Phil Vickery is rather enjoying the pause lockdown has inadvertently offered us. "It's like an enforced holiday," says the chef and telly presenter, noting how, alongside the stresses, traumas and sadness, it's also meant we've been able to hear the birds sing. "You know that frenetic pace of life? Everything seems to have calmed down."
Throughout, he's presented his cookery segments for ITV's This Morning from his back garden in Buckinghamshire – which has been both "good fun" and "a bit odd" – while being intermittently interrupted by his farming neighbours blasting their horns as they go past. "I have to give them a bit of a ticking off," he says wryly.
Meanwhile, he's found himself intrigued by peoples' changing shopping habits ("Tinned artichokes were sold out. Things like refried beans were all gone") and been surprised by what he's developed a taste for himself ("Petit pois in a tin, the sort of thing as a Michelin star chef, you'd think, 'Nah' – but do you know what? They're actually all right").
Although, he hasn't been making banana bread: "No, no, no – I don't do fads. Haha. I might go back to it in three or four years, when everyone's forgotten about it."
Now 59, (he'll turn 60 next May) Vickery has also been "eating healthier than I ever have in my life. I have the time now," he explains. "All my kids have grown up and gone, I'm a single man now, so it's a lot easier I think."
Vickery and Fern Britton, his wife of 20 years, split in January. They share their daughter Winnie, who lives in Cornwall with Britton, and Britton's grown-up children – twins Jack and Harry and daughter Grace – from her first marriage to TV executive Clive Jones.
"It's been an adjustment," says Vickery on this newfound world of cooking for one, "but I rather like it. I quite like the fact I can cook what I want, when I want.
"I do eat some obscure things sometimes," he admits jovially. "I had lamb hearts the other night, which I love, and I like things like chitterlings (pig intestines). I boiled a pig's head and made brawn, which is lovely, and the snout I chop up. I'm constantly trying new stuff. I love what I call 'old style' cooking.
"I tell you what I bought the other day," he breaks off enthusiastically, "some swordfish! It was delicious.
"So it's nice to have nice food and not have to worry about, 'Oh I don't eat this', 'Can I have a bit of that?', or, 'I don't like pepper'," he continues, adding with an affectionate laugh: "One of my sons can spot a bit of spinach or some speckled black pepper on pasta at 500 yards."
Vickery is currently celebrating the release of his latest cookbook, Diabetes Meal Planner, written with food scientist Bea Harling BSc. Every recipe is checked rigorously by Diabetes UK too, even "down to half grams" of things like salt, fat and sugar.
"They are very, very sharp people and quite particular," says Vickery of his collaborators, describing how scrupulous and complex the recipe-writing process was – so much so, he says with a laugh, the team had no qualms about knocking recipes back to him, until they were exactly right and met their guidelines with precision.
And while his younger self might have jostled against such restriction, for Vickery now, after years of experience writing gluten-free and diabetes recipes, it instead provides a framework in which to be imaginative and "box a bit clever". Like his approach to getting "flavour out of things without the salt – through vinegars, spices like fenugreek, cumin, smoked paprika", which he uses "as condiments".
"Match those with acids, soft herbs," he says, "it's actually quite interesting."
He may write scientifically robust, healthy cookery books, but that doesn't mean he's averse to the odd bag of crisps. "What I adore is chilli flavoured Doritos," he says rapturously, adding: "My weakness at the moment is clotted cream, Rodda's," as well as "a bit of Bombay mix with my glass of wine."
And his top tip, if you can get it, is to nab a Waitrose cherry Madeira. "It's the best cake on the market," he says exuberantly. "It's very good."
For many, Vickery is as beloved for This Morning as he is for starring in the original incarnation of Ready, Steady, Cook. "It was fun, I think cooking has become very serious on television [since], but good old Rylan, love him," he says of the 2020 reboot. "I haven't seen it, and I think there's a gap there [for it] certainly."
He was also a restaurant chef for two decades, until 1999, earning a Michelin star at The Castle Hotel, Taunton. Does he miss the clatter and heat of cooking in restaurants? "Absolutely not," he says, relief in his voice. "[Working] every Christmas day, every New Year's Eve, New Year's Day, every birthday, every holiday… and my hand was slightly forced at the time when I came out of it, but looking back, it was fabulous. But there's absolutely no way I would do it again. It took me about five years to get out of that routine."
With two 20-year careers, a slew of cookbooks and good health under his belt, what comes next, he's not entirely sure. Happily though, he's "more relaxed" these days, and not fazed by the idea of entering his seventh decade (in fact, he's rather excited about the free bus pass).
"It's time now…" he muses. "Next chapter, next chapter."
Diabetes Meal Planner by Phil Vickery with Bea Harling BSc, photography by Kate Whitaker, is published by Kyle Books and supported by Diabetes UK, priced GBP 22. Available now.