British food writer and critic Tom Parker Bowles is the son of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall and a judge on the Australian cooking reality television series The Hotplate, which premiered on Channel 9 this week. I caught up with the 40-year-old to chat about how he critiques a restaurant, his favourite places to dine and how his mother’s cooking influenced his career.
Tell me about your time in Australia.
I was here for three months filming The Hot Plate … Australia gets into your soul. It gets into your bones. There are certain things I miss [when I’m back in London] – things like chicken Twisties, Tim Tams and the lollies and that sort of stuff. And those fries at Red Rooster with chicken sauce. It’s those sort of things I miss and I find myself slipping into calling everything “heaps good”.
For work, you must eat at fine dining restaurants. Do still appreciate junk food?
[Yes] I like all level of food. I never have guilt about food. If I want to go and have McDonald’s I have McDonald’s. I love crap food and I love beautiful food. I love street food and I can’t bear those restaurants where – my wife calls them “cling cling” restaurants because all you hear is a “cling cling” of the glass on the table – where everyone is so scared to be in there and scared to eat.
Where did your love of food come from?
It started with greed, really. I’m the greediest person. I really love eating. My father is very greedy and he was a good gardener. We grew up in a farm. So we all knew about seasons and where our chickens, our beef and vegetables came from. In those days, there weren’t many supermarkets in the ’70s, when we were in the country. And my mother was a good cook.
Did your mother’s cooking have a big influence on your career?
Probably subconsciously. She brought us up along with my father to appreciate good food … She is very good at cooking a roast, roast chicken or roast beef or pies … She still cooks. She is much busier now, obviously … But we argue in the kitchen! She says, “Why are doing that? Why are doing this?” but if she came into my kitchen I’d do the same, so we actually cook separately now [laughs].
How did you become a food critic?
Out of university, I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I was sacked from pretty much every job I did. There’s a magazine called Tatler and I was a bit pissed at a party and I wobbled up to [the editor] and said, “Can I write a food column?” He said, “Send me 800 words”. So I did a food column with him for Tatler for eight years. Then I moved to GQ and then to Esquire and then The Mail on Sunday. Suddenly it became my life to write about food. I find food endlessly fascinating. It’s not just lifestyle; it’s a prism through which you can see history, economics, health, wealth, happiness. Everything comes down to food. Food is the one experience we all share, so everyone has an opinion on it and it’s very relatable.
When you dine at a restaurant, how do you critique the food?
Basically, in 850 words I like to bring in the person…. you want to give the reader an idea of what sort of restaurant it is. So it’s everything from the service to the feeling. How it is put together is as important as the food.
What are some of your favourite Australian restaurants?
I think Estelle [The Hot Plate co-judge] Scott [Pickett’s] restaurant is stunning. I also absolutely love North Bondi Fish with the kids. I love Spice I Am. I was obsessed with Apollo. Then Melbourne has Chin Chin, and Flower Drum, which I love.
What is it about Australian cuisine that you love?
What I love about Australian cuisine is, because you have such a big Asian population here, the ingredients are very authentic Thai or Vietnamese food and the flavours are all zinging. With modern Australian – which is a dodgy term that I don’t really like – but what I like about Australian chefs [is] there’s a sense of freedom. There’s a sense of not being restricted by the past. It’s not like being a French chef who says, “You have to do this, you have to do that.” There’s no fear.
When your mother married Prince Charles, did that make a big difference to your life?
Not really to my life. To her life, I think it did. But you know, she was a mother. She didn’t have a full-time job; she was a full-time mother. But suddenly she was working 10 to 20 engagements a day. I have nothing but amazement and respect for how [the Royals] all do it. I could never do it. I could never be that nice and friendly and interested. She is always interested and she is good with people. When you have to have every bit of the day absolutely scheduled, it’s incredible. I think when she goes back to her house – where we all grew up – that’s where I think she can sort of chill out and perhaps maybe have dinner in her dressing gown! But she’s happy and that means we are happy. She is really excited to come out to Australia later in the year.
There is so much written about your mother and your family. What is the biggest misconception about your mother?
I’ll tell you what pisses me off: I saw in the paper the other day, “Oh, she has just given up smoking.” She gave up smoking 20 years ago! It pisses me off … the bullshit [that] is written. The papers make up shit sometimes but you just get used to it.
You are also a chef. What’s your signature dish at home?
It’d probably be something with tons of chillies that only my wife could eat. Because we always have friends over, we cook stir-fries or all sorts of Thai or Mexican dishes. But our chilli capacity has gone up so much.
WE WENT TO The Four Seasons Hotel, Sydney.
WE ATE Ocean Trout ‘Ham from the Sea’; yellow fin tuna, watermelon and ginger; broccolini, fermented chilli, almond.
WE DRANK Sparkling mineral water.