James Martin chats about welcoming Mary Berry and a host of other special guests onto his new Food Network show, James Martin's Christmas With Friends

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Shopping finished? Decorations up? Christmas menus planned? No, of course not, don’t be ridiculous, it’s only November. Who on earth is that organised?

“I am!” grins James Martin, who’s making a welcome return to our screens this week in a two-part festive special on Food Network, James Martin’s Christmas With Friends (Monday, November 14).

“I have to start thinking about Christmas in autumn so I can work out what to cook you lot on this show,” explains the popular TV chef, who’ll be joined in his twinkly-lit kitchen by special guests, actor-turned chef Jimi Mistry, Corrie’s Jenni McAlpine, TV chef Brian Turner and the one and only, Mary Berry.

“Lock up the gin!” grins James Martin, referring to the Bake Off queen’s penchant for a tipple.

We need to know more so here, the former Saturday Kitchen host talks turkey-alternatives, trendy trees and festive family traditions…

We love that the show’s filmed in your kitchen, James…
“I wanted it to be in my kitchen so it feels homely and rings true. My house looks like Glastonbury when I let the cameras in though! My front drive’s full of trucks and I’ve been virtually living in the kitchen. It’s worth it though, it’s a great watch.”

What’s on the menu?
“I’ve never made a secret of the fact I don’t like turkey, so I’m doing tarragon-stuffed crown of lamb, wild mushroom tortellini, home made sausage rolls with a fruity dipping sauce made from blitzing brown sauce and sultanas, and I help Mary Berry make a Christmas classic – pavlova with poached pears and ginger.”

We’re guessing Mary’s pavlova recipe calls for a drop of alcohol?!
“She said one tablespoon of pear liqueur but pours in more like a ladle! Mary and I go back a long way. We used to do food demonstrations together when I was a young, eager kid wearing a bandana. She’d make amazing food and mine came out looking burnt!”

Is it true guest Jimi Mistry has you to thank for his marriage to his former Strictly partner, Flavia Cacace?
“Jimi made my peach and crème fraiche crumble cake to woo her and she said, ‘Yes!’ after eating it. I’ve still got it!”

Any other festive treats on the show?
“We’ve got Paul Ainsworth – one of the best chefs in the country – conjuring up his take on a Cornish festive lunch. And Olly Smith tells us what to serve at a Christmas drinks party. The key is preparation, getting ahead. Although I’ll let you into a secret: most chefs don’t prep and do everything on the day because we’re so used to cooking – we can do it quickly!”

Lucky you! Now your kitchen’s definitely looking festive…what about the rest of your house?
“Oh, I’m very proud of my black Christmas tree. It was a present from my mum and looks very smart in my living room. It’s fake – I can’t have a fresh one as the dog pees against it!”

What’s the best Christmas present you’ve ever given anyone?
“My grandfather was a groundsman at a cricket ground and his pride and joy were the immaculate stripes he made on his lawn. He struggled to push his old lawnmower though so one year I saved up my pocket money and bought him an electric mower for Christmas. He was chuffed to bits, but when he passed away we found the lawnmower still in its box, unused! He’d preferred the old-fashioned way.”

Do you ever count calories over the festive period?
“Never. I don’t the rest of the year so why would I at Christmas?”

What will you be doing Christmas morning?
“Wrapping presents probably – typical bloke!”

What are your favourite festive memories?
“My grandma and auntie arguing over which side to watch the Queen’s speech on and my granddad falling asleep in front of James Bond. I sometimes go away for Christmas, but whenever I do I miss the family chaos and arguments. It’s what Christmas is all about.”