12 July 2023 · Author Profile
A charismatic and influential British celebrity chef, Keith Floyd left an indelible mark on the culinary world. Known for his vibrant personality, love for good food, and penchant for a good drink, Floyd brought a unique and entertaining approach to cooking shows, captivating audiences around the globe. His many cookbooks , 14 of which are available on ckbk, reflect his inimitable personality.
One of the hallmarks of Floyd's style was his unconventional and spontaneous approach to cooking. He often improvised, rarely relying on precise measurements, and preferred to cook with a glass of wine in hand. He made cooking accessible and enjoyable.
ckbk caught up with some of the people who worked with and have admired him over the years to get a flavor of the flamboyant figure who set the standard for TV shows and cookery book tie-ins after he burst onto TV screens in the 1980s.
Floyd's culinary journey began when he opened his first restaurant in Bristol, England and by 1971 he had acquired three restaurants in the city. However it was his foray into television that propelled him to stardom. In the 1980s and 1990s, Floyd became a household name through his themed television series and accompanying cookery book tie-ins, such as Floyd on Fish, Floyd on Food, and Floyd's India. He blended cooking with travel and culture, all with his British wit and sense of humor.
ckbk co-founder Jon Croft (who is also the founder of Absolute Press, one of the longest established specialist cookery publishers in the UK) sets the scene: “It was 1980 and I was in the process of publishing what would be the first ever collection of recipes from restaurant chefs in book form - The Restaurant Recipe Book. This was to prove to be the first step on the road to creating a new genre of cookery book - the chef recipe book, later to morph into an offshoot, the celebrity chef cookery book phenomenon.”
“Over a bottle or two of Gigondas and a couple of Marc de Bourgogne” Croft convinced Floyd to share three of his recipes for inclusion in the book to be published by Absolute Press. A year or so later, Absolute published Keith’s first cookbook, Floyd's Food: “a book which I still think is one of his best.”
“For the next seven years, over countless calvados-spiked breakfasts, wine-led lunches and late night whisky sessions, we set about breaking the mould of cookery book publishing and cookery book TV tie-ins. It was hectic, demanding, unlike anything I have experienced since — and looking back now I realise it was a privilege.”
Floyd's on-screen persona was larger than life. His charismatic and jovial nature, combined with his unique wit made him a beloved figure in the UK. He engaged with his audience, often breaking the fourth wall and addressing them directly, inviting them to join him on his culinary adventures. His genuine and unfiltered personality resonated with viewers, who felt a connection with him beyond just cooking.
TV Producer James Winter, previously of BBC One’s Saturday Kitchen, has worked with most of the modern celebrity chefs you care to mention, and is a big fan. He told us: “Without Keith Floyd there would be no TV cookery programmes today. His pioneering, off-the-cuff presenting style was perfectly matched with the cinematic filming style of his partner in crime, director David Pritchard. The two of them threw away the rule book, if they even had one, and began a journey of stream of consciousness presenting that connected the presenter to his audience in a way that just hadn’t existed before in the world of cookery.”
Before this, food presentation on TV was instructional and according to Winter “a touch preachy with clear dos and don’ts for the home cook, think Fanny Craddock.”
For Winter, the series Floyd on France “has never been surpassed”. If you have never watched Floyd before - you are in for a treat - take a look at the recipe clips from this and other classic Floyd series on ckbk, including Floyd’s Piperade (sautéed vegetables and egg), which is simply hilarious. Classic television of any genre.
Of Floyd on France, Winter says: Not only has it stood the test of time as a viewing experience, it sets an incredibly high benchmark for any culinary travel show with ambitions in the modern era. His on-screen battles with the various indomitable and mostly female cooks of France is something to behold and makes for scintillating viewing.”
Croft describes some of the personal hurdles that came with his entertaining persona: “Keith was a singular and complicated man, damaged by his brief time spent in the army as a second lieutenant in the Tank Regiment, gifted with natural flair for friendship, conviviality and mischief. Original, inspirational, impossible and utterly brilliant.”
His manager, Stan Green, was a theatre and music promoter in the Costa del Sol who got to know Floyd in the 1980s while promoting shows in Spain. It emerged that he and Floyd had previously served in the same army regiment. Floyd and Green initially bonded over a love of music. Green told us: ”Keith was a very, very big sixties fan. He had an enormous collection of records of all the sixties hits. Well, you could ask him any question and he'd know the answer!” Green was promoting 1960s stars such as The Troggs, Cilla Black, Roy Wood, Reg Presley and Brian Poole when Floyd flew out to Spain to watch his heroes, and the two hit it off.
When he first started to work with Floyd, Green recalls, Keith handed him a huge pile of letters “invitations from people to ‘do this show’, ‘write this book’, ‘visit this place’”. His task was to sift through and find the best opportunities – Floyd had simply been overwhelmed with it all. Green describes how Floyd was a temperamental character to work with and how filming would often need to be done in the mornings, before his lunchtime drink. However, Floyd was brimming with on-screen charisma and filming with him led to some classic TV moments, for example being moved on by the police in Norway, which was made into a feature of the episode in question.
When Green set up a production company in order to sell the series to the BBC, this became a blueprint for cookery TV programmes and their respective cookbook tie-in deals.
Chef Shaun Smith-Roberts (also ex-military), came across Floyd while working at the influential restaurant Ménage à Trois in Knightsbridge, London. The food he was cooking at Ménage à Trois was very modern and nouvelle cuisine-inspired, ”all very small and pretty”. Smith-Roberts got hold of Floyd’s book and he tells us: “I was completely bowled over by the brash sort of cooking that he was talking about. And that took me right back to my father's influence. He was a great believer in liver and onions and bacon and faggots”.
Smith-Roberts had worked as a royal chef, cooking for the British Royal family when they were abroad. He started to work with Floyd around the time he had just finished Floyd on Italy and was starting on Floyd on Africa. Alongside assisting Keith with the cooking on location, Smith-Roberts also researched the culture and food of the areas Floyd was to travel to.
It was not all plain sailing. If they were shooting first thing, Smith-Roberts would be up and ready to shoot at call time. One day they were making squid risotto in a local fish market, needing to meet at 3am for a 4am start. Floyd turned up and “looked like a dog's dinner. He still had a dinner jacket on. He had obviously just come from the bar.” Smith-Roberts assumed he would be given the day off, “but as soon as the camera started Keith was word perfect. Absolutely word perfect. I was dumbfounded. And that was the first time I thought to myself, That man's a genius.”
Despite these personal challenges, his vibrant personality, unorthodox cooking style, and genuine love for food continue to inspire chefs and home cooks alike. Winter said: “If you are to take only two of his books to a desert island, then let them be Floyd on Food and Floyd on France.”
“If you have never taken the Floyd Express then you have missed something very special and I suggest you get yourself a ticket today and start your food adventure ‘my little gastronomes’ as the man himself would say!”
Keith Floyd died on 14 September 2009 and the cause of his death was recorded as a heart attack. Floyd had a history of health issues, including struggles with alcoholism, which may have contributed to his heart condition. He will forever be remembered as a trailblazer in the culinary industry, a master of entertainment, and an ambassador for the joy of cooking.