Tim Allen, Executive Chef, The Wild Rabbit

The  Staff Canteen

Tim Allen, originally from Huddersfield, has been Executive Chef at The Wild Rabbit in Kingham for two years. In that time he has received numerous accolades including three rosettes in the AA Restaurant Guide and of course a star in the Michelin Guide UK.

Tim took part in Great British Menu 2015 has worked with some of the best chefs in the industry achieving one and two Michelin stars in most of the kitchens he has been a part of. Those restaurants were run by the likes of Simon Gueller, Daniel Clifford, John Burton-Race and Martin Burge. He has been in some tough kitchens but believes all those experiences have molded him into the chef he is today.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Tim about his career and how he has had to grow as a chef and a person, his key to success and his plans for the future.

Tim Allen on becoming a chef and his career so far

Strawberry cheesecake
Strawberry cheesecake

How did you get into the industry?

Coming from a working class family I was working when I was 13 in a dairy, milking the cows but unlike a lot of chefs I did A levels and I did environmental science which is all about how we use land, how we impact the land, how we grow on it and I had quite an interest in it.

While doing that I used to work in a pub washing up and I just fell in love with the whole food side. My first ever food job was cutting chips one potato at a time on a hand pressed chipper!

I know it sounds mad but yeah I did actually quite enjoy it when I look back its probably as bad as picking chervil, but I wouldn’t want to do it now put it that way, when I was cutting by hand it was 20 sacks of potatoes a week.

Info bar

Rising stars

Matt Gillan
Matt Worswick
Robbie Jenks
Paul Foster

Guilty pleasures 

I love really great charcuterie and if I’m honest I do like a Solero ice cream! I love Nepalese cuisine and lamb MoMos are off the charts!

Restaurants/chefs you would recommend to go to and learn your craft

It’s not just about London anymore so…
James Close at the Raby Hunt
Kenny Atkinson at House of Tides
Michael O’Hare at Man Behind the Curtain
Michael Wignall, Gidleigh Park
Sat Bains, Restaurant Sat Bains
Daniel Clifford at Midsumer House

Talk us through your career?

I went to cooking college after A levels and I ended up finishing the course vocationally because the restaurant I was working at was Scott Hessel’s The Mustards and Punch and he said what I was cooking had nothing to do with college, it was worlds apart.

That’s what gave me the bug and I went on to work at Racasse in Leeds, L’Ortolan with John Burton-Race and the Landmark, I also worked with Daniel (Clifford) who is also my best mate, at Midsummer House.

>>> Related: The Roux Scholarship winners: where are they now? 

Working with John Burton-Race and Martin Burge

What was John Burton-Race like to work for?

I went to L’Ortolan and my name was northern **** when I worked there, that was my name the whole first year but that’s how it was then.

Was that your first experience of being in a kitchen like that?

No, Rascasse was pretty intense and back then Simon (Gueller) was not the chef he is now and was a very difficult man to work for. But the place kind of drove that, we were the hottest restaurant in Leeds, we were extremely busy and we never had any staff because the environment was all or nothing. There were no commis, you walked in and either ran a section or you got fired. At the same time although the kitchen was intense the feeling of being a part of a team there and the reward was massive.

L’Ortolan was more intense again, I started on garnish and the first menu had 111 garnishes on it! I had no idea what was going on, you didn’t even get a cheque you had to memorise everything. I loved it though, I really got the bug for it and I’d say I cut my teeth there. John is a colourful character, and as a boss he’s probably the best I ever worked for back then. He’s a fantastic leader, extremely passionate and a bloody good cook.

The Wild Rabbit, Kingham
The dining room at The Wild Rabbit, Kingham

You went on to spend eight years at Whatley Manor with Martin Burge, what kept you there so long?

I don’t do things for my cv, I’m not a hopper, I’ve had a few jobs and I believe in doing time in places because I think you get the right grounding and stability - you don’t get that doing a year here, there and everywhere else. If I could rewind the clock I’d definitely want to travel, I’d definitely want to do a couple more styles of cuisine, I would love to have gone to Japan and I would love to have done a restaurant in France but that’s me looking back and to every chef that works for me now I always say to them make sure you travel, it really important you lose that me, myself and I attitude we have in the UK.

