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Interview with TV chef Phil Vickery
Phil Vickery has travelled the world in search of exciting new eating experiences for ITV’s This Morning. But the celebrity chef could barely believe the freshness of the food he ordered in one restaurant in Vietnam.
“I sat down at the table with the cameraman and director opposite me – suddenly the director’s face turned white,” Phil told me. “I looked around and there was a full-size live cobra rearing up beside me. I was edging away from it when the cook said ‘no problem, no problem – we have anti-venom!’ That wasn’t exactly what I wanted to hear!”
Phil was filming in the restaurant for This Morning when he decided to try the local delicacy. But he didn’t bargain on what happened next.
“The cook cut the snake’s head off and poured the blood into a glass pint pot. Then he slit the body open and poured the bile into the glass too before mixing it with rice wine. He took the snake’s heart out and put it, still pumping, onto the table in front of me and said ‘you eat!’”
At this point, Phil’s director was panicking and telling the chef he didn’t have to eat the heart. But Phil gamely said he’d take responsibility for the grisly meal and promptly ate the organ and drank the unappealing blood cocktail.
“I have to admit it was grim!” confessed Phil. “The cook said it would make me a ‘very virile man’ – I will say no more about that. But I have to admit the snake was delicious. I just wouldn’t want to drink cobra blood and bile again!”
Phil, who is married to former This Morning presenter Fern Britton, has been the show’s resident chef for over 12 years. He started his cooking career as a commis chef at the Burlington Hotel on the Folkestone seafront before working at numerous Michelin-starred restaurants across England. His last role as head chef was at The Castle Hotel in Taunton where he won, apart from a coveted Michelin star, numerous awards and honours for his cooking.
In recent years, he has concentrated on his TV work and written 14 books including his celebrated gluten-free cookbooks which have won several awards.
The books have been a boon to people of all ages who suffer from ceoliac disease, an autoimmune condition caused by intolerance to gluten, a protein which is found in foods made from wheat and other grains. Eating gluten damages the lining of the gut of people who have coeliac disease, and can lead to malnutrition, osteoporosis, small bowel cancer and other illnesses.
There is no cure or medication for the condition, which affects one in 100 people in the UK, and the only treatment is a strict gluten-free diet for life. “I recently got stopped when I was out walking on a beach in Cornwall by an elderly man with tears in his eyes,” said Phil, who is an ambassador for the charity Coeliac UK.
“He shook my hand and said ‘you saved my daughter’s life – I bought your gluten-free cookbook and it changed her life’.”
Phil says he has people thanking him all the time for writing the gluten-free books, especially parents with young children with the condition who can’t eat birthday cake or treats.
Now he encourages greater knowledge about the disease and supports Coeliac UK initiatves like its Gluten Free Chef of the Year competition and its recent national Awareness Week.
For more information about Phil’s gluten-free books and recipes visit www.vickery.tv or www.kylebooks.com.
For a taster of some of Phil’s gluten-free recipes in his latest book Seriously! Good Gluten-Free Cooking for Kids published by Kyle Books, see opposite.