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His face is on a thousand sauce bottles in every supermarket in the country. He fronted MasterChef for ten years. But Loyd Grossman is no professional chef.
“I am an amateur,” he explains, before he travels to Hove to make his Foodies Festival debut and host a series of talks about his sauces and give advice.
“I understand the amateur’s point of view. I’ve never trained as a chef and I’m never going to.”
He says the best thing other novice chefs can do in the kitchen is take risks.
“What’s to fear? You should not be afraid to try new things.
The more new things you try, the more fun you have. Everyone gets stuck in a rut. We know people have this repertoire of six or seven dishes they cook 90% of the time. Well, treat yourself, challenge yourself, try something different.
“You might cook something you don’t like,” he says, wrapping that distinctive and often parodied Bostoncum- Oxbridge lilt around his words, “There is always another day and another dinner.”
It’s hard to disagree. Grossman has made a career trying new things.
The 61-year-old began as a singer in a new wave band, Jet Bronx And The Forbidden, which charted at number 49 in the UK with Ain’t Doin’ Nothing in 1977.
Soon he turned to journalism, writing for Harpers & Queen and the Sunday Times. By 1990 he was on TV and the star in Sir David Frost’s Through The Keyhole, which ran at the same time as MasterChef.
In 2003 he presented The History Of British Sculpture, which showcased his passion for the arts.
He then turned his back on TV, after almost 20 years, because he wanted to spend more time working on another passion: heritage and culture.
The former commissioner of English Heritage, where he was chairman of the Museums Advisory Committee and the Blue Plaques Panel, thinks we overlook the importance of heritage because we have so much of it.
“People need to realise that heritage, however you want to define it, makes an enormous contribution to their sense of belonging, quality of life and their prosperity and general pleasure and I think Brighton is a fabulous example of that, the heritage is what makes Brighton different.”
He is a founding member of the Museums, Libraries and Archives Council, as well as the Brighton-based Culture 24 museums and culture guide. He is a fellow in societies for antiquaries, medicine and arts, and has an OBE.
Having travelled the length of the country visiting its sites of interest, the Royal Pavilion still holds a rare appeal.
“It remains one of the most important buildings in Europe.
It captured a particular time in history, a particular time in Brighton. It is a magnetic building and nowadays one of the most misused words is iconic, but it really is iconic.
“It defined this idea of Brighton as being a good-time capital and the city has had this reputation as a great place for pleasure seekers since then, but also as a culturally significant and sophisticated place.”
Still, sharing the pleasure food can offer is a lifetime’s passion. In 2000, Grossman put his name to a £40 million Better Hospital Foods project to improve the quality of food served in British NHS hospitals in 2000.
The task was harder than he imagined.
“It still rankles me that we made so little progress.
“It’s so important to fix hospital food, but it can’t be done unless there is real political willpower behind it.
“And thus far, no government has had the political willpower to do something about it.
“A government has to say, ‘Look, this is really important’.
And no one has said that. That’s a tragedy because the lives of so many patients could be improved if we had better food.”
Grossman is often asked how food has changed. Citing asparagus, he says spring is an apt time to see why England now produces exceptional produce.
There has been a food revolution in the country. “It has been in the making since the 1950s. It takes a long time to have a cultural revolution like that. We are now seeing there are more people getting pleasure from food and improving their everyday lives by taking an interest in food. It is accessible to a greater number of people. An interest in food used to be thought of as something for affluent people, now it has become democratised.”
He says the increasing number of food festivals shows more people are interested in food – especially regional foods.
“The growth in regional foods is doing great things for the regional economy. Small artisan producers are now getting a great deal of attention and support, which is a wonderful thing.”
In the meantime, Grossman continues to send out the millions of jars of sauces every year, with a new line about to be launched.
Hove Lawns, Brighton, May 25 to May 27
Foodies Festival open daily 11am to 7pm. Three-day ticket £18/£15, day ticket £10/£8. VIP ticket £38. Children under-16 free. For information visit www.foodiesfestival.com or call 0844 9951111.
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