some point, but my wife, Sara, is fashion editor of a magazine (Harper's Bazaar), and our whole work is mostly based around London.

Growing up in the country gives you a different sort of independence from a city childhood. What's more, you grow up much more slowly. You take for granted the knowledge of where milk comes from and when elderflower and mushroom are out. Living on a farm even gives you a greater awareness of mortality. To me, it's vitally important to know at first hand those sorts of things - but, sadly, not everyone gets that opportunity.

How long have you lived in the Cotswolds?

I moved to London in '93, though I went off to boarding school when I was eight. One thing I can thank my prep school for is giving me a love of real food - because it gave me a hatred of bad food!

What's your idea of a perfect weekend in the Cotswolds?

We'd drive down Friday (usually getting here late because the M4 is getting worse and worse). Then for Saturday lunch, we'd take a table for 20 people and have lunch at a brilliant, brilliant place called the Kingham Plough. You'll often find Alex James and Jeremy Clarkson in there, as well as food writers, chefs and critics who travel there specially. Emily (Watkins, chef and co-owner) is my sister's best friend and she trained with Heston (Blumenthal). This is the sort of restaurant I want to eat in - beautifully cooked, beautifully sourced food.

If money were no object, where would you live in the Cotswolds?

It would probably be in the area I know best: somewhere between Malmesbury and Cirencester. I like the colour of the stone - not the chocolate-box Cotswolds, but that sort of Georgian grey. I think my mum's house in Lacock would be perfect - or, indeed, any of the houses I grew up in because of the happy memories they hold for me. But Nick Mason from Pink Floyd - a lovely man - bought one of them - Middlewick - and I don't think he has any intention of moving!

Where are you least likely to live in the Cotswolds?

I don't want to start being rude about anywhere. (Though, to be honest, I'd probably try to avoid heavy tourist areas.)

Where's the best pub in the area?

Anywhere that does decent local beer. I used to like the Tunnel House at Coates, though I haven't been there for years. One place I love is the George Inn at Lacock, which has got lots of good Devizes ale. It's always stuffed full of tourists but it's a genuine local pub as well.

And the best place to eat?

There's Le Champignon Sauvage (in Cheltenham). It's not necessarily my sort of food but it's good cooking, and I have huge respect for the chef there (David Everitt-Matthias). I don't want foams and cappuccinos of this, or towers of that, or plates with squiggles. My favourite London chefs are Simon Hopkinson, Rowley Leigh, Mark Hix and Richard Corrigan. I look for good ingredients and clean flavours.

There's an awful cult, almost a fetish, nowadays, which involves having to know everything right down to the name of the cow you're eating. I think we go too far. A well written menu is one sign of a good place - unpretentious and not over the top.

What would you do for a special occasion?

A party at home, although my mum's kitchen is a bit crap - knives never sharp, that sort of thing. (I tell her that all the time.) But it's also nice to go out- it depends what my wife says because she gets fed up if I'm in the kitchen all night.

What's the best thing about the Cotswolds?

It's somewhere I grew up so I feel comfortable there. Whenever I hear that accent, I'm home. Some people say it's all so small scale, but there's a special moment on a good summer evening - about 7pm - when the Cotswolds have got that perfect light with a special colour and depth to it. The mayflies are buzzing about, and it might be a clich but there's a distant sound of church bells and the babble of a brook. And there's nowhere in the world I'd rather be.

... and the worst?

The traffic sometimes between Tetbury and Cirencester, and the cost of the train from London - it's a rip-off. I don't like restaurants hiding in pubs - gastropubs should be about decent food, sausages and pies - and I don't like the sorts of crap souvenir shops you get in tourist places.

What's the most under-rated thing about the Cotswolds?

People moan and groan about Daylesford but I'm a staunch supporter. They're farming properly with good animal husbandry, and they really care: sustainable farming at its best.

What would be a three course Cotswold meal?

Elvers: I love them. They're very thin and delicately fishy with a tiny bit of crunch. The Gloucester way is to cook them with bacon fat and then to chuck an egg in, but I've had them the Spanish way with chili and garlic. I'd also have Severn and Wye smoked eel and salmon from Richard Cook, with local horseradish you can grab from by the river.

