Tom Parker Bowles is cooking chili when I ring his cellphone from Fort Worth on a recent Thursday morning.
It's not something that I'd normally find the least bit interesting or unusual.
Except that Tom Parker Bowles is cooking chili in England.
He's in the kitchen at a pal's restaurant, he says -- Le Cafe Anglais in West London -- preparing a chili supper for friends -- proper Texas chili, without beans.
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"I'm a chili addict!" he says. "I'm obsessed with chili con carne. ... I love English food and it's gone mad across the world, but you can't beat chili."
Another culinary passion?
"I'm obsessed with good American barbecue," he says.
I'm feeling -- as the Brits say -- "gobsmacked." The son of Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, stepson of Prince Charles of Wales, is obsessing over "our" food. Food that's about as far from aristocratic cuisine as Texas is from Britain.
So when Parker Bowles, 37, visits Fort Worth for his first time this weekend, he'll no doubt be in a little corner of his own gastronomic heaven.
"I'm a big Texas fan," he says. [He has been to Houston.] "Everything ... the food, the booze, the people ..."
What brings the stepbrother of Princes William and Harry to Fort Worth is an event at the Modern Art Museum on Saturday -- "Let's Eat: An Evening With Tom Parker Bowles," which will feature a talk by him, as well as a three-course dinner of dishes from his new cookbook, Let's Eat: Recipes From My Kitchen Notebook (St. Martin's Press, $35.99). The book hits shelves locally Tuesday.
Parker Bowles' father, Andrew (Camilla's ex-husband), is the subject of one of the most popular works in the Modern's current exhibit "Lucian Freud: Portraits." He is the man dressed in a military uniform in the portrait The Brigadier (2003-2004).
Tom Parker Bowles may share his parents' famous (or, some would say, infamous) double last name, but in recent years, he has become somewhat of a culinary superstar all on his own in Great Britain. While he didn't study to be a chef, he always loved to eat, he said, and credits an editor at the British magazine Tatler for giving him his first shot at writing about it. Now he is not only the food editor for British Esquire and popular weekly columnist for The Mail on Sunday, but also the author of a few culinary books, including The Year of Eating Dangerously, which he has described as "a travel book about weird food." And he's starring as a judge in Simon Cowell's British TV culinary competition Food, Glorious Food, which began filming last month.
Let's Eat, though, is all about staying home. It's a compilation of 140 recipes from not just his own home (in London, with his wife and two kids) and from the "really honest" food he has eaten around the world, but favorite dishes he ate as a child. Yes, mum Camilla was a good cook, he says.
Chapters include "Comfort food" (chicken and mushroom pie), "Quick fixes" (griddled lamb with cucumber raita), "Slow & low" (Tom's 10-alarm chili), "From far-flung shores" (Thai and Mexican dishes -- two of his favorite cuisines in the world) and "Cooking for children" (homemade baby food). The food is unfussy but fresh, global in influence but British at heart. (He exalts the virtues of foods more commonly found and eaten across the pond, like roast grouse).
Most home cooks will find a few recipes to dog-ear immediately (the publisher would not allow us to reprint any), but even noncooks interested in a little peek into the royal stepson's life and upbringing will enjoy Parker Bowles' personal anecdotes throughout the book.
Here's what he had to say in our chat about his love of British food, being famous and his mother's roast chicken.
How do memories of your childhood "culinary experiences" inform your cooking?
I grew up on a farm in the country, eating local, seasonal, organic, natural foods: peas in the early summer, asparagus in spring, chickens came from down the road. My dad was a good gardener; my mother was a good, simple cook so we had lots of roast chicken and shepherd's pie, lots of trout and salmon. Around age 7 or 8 I went off to prep school ... where the food was absolutely appalling: fried eggs that were like hockey pucks, roast made of precooked, prepackaged, nonspecific meat, gravy made from powder, everything was overcooked. Suddenly I had taken for granted the [good food I'd had at home].
So you turned this love of real food into your job?
I didn't really get into cooking till after university. I had a variety of jobs, all of which I was rubbish at. But I could always string a sentence together and always loved food. ... There's nothing I'd rather do in the whole world than talk about food, eat food and write about food.
You include your mother's roast chicken recipe in the book. What is it about this recipe that you love so much?
You get the best chicken you can afford, smother it in butter, then with salt and pepper, put a lemon up its bottom, then bang it in the oven in high heat. If you use cheap, imported chicken it's not gonna get the same flavor. My mother always said the secret was a really fierce oven with lemon up the bottom. With a baked potato and salad, it's [a perfect meal].
Speaking of your mother, do you do much cooking for the royal family?
No. They have very, very good cooks of their own. Really, really good chefs. They don't need me.
As is evidenced in the cookbook, you love simple, home-cooked food, and even your food columns are "accessible" to the masses. People might be surprised about that, given your aristocratic roots.
The whole point of this cookbook is that it's not written by a chef, but by a greedy home cook; it's big flavors and foods you can share. You don't find any foams or anything like that ... just good, honest home cooking. If I can do it, anyone can do it. It's about doing big, big dishes, one-pot dishes. It's all about the pleasure of sitting down together, whether to roast meat, steak, noodles or tarts, or summer puddings. This is for ... people who like to eat.
It's basically a collection of 12 years [of food research and writing]. When I go around the world, I come back and fiddle [with a recipe], test it three or four times for my wife and friends. Only when I get it right do I put it in.
So what kind of judge are you of other people's food on Simon Cowell's Food, Glorious Food?
This is not the glitz and glamour of The X Factor. We judge one dish -- it might be Cornish pasty, a curry, any cuisine. We've got to think as judges, 'This is quite amazing -- can we put it into Marks and Spencer?' [The famous London gourmet store, which will sell the winning dish.] ... It's about taste. If it's not good enough, it's not good enough. It's about whether it impresses me and explodes in my mouth and fills it with joy and happiness.
Any interest in starring on American food TV shows?
My job as a writer is great; if TV comes around, fantastic. I don't want to be famous. I want to keep doing what I want to do ... celebrating good food.
The description of your event at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth says it will be "a celebration of British cuisine." Those who might not know better might ask, "What's to celebrate?" Is British cuisine, like Britain itself, having a moment right now?
I would say you've never tasted the real thing, so what right do you have to say it's disgusting? We have incredible food, wonderful produce and dairy. [British food] is having a moment, but I'd rather carry it on and keep building rather than having "moments." It takes time.
The portrait of your father, Andrew Parker Bowles, The Brigadier, is one of the highlights of the current Lucian Freud exhibit here at the Modern. What are your thoughts on this work?
I think it's absolutely, spectacularly brilliant and beautiful. He captured something about my father you can't explain. If I had 10 million pounds kicking around, I'd try to buy it. It is utterly, utterly brilliant.
So, your famous step-sister-in-law Pippa Middleton's book on entertaining, Celebrate, comes out soon, and it's more expensive than yours. Did you give her any advice?
[Chuckling] She's a lovely girl. No, I didn't give her any advice on the book.
Stephanie Allmon, 817-390-7852