Henry Herbert, of The Fabulous Baker Brothers, dishes the dirt on keeping it in the family, kitchen disasters and smelly chefs
What’s the biggest myth about chefs?
That they smell nice. Chefs smell like onions, deep fat fryers, sweat, normally booze, so it’s what I would call an “exotically intoxicating smell”. Full of excitement and mystery. Although my wife probably disagrees.
What made you decide to work with your brother?
Forced! No choice, albatross round my neck… No, we work in the family business, and we’ve worked together pretty much all our lives, apart from when I left and lived in London for six years. I’ve always worked with him, so it never seems unusual. But people see Tom and I and assume we woke up one day and decided we wanted to be on TV. That was never our intention, and we feel very lucky, but there was a lot of hard work beforehand, and that’s still true.
What most excites you about the restaurant industry these days?
In Britain, a lot is changing. Chefs out in the rural areas are cottoning on to seasonal and local produce. We’ve known for a long time that we have great produce, and we’re really proud of it. We have more artisan cheese makers than France, which is pretty incredible.
What culinary gadget could you not live without?
I’d say the knife. I don’t think you need loads of knives, you just need a few good ones. With a very good cook’s knife, a bread knife, a boning knife and a paring knife, you can do pretty much anything. I go to so many people’s houses, and they just have vast amounts of crap knives. Get rid.
Any kitchen disasters?
I set fire to quite a lot of things. Almost any place I go to, the fire alarm goes off at some point. It’s become a game now. No massive major incidents; I’ve broken quite a lot of things. There are kitchen disasters all the time – it’s how you deal with them. If you’ve made a beautiful cake for someone and you drop it, and they don’t know, it’s how you react and what you do to the cake that makes the difference.
If you had to cook a nice meal in 30 minutes, what would you make?
Sounds like my everyday life. My life’s like Ready, Steady, Cook. I get home and have to look in the fridge to see what my wife’s bought. It can be anything. I’d probably say a risotto, with broad beans and asparagus.
What do you eat when you’re feeling lazy?
Sticking my fingers into the peanut butter jar. It’s bloody delicious. I don’t do it very often – only a couple of times a day.
What’s your favourite place to eat in Edinburgh?
Last time we came, it was suggested that we eat at Ondine. Roy Brett was the nicest guy ever. I’d met Roy at 10 Downing Street with Nick Nairn, obviously one of the classic Scottish chefs. So five months later, we decided to go. There were quite a few of us and they were fully booked, but Roy came out and said: “Don’t worry, we’ll make space.” So they put us in their private dining room and treated us like absolute kings. I had this amazing fruits de mer, I was in heaven. They gave us pudding on the house and a glass of champagne, and then he came out and chatted to us for about two hours. He was a real gentleman, a great host and it’s definitely a highlight meal for me.
Who would you most like to cook for?
I’d have to say Winston Churchill, Barack Obama, Hugh Dennis and Jim Morrison. I met Hugh recently, and he was hilarious. Jim might be a bit spaced out and not talk very much, but he’d be great. Food brings people together, it’s a fact.
Words Amy McGoldrick
When & Where
The Fabulous Baker Brothers: Sibling Ribaldry in the Kitchen, ScottishPower Studio Theatre, 15 August, 3.30pm. From £10, Tel: 0845 373 5888