Best known as the chef on ITV's This Morning and married to fellow TV presenter Fern Britton, Phil Vickery has earned something of a reputation as a free-from chef, spending the best part of 20 years developing gluten-free recipes.
Photography by Tim Sutcliffe
Best known as the chef on ITV's This Morning and married to fellow TV presenter Fern Britton, Phil Vickery has earned something of a reputation as a free-from chef, spending the best part of 20 years developing gluten-free recipes. He's published several gluten-free cookbooks and in August this year will be publishing his new book on healthy eating for people with diabetes.
'It's very exciting; we're just doing the photography for that one at the moment. It's taken two years to write this book but it's been well worth it,' he says. 'The free-from label is something other people bestow on me though. I really am no expert, I just have a deep interest in why certain things work in recipes and some don't. Both gluten-free and diabetic cooking are very different and can be quite challenging.'
Phil's own healthy-eating philosophy is an 'everything in moderation' approach, and he says he's always been influenced by his brother's advice when it comes to living well. 'For many years my brother, who is a doctor, always used to beat me up about how rich my dishes were when I was cooking in my restaurant. However, he has always stuck to a few basic principles and that is to have a balanced diet, take moderate exercise, drink in moderation and certainly don't smoke. I agree with him totally on that one.'
He admits he craves sweet things 'on a pretty regular basis' and tries to avoid overindulging, but says we shouldn't make sugar the enemy either. 'I think you have to tread very carefully when you demonise certain foods or ingredients. It's very easy to blame and point the finger; I think you also need to be especially cautious about doing this when you're a "celebrity".
'There's such a huge debate about sugar at the moment. I don't have a problem with sugar itself. However, I do question certain areas where it is used unnecessarily and if we can use safe alternatives then so much the better. Take for instance xylitol – it's safe and has been around for 150 years, and kids don't get dental cavities – this has to be a good thing, surely?'
If you're concerned that your family is eating too much of the sweet stuff, Phil suggests cutting back rather than eliminating sugar completely, and finding alternatives where you can. 'I reckon that most people could cut their sugar intake by half and not know the difference, and it's the same for salt,' he says. 'After that you need to take a look at alternatives and in some instances cut it out altogether – such as added sugar in breakfast cereals and in hot drinks like coffee and tea.'
Lately, Phil's been working with Total Sweet Xylitol – a sugar alternative made from sustainable European birch and beech wood, which has 40 per cent less calories and a lower GI than sugar – to develop delicious lower sugar recipes, from lime drizzle cake to chocolate orange tart. 'I've had some very good results with Total Sweet Xylitol, in everything from chocolate tarts to sweet sauces. Xylitol has the benefit of tasting just like granulated sugar and, with the odd exception, you usually don't have to adjust general recipes to include it in your cooking and create lower-sugar desserts.'
With everyone making healthier choices and eating more vegetables these days, Phil says his family is no exception and says he often craves vegetables if he hasn't eaten many for a few days. 'I love roasted veg of any sort, or confit root vegetables gently sautéed with olive oil and smoked garlic. I think if we'd been fed this type of tasty veg as kids, we would all love veg now!'