This summer Tunbridge Wells will be treated to a three-day festival of gastro goodies, live music and appearances from some of the country’s finest chefs and musicians courtesy of Tom Kerridge’s Pub in the Park. Eileen Leahy caught up with the TV chef to find out about this exciting extravaganza

TOM KERRIDGE is running late. Only twenty minutes or so, but given just how much he has on his plate right now it’s totally understandable. The Michelin star chef, TV personality and best-selling author is currently juggling the promotion of Pub in the Park, a type of gastro and grooves event happening in Dunorlan Park this July, alongside the running of his two Michelin star pub The Hand and Flowers and also The Coach, both in
Marlow, Buckinghamshire. Add to the mix the fact he’s promoting his phenomenally successful BBC2 series Lose Weight For Good as well as the book that accompanies it and most would be flagging from fatigue at this point but not Tom. In fact, he is positively beaming and utterly charming when we meet at Sankey’s Brasserie on Camden Road to discuss his Pub in the Park event coming to Tunbridge Wells. Oh and the reason he was late I discover wasn’t for any of the above but because he and his promotions team got lost in a very busy, traffic heavy Tunbridge Wells! Despite this the chef has not been discouraged from bringing his food festival to the town.

“We’re so excited about it,” he says. “We kicked it off last year in Marlow and the idea
behind it was to celebrate ten years of The Hand and Flowers. But it took so long to organise the pub ended up being almost 13 years old!” The slightly tardy timing didn’t matter a jot to the chef, who has lost a staggering 12 stone over the past couple of years, as the three day food festival ended up being an ‘utterly amazing’ success.

“We sold all 18,000 tickets within 24 hours of them going on sale,” explains Tom. “The
original idea was to get ten of my mates, lots of them with Michelin stars, some without, to come along and cook some really tasty food for around a fiver a dish.”

This way he says the public could experience a taste of these famous culinary offerings without having to pay a fortune or sit on a long, often exclusive waiting list. The likes of Benares’ Atul Kochhar, Paul Ainsworth from No 6 in Padstow and Chris and Jeff Galvin who run a number of prestigious eateries in London were all present last year.

“We had more Michelin stars at that event than at anything similar anywhere else in the country. The vibe was amazing; it felt like a big national event that was happening in your back garden.”

The success of Pub in the Park Marlow, which also showcased the delicious wares of local artisan producers as well as independent pubs and restaurants, gave Tom the inspiration to roll it out across the country this year.

“We didn’t want to make the Marlow one any bigger so we looked around the country and found some places that we thought had a similar feel.” They chose Knutsford, Bath and of course Tunbridge Wells. What made our town a good choice? “It’s a beautiful place but it also supports its community’s local businesses and independent restaurants and producers – and Kent is amazing! We call it the Garden of England for good reason but there is its incredible coastline too so it seemed like the perfect option.

“We can’t wait to come here and we know Tunbridge Wells will love it. I’ve got some greatfriends down here.” These include the Tanner brothers of the Kentish Hare in Bidborough, Steve Harris of The Sportsman in Whistable and Mark Sergeant who
runs The Wife of Bath in Wye. “They’ll all be cooking, doing demos and Q&As alongside small independents and that’s just perfect. It’s a way of putting locals on a national
scale.” Tom and his team will be bringing pop-up versions of The Coach and The Hand and Flowers, the only pub in the UK to have two Michelin stars, to the event which runs from July 6 to to 8.

“We’ll be doing demos, Q&A sessions with the audience, cooking and introducing bands.”
These, he reveals during our chat, will be Tom Odell (who played at last year’s event) Mel C, Razorlight, The Christians, Scouting for Girls and Sophie Ellis Bextor. In addition to this there will also be guest appearances from the likes of top chef Angela Hartnett MBE and former Great British Bake Off winner Candice Brown.

But as well as bringing out the big gastro guns Tom also wants to ensure they attract the area’s best pubs, restaurants and suppliers to exhibit, too. “They’re another key reason as to why we are doing this. It’s not just about having a party with all my chef mates in the park and cooking up some great food and listening to music, we also want to shine the spotlight on smaller enterprises and independents to help them get a foothold and show what they do. Pub in the Park is an opportunity for them to showcase themselves to the general public.”

Tom, who would love the event to become an annual one, is clearly passionate about the exposure it gives people not to mention the good time enjoyed by the visitors. “From our point of view everything about the festival has to feel like it’s from the heart and is real. Ninety per cent of those who did Marlow last year signed up to do it again that weekend.
The feedback from those who exhibited and attended was great.

People were able to walk around, sample first class food and directly ask questions about the products’ provenance from the people who make them. The key thing with showing locally is you can create a buzz around something and people then become passionate
about it so that when it gets to a wider audience its reputation precedes it.” Tom does have a word of warning for any chefs wanting to take part: “It is hard to replicate dishes when you’re not in your own kitchen but as long as they have the heart and soul of what you do it’ll be fine. My advice would be to concentrate on the flavour and not the presentation. As every chef knows, the technicality of the mise en place takes time but here the pressure is off.”

So how would Tom sum up the essence of his Pub in the Park? “It’s about having a good time, tasting some great food and listening to some amazing bands. The sun will shine all three days and it’ll be around 24°C so just come in flip flops, shorts and a T shirt, that’s all
you’ll need!” Roll on summer…

Tickets to Pub in the Park go on general sale on Friday February 2. For visitor information and priority booking on Thursday February 1, sign up to the Pub Club at www.pubintheparkuk.com where you’ll also find details on how to apply to exhibit at the event