INTERVIEW: We chat to top Yorkshireman, TV Chef Brian Turner

Fuller’s pubs have teamed up with legendary chef, Brian Turner CBE, to tell the story of Fuller’s Sunday Roasts and all the touches that make them a cut above the rest. From carefully sourced ingredients to passionate people, Fuller’s pride themselves on delivering everything that makes a Sunday special and even better when you can share these moments with family and friends. That’s why they’ve introduced Share Sundays.

We caught up with Chef Brian Turner to find out more…

How did you get involved with Fuller’s pubs, and what made you choose to carry on with it?

The way I got into Fuller’s was quite easy. For 28-29 years I was the British president of the UK team of the Bocuse d’Or competition, which is a worldwide cooking competition in Leon in France. It was held every two years and then it became every year and I was the judge for the British team. And somebody managed to make a connection between Fuller’s and the Bocuse d’Or, wanting to help sponsor it. So that’s how I met the Fuller’s team. Listening to Fuller’s team, I was really enthused and excited by the way they approached their training of chefs.

From what I understood, they want to do something great as far as Chef training is concerned?

Well, the reality of course is quite simple; it is for the survival of the future of the hospitality industry, which has been amazingly good to me. And amazingly good to lots of people. And those that have taken the opportunity have actually, I believe, got a better way of life. Even if you get trained in the hospitality business. If you get trained to be a chef, and for whatever reason you need to leave the industry, it leaves you with life skills; knowing how to buy the right product from the right place at the right price, and then convert it to the right dish on a plate. And then eventually, if you leave the business, it’s a skill that you need at home.

I remember when I was at school a long, long time ago, we had domestic science, which was two hours on a Wednesday afternoon. It was a good thing to do!

It was even better in my day. I was at school in the 1950s and in those days when we got to the third year in grammar school, you had to choose a craft, a skill. For boys it was woodwork or metal work for girls needlework or cookery. I was one of the few in Yorkshire that said ‘I want to do cookery’. They said ‘no lad, you can’t do that!’. But I did. Elsie Bibby, the lady who taught cookery at the parish, after the first month would say, “Okay girls, let’s gather around Brian’s table because his is always the best”. I was hated by the girls, but loved by Elsie Bibby! 

Is that when you first started cooking or were you always interested in it?

No, I was quite fortunate in that respect in that my father was conscripted and went to the Second World War and served in Belgium and he was drafted into the catering corps. When he came back he went back to his job in the Morley Co-op. It would appear, having read the history of Morley Co-operative society, that my father gained a bit of a reputation for being a bit of a whiz with the old food knowledge he picked up in the war. So he opened a transport cafe. He had four children with my mother in five years so consequently she was overworked. I was the eldest, so whenever he could my dad took me down to his cafe to get me out of my mums way! So add Elsie Bibby on top of that, I would say that’s how I really got started in the business.

So what’s your first foodie memory then?

As a young man I was in the Salvation Army; I used to play in their band. And they used to have a congress regularly where all the Salvation Armys around the area in Yorkshire would meet together and have a jolly old singsong. It was on a Sunday, but we had to eat so we had to go out. We had elders who helped. And they took us to an Italian restaurant where I ate food like I’ve never eaten before. So it was a very rare occasion and it was just so special. And we only managed to get to go there when we would do this congress.

So what was your first job when you actually did go into kitchens proper, so to speak?

Well, if we count the fact that I worked for my Dad in his transport cafe, so eventually all four of us used to go on a Saturday morning, leave my mother to have a rest at home, we would come to the café with my dad and then my dad when he closed at 11 o’clock would lock the doors from the outside. And he would say: “I’m just going to see a man about a dog”. We didn’t realise he meant The Dog and Hound pub next door! So we would then clean up the cafe and get it all ready so that Monday morning when you reopen it was bright and sparkling. For that we were rewarded; we were allowed to have one Blue Ribbon chocolate biscuit.

What other projects are you getting stuck into lately?

