We Grill: Alex James
When we put Blur bassist and top cheesemaker Alex James under the Take Stock grill the answers bubbled up nicely and no prizes for guessing his best British dish of all time – cheese on toast!
On the back of the Britpop band’s global success, Alex bought a farm and turned to traditional cheesemaking, producing amongst others ‘Blue Monday’, a creamy Shropshire Gorgonzola Piccante Blue named after his favourite New Order track. But it’s not all about niche markets and last year he teamed up with Asda to produce a range of processed cheeses entitled ‘Alex James Presents’. Truly obsessed with his passion, Alex is a man on a mission. “I really do find cheese endlessly beguiling. “I’m staggered by the variety, although one thing I’d like to create is a new British cheese with holes in it like Emmental. I’m working on it!” Alex has just brought out his second autobiography, ‘All Cheeses Great and Small: a Life less Blurry’, which tells of building his dream business and the joys of country life with his wife and five children. A tale of cheese compared to the chalk of his first book, which was an honest tale of rock and roll excess. Music is back on his agenda at the moment with Blur confirmed to perform at the end of Olympics celebration party this summer, which Alex said was a tremendous honour.
What is your earliest food memory?
I really first discovered a love of food helping my Grandad cook great British breakfasts for guests at his B&B in Bournemouth, where I grew up. He was a properly trained chef and a really big influence on me and a great old fry-up has to be one of the finest things in the land! My other unforgettable childhood food memory is fantastic family picnics during our annual campervan holidays in France – picnics in the sun, which seemed endless.
What would be your signature dish?
I don’t really have a signature dish – apart from providing the cheese board of course!
What’s your best kitchen gadget?
I’m terrible for gadgets, I love them. At the moment it’s a pressure fryer – a cross between a deep fat fryer and a pressure cooker which they use in fast food chicken restaurants.
Nevermind the Colonel’s secret recipe – these are what it’s all about. It cooks chicken so quickly and juicily, fantastic!
What are your favourite places to eat?
I love eating out and will try anything, but one favourite place is Corrigan’s in Mayfair where they do great things with all types of game – meats which I think are still under-rated.
What do you usually order when eating out?
Honestly, the thing I probably order most is a kebab! Not much chance to grab one in the countryside and so whenever I’m in London I head for the excellent middle-eastern takeaways on the Edgware Road. Otherwise, it really depends on what mood I’m in – I’m a bit of a food tourist. What I really like is going to a good restaurant and ordering something that elsewhere I might
not try because I know it will be done perfectly. It’s a gamble that usually works
What dish means Best of British to you?
It has to be cheese on toast – any cheese, anytime day or night, it’s always just so right!
How does British cuisine now compare globally?
Although we are the biggest consumer of ready meals in Europe and still tend to look at a chicken in terms of price rather than how nice it is as they do in France, I’d say the best British food is as good as anywhere in the world.
Money no object – which restaurant and why?
The Blue Hill in Manhattan – a truly astonishing place which I’d revisit anytime. I didn’t know how good American food could be until I went there while in New York with the band.
Worst meal ever?
Luckily for me, I always instantly forget any bad meals!
What’s the funniest thing that happened to you in a restaurant?
There’s been loads of stuff, but I remember turning up at Sheekey’s fish restaurant in London while dressed as the cowboy from the Village People along with Joe Strummer as the Red Indian, Damian Hirst as a biker and Keith Allen as a hunky builder. We still got served!
Favourite alcoholic drink?
Beer – the best-ever drink with cheese.
Favourite soft drink?
A frothy Cappuccino.
Given the choice, fine dining or a free-for-all at home?
I really love a family meal at home, with all my kids it is always a great event and that’s when I’m happiest.
TV Chefs – devils or angels?
Mostly, I think all the food programmes are a force for good.
Sweet or Savoury?
No surprises here – anything cheesy
Final Question – if you and Blur were cheeses on a plate, what would you all be?
Well Damian, would be a Stilton, magnificent and polarising, Graham would be a gooey Brie and Dave would be a fine handmade goat’s cheese. Weird, but I can’t think of one for me – just too many to choose from.
Click here for a chance to win Alex’s latest book ‘All Cheeses Great and Small: a Life less Blurry’