Crisis, what crisis? Ex-England captain Phil Vickery has launched a restaurant business during the pandemic. The MasterChef champion tells us what spurred him to do it
Phil Vickery joins the restaurant trade
Phil Vickery is back in the kitchen. Nine years after winning Celebrity MasterChef, the former England and Lions prop has launched a premium takeaway service in Cheltenham. It comes ahead of plans to open a restaurant, called No 3, in the Gloucestershire spa town.
“We were ready to go with the restaurant but Covid has put a stopper on that. We’ll open that when things allow,” says Vickery, 44. “I rang my chef partner three weeks ago and said, ‘We’ve got to do something, we can’t just sit and mope and wait for things to get better’. So we’ve started a click and collect service, taking what we can from the menu, what’s deliverable. What’s true to me, what’s authentic, what’s right.”
With the kitchen at No 3 not yet ready for use, Vickery is using the facilities at Brickhampton Golf Club. His pared-back menu includes his homemade sourdough, classics like cottage pie and fish pie, and meaty favourites like slow-braised beef in red wine sauce and spiced duck.
“I’ve got my bread in there, got a few sharing platters. It’s restaurant food to your home really,” explains Vickery, who won the World Cup with England in 2003 before captaining them to the final four years later.
“It’s traditional, good British food but at the same time we’ve got masala on there as a vegetarian option and it’s bloody delicious. People say, ‘What’s your favourite steak?’ I love ribeye, I love sirloin, I love fillet. I struggle with food to say what my favourite is, I just like good food prepared well and tasty.”
Those choosing steak get a novel experience. It arrives raw with all the ingredients and you watch a video so you can cook along with Vickery, picking up tips along the way.
“It’s my sirloin steak with Diane sauce, it’s just how to do it. I don’t do it in a ‘cheffy’ way, I try to talk in a cook way, a way in which people understand and connect with you. That’s my ambition.
“I want more people to eat more good food and elevate their cooking. I’m not a chef but I care deeply about that. I want to celebrate good food, sourcing it, cooking it. I’m proud of my upbringing and the farmer in me has held me in good stead. My passion for food comes from growing up on the family farm (in Cornwall) where we all had allotments.”
Vickery won Celebrity MasterChef in 2011, matching the feat of former team-mate and 2006 winner Matt Dawson. The prop’s three-course combo of scallops, lamb fillet and bread-and-butter pudding fuelled his passion for cooking.
“I’d always been a huge fan of the show. I didn’t think I could win it but what I’ve been able to do since is food festivals, cooking demos, promoting Red Tractor, British foods, things that have always been close to my heart.”
His talent for coping with the demands and stresses of a professional kitchen is something few possess. In Clive Woodward’s world champion side in 2003, players were allocated specific areas of responsibility and Vickery was put in charge of ‘team pressure’.
“I like a laugh and a joke but at the same time I’m really serious about my work. On MasterChef I’d use humour to deflect tension but I’d be ready to go, I call it ‘showtime’. John Terode [presenter] would say to me when I was cooking, ‘Phil, I’m talking to you’, he’d be talking across the kitchen, ‘you didn’t even respond, you didn’t even flinch.’ I’d have to spend time apologising to people. They’d say, ‘Mate, don’t apologise, it’s just amazing to see’.
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“Sport is a different environment but it’s the same kind of pressure of delivering. So how do you deliver? I’d wake up in the night and think about my plating of food, draw diagrams in the book of how I want it to be. That’s not me being anal, it’s just why wouldn’t you?”
He has a strong team for his new venture. Head chef Tom Rains’s CV includes The Berkeley, Claridge’s, L’Escargot and Mosimann’s. Also on board is Elliott Camm, who has worked as restaurant manager at local restaurants The Daffodil and Ellenborough Park.
Vickery is a non-executive director at Creed Foodservice, a leading wholesaler. He’s named his new restaurant after his shirt number and adds: “It’s something that is very personal to me, that No 3 jersey. I wanted it to have a rugby feel.
“And actually we talk about three things: your food, the cooking of it and the eating of it. It doesn’t matter what you cook, a pork chop, a cottage pie, if you get those three things right that’s what food is about.”
Vickery hung up his boots almost ten years ago following a neck injury. He played his senior club rugby for Gloucester and Wasps, but remembers his junior clubs, Bude and Redruth, with equal affection. A great mentor of his, Redruth’s Terry Pryor, died a few weeks ago.
“I always remember what Terry said to me nearly 30 years ago. He came to the farm (at Kilkhampton) and I was late out of the milking parlour. I walked up to the house and they were in the dining room. All he talked to me about was how he wanted to improve me, how he wanted to give me the best opportunity. He didn’t talk about winning anything, he didn’t talk about playing for England or Cornwall, or even for Redruth.
“What he talked about was wanting to give me the best possible chance to be the best I could be. I was 16 years old. He’s no longer with us but the impact that guy had on me as a young person was amazing. Him and Simon Blake, who both came up together. I’m still in touch with Simon, great human-being.
“I’ll never ever forget that. Rugby gave me the opportunity to feel valued. Not just the fat kid at school who was last in the line and had to play goalie. Suddenly I had a bit of purpose. Wow. That’s when I fell in love with rugby. It still sits very deep with me.”
Vickery started a leisurewear brand, Raging Bull, whilst still playing pro rugby. The lockdown restrictions have impacted on high-street retail but the company is trading strongly online.
“Covid has made us all reassess. Because of Teams and Zoom I reckon I’ve had more touch points and more noise from the team and I’ve enjoyed the experience of how things can be done now. There are lots of learnings and opportunities as a business.”
For more about No 3 and to see the menu, visit No3restaurants. Currently it’s phone orders only – online ordering is coming soon.
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