This month, M Restaurant chef Mike Reid cooks lunch for former Manchester United and England striker Andrew Cole, as they discuss the pressure on footballers, recovering from a kidney transplant, and why Australia is terrifying.
STARTER: Cured Sicilian red prawns with potato sauce, peas and almonds; Burrata with baby tomatoes, spiced bread and red pepper; Smoked wagyu tartare with apples, horseradish, egg and foie gras
Mike Reid: Andrew, good to have you back. Are you in London doing stuff for the World Cup?
Andrew Cole: Yeah, Ive been doing a bit of punditry, which is fun. It keeps me active.
MR: Does it make you miss your playing days?
AC: The only thing I miss is the dressing room. You spend so much of your life with these guys, they become your family. It didnt matter what happened when you went home, you got into the dressing room and it was always the same. Its something really special. We still see each other quite a lot and nothing ever changes – whoever used to get it, still gets it now. Ronny Johnsen always used to have an ice-pack on, so we called him the Ice Man. Now, every time we see him someone starts holding their leg and saying Ronnie mate, have you got an ice pack, my legs killing me.
MR: Who were your sporting inspirations?
AC: My footballing hero was probably Cyrille Regis, who passed away recently. He was the first black player to really break through. The best I ever played with was Paul Scholes. He was just unbelievable, such a quality player. One of the best all-round midfielders in the world. When I first moved to United he used to play up front and you could see the quality even then.
MR: He didnt mind sticking the boot in, either. Thats what I thinks missing from the Mourinho team now. That passion. Im a Liverpool fan and I used to love playing those teams.
AC: Liverpool is always the big one. It doesnt matter where you are in the league or where they are in the league. Of course Man City is a big game, and Arsenal is a big game. But Liverpool is the big one. That game will always matter. I dont think I fully got that when I first started playing for United. Then we played them and I got it, and the boys were like: Youre one of us now. Liverpool played well last season. I hated it but I loved it too – the way they express themselves reminds me of how we played when we had me and Ole and Teddy.
MR: Has the game changed much since you retired?
AC: The tactical approach has changed. Its become very Americanised, with this focus on stats and heat-maps and stuff. People talk about how far a player has run in a match, and I think why do I care? The game is about scoring goals. If you come in the bottom 10 per cent for kilometres run but score 30 goals a season, youll be happy.
Diet wasnt that such a big thing when I was playing, either. When you got to the training ground, the food was set up for you, but then youd go home and eat whatever you wanted. Nowadays, players have a totally managed diet. Imagine if we were doing that back then. Everyone is an elite athlete today. Players all look like boxers, theyre perfect specimens. Everyone is in the gym every day – back in the day nobody went to the gym. Now they all want to look good when they take their top off.
MR: Yeah, come to think of it, I cant remember Paul Merson ever taking his top off when he scored. How was your time at Newcastle?
AC: I enjoyed it but if I had my time again Id do it all differently. Those guys love a number 9. Theyll give you everything you want, but they also want to control your life, they want to own you. I was a young man and all I wanted to do was to play football and go home, I didnt want all the rest of it. Im a quiet and private person. Today Id know how to handle it, but it was hard when I was that young. My childhood stopped at 14 when I left home. By 16 I was right into my career, you have to be so focussed.
MR: The amount you must have to sacrifice from such a young age is hard to get your head around.
AC: Its not easy. Just look at Raheem Sterling – he gets loads of stick and its totally unfair. His dad died when he was two, he came to England when he was five, and people give him a hard time because he bought his mum a house with a gold toilet in it. She used to scrub them! Its his prerogative to buy his mum whatever he wants. People call him blingy and arrogant, but why? Hes worked his tits off, he can spend his money however he wants. Im not a big fan of America but they have the right attitude about people who work hard and make their own money. Here we just want to bring them down.
MR: I read an interview with Sterling the other day and he was talking about his daughter running around with a Liverpool top on, and it brought home that hes a real guy with a life. The same happened with my nephew – we tried to bring him up as a Liverpool fan but hes decided hes Arsenal.
AC: My son watched me playing for United. You know who he supports? Arsenal. My daughter supports Man City. I said “You have to support United” – but no. You have to let people live their lives.
MR: Do you still have a kick about sometimes?
AC: Id love to but after having the kidney transplant thats not a very good idea
MR: Yeah, how are you feeling after that? Youre in great shape!
AC: The past couple of months have been the best Ive been. Its been a long road, though. I was on dialysis, getting worse every day. My kidney just failed, basically. I couldnt do anything, my body was killing itself, all I could do was sleep. In the end my nephew didnt want to see me like that anymore and we did the transplant. Im probably back up to 80 per cent now. I feel like Im moving forward, but with this illness you never know whats coming next so Im not trying to run before I can walk.