>>> Read: Martin Burge leaves two Michelin starred Whatley Manor after 13 years

And the reason I stayed there? Simple, I was the key driving force in that place, Martin had a much bigger job role. At L’Ortolan that’s where I learnt to cook properly but at Whatley I really started to develop a food style. I love Whatley it’s a great place to be, great environment, beautiful area to live in, I was very settled there and after that I took about 9/10 months out and I went and worked at a grouse moor for a billionaire and just cooked. I know it sounds random but I needed to do it after 8 years at Whatley I need to clear my head and find myself if that makes sense, it was very intense we got 2 stars in four years. The grouse moor changed my outlook on products and simplicity of food because when I cooked there I just cooked fresh, everything straight off the moor, straight out the river and it really helped me.

The key to his success in the hospitality industry

Since then you were at Launceston Place where you got a star and now The Wild Rabbit where you have also achieved a star – what’s the key to your success?

I haven’t got a clue how you win a Michelin star, I just cook what I want to eat but in terms of success in your career, it’s all about growth. I became a head chef at 36 which is probably 14 years behind everyone else because you can be a head chef at what 22 now? I find it quite bizarre, I don’t want to sound old fashioned because I’m not at all but you must have a massive pair of bollocks or be completely fearless to do that role so young. It’s quite tough now for them to deliver what you are expecting from them because they don’t have the depth to do it.

Black pudding, curried pickled onion puree and pheasant egg yolk - Tim Allen at The Wild Rabbit

Black pudding, curried pickled onion

puree and pheasant egg yolk

You need to have a natural touch with food because what we do is all about food, for me it’s been about growing and you need to understand how to run a business. I’ve focused on doing that a lot and at the same time my own food style has evolved and I think that great quality food comes from confidence and I think that takes a long time to build. I think you need to really think about what you are trying to do, where you want to go and what your ultimate goal is – try and nail certain moves that build you and educate you in the right ways to get you there and that’s kind of what I’ve done. For me this isn’t a job, it’s my life – it’s a lifestyle so I’m going to do this until I drop dead.

You’ve worked in intense kitchens, so what are you now like as a boss?

It’s a learning process, at Whatley I was an arse hole and I’m aware of that and I’m not proud of it. Back then you got away with it and now you don’t. At Launceston Place I was in charge of front of house too and I started to learn that screaming and shouting and being a dick isn’t going to get you what you want. I developed a sense of tact but I was still very passionate. It is the same at The Wild Rabbit and I have realised that if my team aren’t doing something right then neither am I and the only person to blame is me.

The Wild Rabbit in Kingham and plans for the future

Talk us through your current role as Executive Chef at The Wild Rabbit and your food.

My role here is far more extensive than previously with four departments and implementing the right structure and employing the right people has been key.
The ability to where a different hat in differeent circumstances isn't the easiest of things to pull off but I really enjoy it and the ultimate change is I have much more guest contact now.

I invest a lot in the staff, I have a large budget for training and I believe in investing in the people who work for me because the bottom line is they will stay with me. You can’t get consistency without a team, the problem I have here is getting staff here – the retention is good.

The cuisine reflects who I am, I’m a working class lad from Yorkshire and I like a plate of food! I like refinement in food but I also want a good plate of food to eat. Products have been key, we try and get the best we can at the price point we work at. I have confidence in putting flavours together which I know work and for me it’s about nailing amazing plates of food to eat, because isn’t that what people come to your restaurant for?

private dining the Wild Rabbit, Kingham
Private dining at The Wild Rabbit, Kingham

It takes a bit of time as you need to get to know your clientele, who you are cooking for and what they will and won’t eat but once you have that right I think you can then start to drive more signature dishes. You can start to refine and play with dishes a bit more, make them more technical and allow them to evolve. I’m a big believer in doing the basics properly first, in anything and I just enjoy seeing people smile when they eat my food!

Which dishes on the menu really reflect your style?

The black pudding and the veg salad. The veg salad has evolved since Launceston Place and has become a more refined and balanced plate of food. Yes it’s still a plate of vegetables but the way everything is done has completely changed. When I was young I was taught that revolution is great but evolution is much better and I still believe in that.

What are your plans for the future?

Just to keep doing what we are doing, the accolades add a pressure all of their own and it has made us extremely busy. There’s a period of adjustment to deal with that so looking at where I want to push it, at the moment, isn’t really my focus. I’m just concentrating on what we’re doing now.

I’d like to get back up north because that’s where I’m from and having a third child has made me realise that having family around is even more important now, but it’s having the right opportunity to do that.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th July 2017

Tim Allen, Executive Chef, The Wild Rabbit