When I ask Marcus Bean how he describes himself, he replies that he is a “chef and dad” and that about sums up his two passions in life: food and family. He lives with his wife Jenny and their children Ella, Ava and Taia in a gorgeous farmhouse in an idyllic village in Shropshire from where the couple run the Brompton Cookery School and B&B. I visit them on a sunny autumn day and the house is a hive of activity.
Jenny is sorting out a huge pile of her daughters’ ballet shoes and Marcus is juggling phone calls. The house has that air of busy family life. The kitchen is right at the heart of the action, flanked by a playroom on one side and a snug TV room on the other.
Centre stage is an AGA 3 Series cooker in Dove. It was installed only a few days before, but it’s already being put through its paces. “I’m loving the AGA,” Marcus says. “It’s a great piece of kit. I’ve been away a lot so have only cooked a few times, but Jenny has been really enjoying it – baking quiches and cooking all sorts of stuff.
“I’ve used AGA cookers at private events and have always loved them, but the induction hob on an AGA is totally new to me. It’s fantastic as I’m a massive fan of induction. It’s such an efficient way to cook. It’s great to combine induction with the traditional AGA cooking methods.
“The other day I did a really simple little dish. I had some leftover mushrooms and onions and I roasted them off in a little local rapeseed oil and a bit of paprika until they had a little colour.
I then dropped them into the roasting oven, threw in some tomatoes and a bit of pan-fried salmon on top. It was a nice, easy, quick tea.” Marcus didn’t mean to get into cooking. After a brief career in his teens as a pig farmer, he initially planned to pursue a role in the music industry and studied sound engineering at Manchester University. But having lived in a pub from the age of five it’s perhaps unsurprising that he traded his musical aspirations for something closer to home and he and Jenny opened a pub of their own.
At the time, Marcus had no inclination to cook. Although his mother was a chef and cooked in the family pub while he was growing up, she didn’t teach him as they didn’t have their own kitchen in the flat above.
“When Jenny and I took on our first pub,” Marcus says, “we had to employ a chef and a full team. We worked front of house but had a nightmare with our first chef and decided he had to go and that one of us had to go into the kitchen and cook. Jenny didn’t want to, so I said I’d go and do it.
“I taught myself to cook. At that point I could cook a steak, but that was my limit. But I knew what good food tasted like and read a lot of books, watched a lot of TV and practised between shifts. I just learned, developed and progressed.” And what progress was made. After seeing an ad online for a new TV series called Iron Chef UK, Marcus decided to enter. “The application was 14 pages long, so I only filled in the first two but they called me up and asked me in for a screen test. I got through and did two weeks of filming in Glasgow with both professional and amateur chefs and I ended up getting into the final.”
In the end, he won, beating a Michelin-starred chef and going on to do a lot more television, including a year on ITV’s This Morning and some children’s programmes on CITV. Now he spends lots of time travelling the country with BBC Good Food shows.
“I host all their big kitchens, which hold up to around 2,500 people and I get to work with amazing chefs such as Tom Kerridge and Raymond Blanc, who I count as friends.
Occasionally I’ll nip down to one of their restaurants and do a day’s work in the kitchen, just to keep myself excited.” Marcus’s first book, Chicken: The New Classics, was published in 2014 and was met with great reviews.
"I’m well overdue to do another book,” he says, “but I haven’t got round to it yet.” Marcus has a love/hate relationship with writing. He adores testing recipes but admits he doesn’t enjoy sitting at computer for hours on end. He is thinking about writing, though, and with his drive and energy I don’t think it will be too long before there’s a second book on the way.
He seems indefatigable. Raising young children is hard enough without touring, growing food on site and all the other things he is juggling. He and Jenny seem to have cracked it, however, sharing the running of the cookery school, theB&B and childcare.
Things are about to get busier too as Marcus has been working on a project with Shropshire’s prestigious Ironbridge Gorge Museums. “For the last year we’ve been building a brand new café-restaurant which will open early 2019. I’ve been helping design it and I’ll be overseeing it in an executive role.”
It seems then that for Marcus portfolio working – with food at the centre of everything – is key. “I think if I only did one thing I’d get bored,” he says.