Having been a sportsman all my life, youre used to pushing through the pain barrier, and when it first happened I tried to think of it as a bad injury. That was the worst thing to do, because your body isnt repairing, and every time you push through the pain youre making things worse. It was crazy – Id been well all my life and all of a sudden, boom, I was flat on my back. But Im bouncing back. Im going to get back to the gym next week. The weird thing was, I was most annoyed about putting on weight. Then one day I though why do I care about this My weight was the least important thing.
MR: I guess its the perception, when youve been in the public eye your whole life, you get judged by people. I had an illness recently – I had to have an operation and I said to Martin Ill be back in the kitchen in a couple of days but I couldnt physically do it. I was out for two months. It made me realise I cant sleep a couple of hours a night and eat one meal a day at midnight. You have to look after your health.
AC: I used to enjoy going out all night then going straight into training after an hours sleep. You dont think about what youre doing to your body. When youre a professional sportsman you do to your body in 20 years what most people do in a lifetime.
MR: And theres the mental strain as well as the physical. Its great to see players like Danny Rose talking about depression. There must be so many players affected but it doesnt get spoken about.
AC: When I started in the game, if Danny had said that he wouldnt have lasted two minutes. It was this really macho environment where you couldnt show any sign of weakness. We still have a way to go, but that was a good step. The games still very macho but now everyone has access to sports psychologists, which is a big help. They get to talk about whats on their minds. You still have to be strong but now you can ask for help.
MR: Its the same in kitchens. Its a high pressure environment where nobody wants to show weakness. Its so nice to be in a position where I can try to run a kitchen where people can talk to me and to each other if somethings bothering them.
MAIN COURSE: Braised short-rib with anchovy emulsion and shiitake mushrooms; Halibut with green sauce and fermented roots; Blackmore wagyu sirloin
AC: This steak is amazing. My parents couldnt stomach even a little bit of pink in their steak…
MR: Whats your family heritage?
MR: Me too. My parents want their steak cremated. It took me 10 years to get my dad to have his steak medium. Slowly, slowly, slowly convincing him. My mum still wont touch it. Shes a great Caribbean cook, but if shes making a roast I wont go – Ill arrive after dinner. She once asked me to carve for her and I was like How? With a chainsaw? The first time my wife, whos Australian, came around for dinner my mum wanted to cook a roast – I was like no, no, no, no, no, no – do jerk chicken, mum! Do goat curry! Do some rice and peas!
AC: Thats the Caribbean way. Do you cook much Caribbean stuff at the restaurant?
MR: Not really, although I think it shows through in some of the spices I use and some of the preparation. I would love to one day do a Caribbean restaurant as a side project, just a small place to showcase the food, because its amazing. So many chefs have tried but none very successfully.
AC: Why do places like Argentina have such a good reputation for meat?
MR: Well, its the same meat but they have better conditions. Their terrain is completely flat, so the cattle is always just walking. Here we have loads of hills, so you dont know what the muscle density of each individual cow is going to be. They can control every aspect of the cattle. We might get a cow with massive hind legs or whatever, depending on whether it walks up hills all day.
We also have really unpredictable weather, which has an impact on the beef. We have some incredible British meat but its not as consistent as other places. One of the things M really pride itself on is knowing everything about its beef. I can phone our supplier and hes be able to tell me exactly which cow Im eating, and who its parents were.
I want to know where all of our produce comes from. I buy iki-jime fish, which is a Japanese way of killing them as soon as its caught, instead of leaving them to slowly suffocate, which releases lactic acid into the flesh. Its more humane, more sustainable and it tastes better. For years I was curing fish to firm it up, but this stuff you dont need to, its such good quality. It used to be hard to get it in the UK but people are coming around to the idea.
DESSERT: “Snickers” made from chocolate, milk biscuit, nougat, caramelised peanuts and dulce ice cream
AC: This dessert is legendary. We were talking about fish, right? Do you do any fishing?
MR: Yeah, and Im terrible. I never catch anything, except when Im in Australia and we go to my father in laws place, who owns a bit of land, and we can just sit out there all day.
AC: If I was in Australia I wouldnt be getting on no boat. I know the sort of stuff they have in the water.
MR: Its the stuff out of the water you want to worry about.
AC: Oh, Im worried about that too. I was over there staying in this beautiful hotel and I still couldnt sleep. I was worried about something crawling out of the toilet. I would have to get some kind of therapy if I was over there again. I would see a tiny little spider and just freak out.
MR: When I lived over there people would say – you need to research all the different spiders and stuff, but for me ignorance is bliss. So yeah, it is dangerous, but its also amazingly beautiful. Its like the best of the Caribbean and the best of England. The work/life balance is great, you have the best produce on your doorstep.
• Andrew Cole is an ambassador for Manchester United and remains the third-highest Premier League scorer of all time; To book a table at M Threadneedle Street, go to mrestaurants.co.uk