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Jimmy Doherty: 'My first chicken laid one egg and four of us shared it'


My earliest food memory... Getting told off by my mum for eating cat food when I was a toddler. I think my brother used to put the cat's bowl out deliberately so I'd spot it, then he'd sit and watch me eat it. My first memory of food production is getting my first chickens when I was about 11. I had three bantams, which I'd bought off this guy at school. When the first one laid, I had fried egg on toast. There was only one egg, and four of us sharing it, but it was a feeling of, "Wow, I've produced this thing I can eat."

My store-cupboard essentials... A good olive oil, a good cider vinegar, some Maldon sea salt and also a jar of pork or beef fat. Meat fat is really fantastic to use for cooking and I use it as often as I do vegetable oil. Also, I have a little baby, and I always make sure I've got some broccoli, and potatoes and eggs knocking around: with those [ingredients], I can pretty much come up with anything both for her and myself.

My favourite cookbook... Pork and Sons by Stéphane Reynaud. It's a beautiful book, with great warmth, which goes through all the different stages of killing, preparing and cooking a pig. It demonstrates that we may turn these animals into food, but there's an element of respect there, as well as an element of celebration. That aside, the recipes are very good: it's the kind of thing that would inspire more people to take the whole nose-to-tail eating [concept] on board.

The kitchen gadget I can't live without... My knives. I've got a Henckels knife which I use all the time in the kitchen and then I have boning knives and things like that. I also have a very good porcelain knife sharpener, which is really important, because if you're dealing with meat all the time, having a blunt knife is dangerous and having a serrated knife is even worse. If you have a really nice, sharp knife, put it in your cutlery drawer wrapped in a tea towel – and don't put it in the dishwasher as my wife has!

My favourite food shop... Eastwoods, a butcher in Berkhamsted, Hertfordshire, run by a guy called Joe Collier. He's quite continental in the way he takes [butchery] to the nth degree: he'll do beef Wellington all prepped up for you, for example, and make all these sauces and things. It's very different to our on-farm butchers, which is very rustic – we do great big joints of meat and things like that – and I find his style intriguing.

My top table... Pinney's, a great old-school fish restaurant/café in Orford, Suffolk. They do really good things such as smoked eel on toast and they have their own fishing boat; it's not pompous, and it's always rammed. I like going there on a rainy lunchtime and having a nice bottle of white wine, getting four or five starters and eating them like tapas.

My dream dining companion... Billy Connolly. I've seen him live in Dublin, and I think he's one of the great storytellers: when he tells one, you can almost see the characters, and someone like that at a dinner party is just awesome.

My guilty pleasure...I never used to be a sweet person but it would be a crème brûlée when done really well. In my restaurant, we serve our crème brûlée as Cambridge custard cream, which is the original brûlée: the French stole it off us! Also, a fried-egg sandwich with a bit of tomato sauce, and a yolk that will run all over your fingers: it should probably be on the list of the world's top delicacies.

The strangest thing I've eaten... Bull's testicles in Kenya. They castrate them very late there, when they're six months, and they just chuck them on the fire for about 30 seconds and then eat them. I think the bit I ate was probably the urethra, as it was long and stringy. It wasn't the best.

Jimmy Doherty is a farmer, restaurateur and broadcaster. He is working with Jordans cereals to encourage Britain's gardeners to make at least 10 per cent of their gardens, patios or window boxes wildlife-friendly (jordanscereals.co.uk)