I'd follow that with some fantastic lamb - Alex James's is very good; so is Jane Callaway's at Langley Chase, Kington Langley. I'd roast it with garlic and rosemary, and maybe cover it with a bit of goose fat. Then there's a wealth of cheeses - Stinking Bishop or anything else by Charles Martell. He is a genius - one of the great cheesemakers of all time, without a shadow of a doubt. I can't eat goats' cheese, but I'd have some 'Cerney' for everyone else. And to finish, some Duchy chocolate thins.

What's your favourite view in the Cotswolds?

Just past junction 15 on the M4, there's a big hill in the distance with two trees that stand out on the horizon: that's always a sign for me that I'm back home, even though it's another 25 miles. I am deeply impatient and always want to get places quickly, but I slow down in the country and spend hours in garden centres.

Which book should people read?

Food in England by Dorothy Hartley; A Taste of The West Country By Theodora Fitzgibbon; and Mark Hix's British Regional Food.

Interestingly, my great grandfather, P Morton Shand, wrote A Book of Food, which was published in 1927. He's a much better writer than I am, much cleverer, but there's something I've obviously got from him - trenchant, big, sweeping statements.

Starter homes or executive properties?

Councils should subsidise houses for locals, but they should be traditional village houses, not these boxes that blight the countryside.

If you lived abroad, what would you take to remind you of the Cotswolds?

I would take a photograph of the view from my dad's kitchen window at his house near Malmesbury. You get a beautiful view of rolling fields, an old church, a medieval barn and the river running down: that classic soft, gentle Cotswold view. If you look out the other way, you can see Tetbury spire in the distance.

Which event, or activity, best sums up the Cotswolds?

British Food Fortnight - a celebration of the best of British food. I've eaten all sorts of strange things all over the world: cobra soup, bee pupae (which were very good - sweet and honeyish) - and I've also eaten dog. I find it appalling that people will protest about 'poor little pooches' being eaten in Vietnam or Korea, yet they're quite happy to eat factory chicken: we live in a culture of cheap food. I totally appreciate free range is expensive, but it's about going back to the butcher and saying I've only got x amount of money; what can I buy? You can get three meals out of a chicken - roast, sandwiches the next day, and stock. It's about not wasting food and buying the best you can afford.

If you were invisible for a day, where would you go and what would you do?

I'd go into Defra to see firsthand what a screw-up they're making of everything - all the ridiculous things they come up with. For example, this whole new legislation that farmers are not allowed to bury their dead animals now: they have to pay someone to take them away. It's a general stupid meddling. The government has given up on the countryside.

That's why I think my stepfather is such a force for the good. He knows more about farming than anyone I know - every single detail - and he's a huge supporter of British farming. When I go round the country, people talk about him in glowing terms. He was way ahead of his time with organic food, the environment. People laughed at him 10 years ago and now he's in the forefront of the movement. He speaks total, total sense and he is a great Cotswold hero.

With whom would you most like to have a cider?

It would be Jane Grigson and Elizabeth David. Elizabeth David brought a waft of the Mediterranean into Britain in those rather austere post-war years. Jane Grigson is one of my favourite writers of all - wonderful prose, great recipes; with a sort of quiet humour and intelligence. You read her books now and they're just as relevant.

Tom Parker Bowles's next book, published by Ebury Press, will explore the history of British food, and is out next year. In the meantime, you can catch him in the Mail on Sunday, or read his previous two books, E Is For Eating - An Alphabet of Greed and The Year of Eating Dangerously.

British Food Fortnight runs from Saturday, September 20-Sunday, October 5 and is the biggest national celebration of the diverse and delicious range of food that Britain produces. Shops, pubs and restaurants will be running promotions, tastings and special menus. Schools are encouraged to bring chefs into the classroom to teach children how to cook. The website,, includes information on events taking place in your area - as well as tips on how to eat 'British' during a credit crunch!

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