I run a competition called Future chef, which I think is part of which attracted Fuller’s because it is getting 11 to 16 year  olds, getting them interested in where their food comes from. All the things that we have talked about, we’re trying to instill those because we’d like to do it earlier in life. But the education system doesn’t allow us to do that. What I don’t understand is that I suspect if you did a poll, that at least 50% of our MPs have children in school. They are then going to finish school and go to university and  you need them to be healthy and have a proper functioning brain, which is what we teach kids with cooking. If you get the  right balance of food, then you grow to be healthy.

We run a scheme as well called Adopt a School for the Royal Academy where we send chefs into classrooms to try and teach young people about the palette and where food comes from and what to look for. So what we want to do is to stimulate. And I have to say we have a waiting list of schools as long as your arm. Once people have been in and done it, everybody gets on telling their mates!

That’s fantastic, are you running that nationwide?

Yes, we have a Northwest branch and we have a Scottish branch. But it is far more East London centric with the outposts, if you like, who do a great job. Because we don’t really want to send too many people from London to Scotland because it’s A) expensive, and B) it doesn’t help our carbon footprint. How it started was one gentleman whose daughter was at school in Putney and learning nothing about food and he was getting frustrated. “Well I’ll come and do it!” he said. So he did and it was as simple as that!

My husband has only just got into cooking and now he’s into it in a big way. And I’m now not allowed in the kitchen!

Well that’s the thing, you can share it around a bit now! You’d be gob-smacked the number of people, when I did the shows, that walk past, men by themselves, and they say: ‘Hi Brian. You saved my life because my wife passed away and I’ve suddenly nobody to cook for me”. It’s so gratifying to see the system actually works.

Do you ever get a chance to eat out yourself?

Yes, I do. I haven’t been out as much just recently. But certainly, it’s in my DNA if you like. I go out to lunches more than dinners these days. Then I can get home at a sensible time. But it’s keeping up with what’s going on. And there’s so many things that are changing these days and so many people that need supporting that the list of where to go is just getting bigger and bigger and bigger.

Apart from James Martin who you’re very friendly with, do you have any other foodie heroes in your life?

Well two of my heroes have sadly passed away, the Roux brothers. But then there’s the wonderful Raymond Blanc who is a foodie hero of mine. He’s a wonderful man and we have had some good times together. But let me just take you back a little bit; there was a guy called Eric Scamman, who taught me to make sauces at the Savoy Grill. I’ll never forget the words that he gave me, helping me understand how to make the right the right sauce. Then of course, Paul Bocuse; the great French chef of my era, who has also sadly passed away. He was a great contributor to all our lives.

He influenced your cooking?

Oh yes. The way I look at it is you know with music colleges when you come to do your examinations? They ask you to choose a piece of music that you want to play and you choose whatever you want to play, and you play. And then they say ‘Right, that’s very good. Now, here’s a piece of music you’ve never seen. Play that’. You have to cite read it. I think that’s how we should look at cooking.

We need people to be able to understand the basics of the classics, the French cuisine as I understood it. Once you’ve learned that you can go off on a tangent and you can cite read someone. I don’t wish to uplift Ready, Steady Cook too much, but that’s what that programme did. Here are some items, do something with them. Sometimes you did something phenomenal. People would say ‘Oh I must make that!’. Other times people would say ‘Oh, that looks rubbish. I’m not going to do that’. But in fact, the two principles were aligned with a music examination.

What’s the best meal you’ve ever had?

You’re going to ask me for the dishes, which I won’t be able to tell you but many moons ago, I can’t remember when it was now, I was filming in Hong Kong. The food and beverage manager of the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which was where we were staying, invited me to dinner one night after we had finished filming. We had dinner in the Mandarin Oriental overlooking Victoria Harbour in a Chinese restaurant called Manwah and that was probably the best meal I’ve ever had. I’ve been very fortunate to have some wonderful meals around the world in the houses of some great chefs. But I have also sat around the table with friends and just sat and eaten and you couldn’t ask for much more.

What are your plans for this year?

I think that Fuller’s Sunday lunchtime is going to take quite a bit of my time this year and I’m quite happy to devote my time to that. I think that certainly in winter times when you can go into a pub like Fuller’s and see an open fire going…to me that suddenly tells you this is the time to sit down and eat and enjoy yourself and the company of others.

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Minerva Studio
Author: Minerva Studio