James Martin does France

Saturday mornings couldn't be more different for James Martin, now he's longer getting up at 5am to host Saturday Kitchen.

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"For 10 years, I was waking up thinking about scripts and who's on the show; now I get up in the morning and I just want to go for a pee," the bubbly Yorkshireman confides with a chuckle.

"I'm getting older! I get excited about going to the osteopath because my back's killing me - I walk my dog now on a Saturday morning. I miss the buzz, but then 10 years is a long time."

When it was announced last year that Martin, 44, was stepping down as the face of the popular BBC cookery show, there was a national outpouring of emotion, which took him by surprise.

"When it was compared to One Direction splitting up, that was a bit excessive, but you don't realise," he says. "People around me said, 'You're going to be missed', and I went, 'Oh, I doubt it'. All I saw was seven cameramen, I never saw three million people. It's very humbling, but what can you say? It's just a food show."

Those who've been missing Martin's cheeky-chappie persona have no doubt been watching him cook his way around France, in new ITV series James Martin's French Adventure.

Over the course of 20-episodes, he's visiting foodie regions from Provence to Brittany and paying tribute to his late friend - and "still the best" TV cook - Keith Floyd, who made his home in L'Isle sur la Sorgue, and in whose old Citroen 2CV Martin drives around the country.

"He was one of the first ones, where he took that bench away. Before that, it was almost like a school lecture," Martin recalls of Floyd's pioneering role in TV cooking. "He never pretended to be a famous chef, he was an amazing foodie, with a vast knowledge and he was brilliant with people.

"[Watching Floyd], you never knew what would happen, it was edge-of-the-seat stuff, where the irate woman in Marseilles is kicking off about the omelette, or he gets p***ed off and downs tools. He made food fun and accessible."

The same could be said for Martin, who grew up on a farm on the Castle Howard estate in North Yorkshire, and first fell in love with France on family holidays. At just 12 years old, he started training in the kitchen at the Hostellerie de Plaisance in St Emilion - and makes an emotional return in the series.

He also called up old friend and mentor Michel Roux Sr, and spent "one of the most memorable days of my life" cooking in his garden near St Tropez.

"The weather was beautiful, we cooked [quail with sausages and confit tomatoes] outside on a barbecue on his terrace, I went swimming in his pool and beat him at petanque! Now he doesn't want to speak to me any more," he says, chuckling again.

The book that accompanies the series is bursting with French classics - you'll find French onion soup, moules mariniere, steak au poivre and, of course, creme brulee and pain au chocolat, which Martin admits he once had an unhealthy addiction to.

"When I was pastry chef at Chewton Glen [the five-star hotel in Hampshire, where he's set to open a new cookery school and eatery in the spring], I could eat about two dozen pain au chocolat before lunch, easy.

"I eat and drink what I like - I was on The Chris Evans Breakfast Show [the other day] and had half a bottle of red wine, a loaf of bread and some duck rillettes for breakfast! But the problem is, when you get over 40, you have to get something called a gym. I've got a gym, it's calling me now, and I just kind of look at it and go, 'Really?'" he adds with a laugh.

You won't catch him going down the clean eating route though.

"I'm not into wheatgrass and all that stuff. I've never supported it, because I don't agree with it. I've always said if you're going to tell somebody what to eat, you need to be a doctor or a nutritionist," says James. "I can hopefully inspire people or teach them about food, but I'm not going to lecture people in what they should and shouldn't do, because it's a personal choice."

Let the chef inspire you, with three classic French recipes from his new book...

:: BAKED EGGS WITH BAYONNE HAM & PARSLEY CREAM

(Serves 4)

40g butter, softened

4-8 slices Bayonne ham

8 eggs

2tbsp chopped flat-leaf parsley

100ml double cream

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Crusty French bread, to serve

Preheat the oven to 150C/300F/gas mark 2.

Generously butter four individual ovenproof dishes or ramekins and place on a baking tray. Divide the ham slices between the dishes, laying them over the base and up the sides. Crack two eggs into each dish and then top with some of the parsley and the cream. Season with salt and pepper and bake for 12-15 minutes until the eggs are just set.

Scatter over a little more parsley and serve warm, with crusty French bread.

:: BOEUF BOURGUIGNON

(Serves 6)

1kg shin of beef, cut into 5cm cubes

2tbsp plain flour

2tbsp olive oil

150g pancetta, cut into small chunks

1 shallot, finely chopped

2 onions, sliced

1 garlic clove, crushed

75ml brandy

750ml Burgundy red wine

500ml beef stock

1 bouquet garni - 2 bay leaves, 2 sprigs of thyme, 2 sprigs of flat-leaf parsley, tied with string

25g butter

110g baby onions, peeled but left whole

200g chestnut mushrooms

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

Toss the beef with the flour and some salt and pepper.

Place a large saute pan or flameproof casserole over medium heat, add half the olive oil and the pancetta and fry for one to two minutes until golden brown. Add the beef and fry until browned on all sides.

Add the shallot, onions and garlic and fry until just softened.

Add the brandy and gently shake the pan - this will ignite the brandy and burn the alcohol. When the flame dies down, pour in the red wine and beef stock and bring to a simmer. Add the bouquet garni, then cover and cook over very low heat for two hours or until the beef is tender and the sauce has thickened.

Heat a frying pan until hot, add the butter and the remaining oil and fry the baby onions until just golden. Add to the casserole, along with the chestnut mushrooms, and cook for a further 20 minutes.

Check the seasoning before serving.

:: FRENCH FRUIT TART

(Serves 6-8)

1 x 320g ready-made puff pastry sheet

1 egg, beaten

85g dark chocolate, broken into pieces (optional)

300ml double cream

200ml ready-made chilled custard

12 strawberries, hulled and halved

150g blueberries

150g raspberries

200g redcurrants

150g seedless black or green grapes, halved

Roll out the pastry on a lightly floured surface to a large rectangle, then cut out a 36cm x 20cm rectangle and place on a lightly greased baking tray. Using a sharp knife, score a 2cm frame around the edge, making sure you don't cut the pastry all the way through. Brush the border with beaten egg, taking care not to allow any to dribble down the sides, because this will prevent the pastry from rising evenly.

Prick the base of the tart (not the border) with a fork, then chill in the fridge for 20 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/gas mark 6.

Bake the pastry until golden brown and crisp, about 20-25 minutes.

Slide onto a wire rack and leave to cool. Once cooled, gently press the centre of the pastry down to leave the frame around the edge.

Melt the chocolate (if using) in a heatproof bowl set over a saucepan of just simmering water, taking care that the base of the bowl doesn't touch the water. Brush the melted chocolate over the pastry base, keeping clear of the frame. Leave to set.

In a large bowl, whip the cream to soft peaks, then gently fold in the custard. Spoon over the pastry base, spreading it out evenly. Draw shallow lines in the cream mixture to create five sections and arrange the fruit on top so that each section is of a contrasting colour.

James Martin's French Adventure by James Martin, photography by Peter Cassidy, is published by Quadrille, priced £20. Available now

THREE OF THE BEST... Supermarket soft French cheeses

Truly Irresistible Brie Pays, £1.85 (Co-op)

Taste the Difference French Camembert, £2.35 (Sainsbury's)

Tesco Finest Reblochon, £3 (Tesco)