Polly Guy: That’s Honest
Interview by Joff Alexander-Frye, photos by Drew Mason and Joff Alexander-Frye
Polly Guy, straight-talking celebrity chef, sat down with our editor-in-chief at the weekend and gave us her no-nonsense views on the world of food and how her own background has given her the positive outlook that she prides today.
Tell me a bit about your background.
“I started off not too great; I was batted around quite a few foster homes. I lost my sister. Both of my parents were put in prison, for, bit gruesome this isn’t it, for murder. It’s a positive story; it’s all positive. That’s the backbone of where I come from. Because of what happened when I was younger, I was left with certain physical injuries that I can’t recover from. I have to wear orthotics and I have a bit of a dodgy leg, but whatever. The positive is, I was adopted when I was three and a half into a very stable upbringing. They were both doctors, GPs with a good background and they had a smallholding. So as I grew up I always knew about where I came from and [my adopted parents] were always honest with me, which I think is really important. But it definitely changed me. We all have the want to do well and you can tell with certain people that they are very focused and determined. I’m just like that; I won’t give up. I think I feel that I have a lot to prove to myself, no one else, and to make sense of my twin sister being murdered. I want to live positively for two people; to create something really happy and give back and say you know what? I can’t change what happened. You can go two ways; either you can be a miserable g*t and think the world owes you something or you can get off your arse and go and make something with your life.”
Wow, that’s really powerful.
“It’s true; it’s not been easy. I have an Achilles heel problem because my ankle was broken, so cooking at times can be a bit tricky because there’s a lot of standing involved. But actually, cooking saved my life. When I was sixteen, I went off on a bit of a tangent. It’s a big world out there with lots to think about and process. I did lots of different careers. I dabbled in catering for a while, got out of it, got bullied because back then it was still quite male unfortunately. I got into modelling, earned a bit of money doing that which is really positive. I got out at the right time and put my money into property and invested well. Then I got back into cooking and I’ve been back in cooking ever since. I’m so grateful for food because it gives me a passion and I feel safe with it. I feel really good about myself; when you’ve done a nice dish, there’s self-respect.”
Do you have an earliest memory where you remember just loving food?
“Yeah, of my foster mum. She died this year. She, even though I was adopted, always kept in contact so obviously she didn’t adopt me but she was still my mum, if you know what I mean. She was a good baker and it’s thanks to her that I have the baking core skills. She was b****y brilliant. We lived in a really s****y, grotty council estate with all sorts going on. But you know what? Again, it doesn’t matter if you’re learning and you’re happy. In terms of love and affection, I had more love from her than my adoptive parents. It’s driven me into a positive way forward. I’ve got five different businesses that I run, I’m a mother to a beautiful little girl who does my nut in! I’m self-sufficient. I grow my own and it educates the children; they can see it and pick it and cook it. It starts at home. If you eat s**t, they eat s**t.”
Do you have a favourite ingredient or dish to make?
“I do like puddings. I didn’t just go into puddings because I like puddings and I love eating sugar. I just naturally enjoy it. To make pastry and do these intricate things, it comes naturally to me and I really love it. I like quite complex puddings like a trio of desserts, so a bit more gourmet. You can do all these really cool dishes or your own interpretation of a banoffee pie or a reconstructed deconstructed pudding. Something that might look like art on a plate but it also tastes really good and all the ingredients have relevance and they marry well and they balance.”
What are you looking forward to in the future?
“Cooking, just cooking!” She pauses, laughing. “I just want to cook. I really mean this, without sounding arrogant, I care deeply about everyone but in my opinion I don’t care whether you’re a Michelin starred chef, a home baker, a home cook, a sixteen year-old having a hard time in a dodgy estate. Everyone should be treated exactly the same. I have no time for snobbery. I have no time for arrogance. My only wish for myself is that as I climb the ladder and become more and more successful, I keep focused and remember what’s right. A lot of people forget that on the journey and I just always want to be really humble and respectful. Knowledge is power and embracing everyone and everything is key.”
Finally, tell us a little about your chutneys and your curd.
“My best-seller is my piccalilli. Then I have a tomato chilli chutney. Now, I’m a little bit different and I don’t want to give too many of my secrets away.” Polly pauses to laugh again with me. “I actually use a really good apple cider vinegar that comes from Devon. I don’t want to give the brand away, but she definitely makes my products that bit more special because her stuff is just phenomenal. I don’t use any salt; all of my products have no added salt. Now again, to a chef they’ll say ‘Oh you have to add salt.’ Well actually, the clever part about being a cook is that if you can find a way of creating a balance and a flavour without pouring a load of salt in it, then it’s more of a healthy option. When you have a product, you have to be different from the next, because otherwise you’re just another jar of chutney or curd on the shelf. I have to make my products unique. I don’t use powders; I use everything fresh. Actually it was my foster mum again, it’s thanks to her that I have another product. She likes apple, pork and cranberry chutney, but when she was on dialysis she couldn’t eat it because of all the bits people generally put in it. It was my incentive to make a chutney that she could eat.”
And your curd is a lemon curd?
“Yeah, I do all sorts; passion fruit, lime, Norwich City curds. They like that! I like to be different. In your work, if someone says you can’t do it, yes you f*****g can! You’ve just got to maybe approach it in a slightly different way.”
Tim was saying that you’re often in the kitchen until the early hours of the morning.
“You have to be. You cannot work for yourself and get up at 10 o’clock; well you can’t with a kid anyway. I think people might see pictures and read articles and think ‘That’s alright for her’. I’ve got brand new Range Rovers out there sparkling away. I know what people think of me and I don’t give a s**t. I’ve worked my arse off. I’ve been focusing on my businesses, focusing on me and my work and making sure I have a stable foundation. I’m very brazen about it; if you want nice things you b****y work for it. You have to work hard, you have to keep going and you cannot give up. It’s a lifestyle.”
I think a lot of people would agree with that straight-talking approach.
“Well, I think this world needs a bit of refreshment. It’s not about disrespecting people. We don’t all have money. When I was showing how to peel ginger earlier, people can be a bit snobby and say ‘Surely you have a potato peeler’. Actually, if you’re a student, that £2.50 will go on something else. So if you’ve got a tea spoon, I like to show people you can still cook but find a different way to achieve it. There are billions of people out there who love cooking and might not have all the gadgets but sod it. I’ll show you how to cook and you can still get it nice. And that’s honest.”