A Culinary Journey Rooted in Tradition and Innovation - Tom Cenci Executive Head Chef at Nessa

The Staff Canteen

Nestled in the heart of London's vibrant Soho district lies Nessa, a bistro with a British twist led by Executive Head Chef Tom Cenci.

As Nessa approaches its one-year anniversary, Tom reflects on the challenges and triumphs of the past year, his culinary journey and the exciting plans for the future.

Nessa is not just another restaurant in London; it's a culinary ode to British cuisine and nostalgia. “Seasonal British produce is exciting for us,” Tom reveals. “We get to showcase what the best of Britain and add some nostalgia.

We really want to invoke something when people come and eat our food that it reminds them of a childhood or a dish that they once had.” Tom and his team are not reinventing the wheel; it's about reviving the flavours that resonate with diners.

Tom's journey into the world of hospitality began during his school days when he undertook work experience at the Clifton Hotel. This experience ignited his passion for cooking and kitchens, setting him on a path that led to the Academy of Culinary Arts. After a four-year course, Tom honed his skills in various kitchens, eventually earning a Michelin star at One Lombard Street in London.

“After about three months of opening, we gained a Michelin star, which opened up my eyes to a very different style of cooking. It was fantastic,” Tom reveals.

His culinary adventure extended to Paris, where he completed a stagé at a two Michelin-starred Restaurant Laurent with Joel Robuchon, and then back to London at Nobel Rot with head chef Julian Owen-Mold. “It was a very different style of cooking, very modern, and the chef’s approach was fantastic. He ran the kitchen and the brigade with respect; it was a pleasure to work for and just inspired me to think of food differently.”

Tom ended up working for Julian many years later in Canada, where he solidified his commitment to produce and seasonality. “We were working just outside of Whistler, up a mountain and had to use the produce around us, with just a very few deliveries a week.



“This really opened my eyes to champion local produce and seasonal produce,” he concludes. “I haven't really looked back on my style of cooking ever since.”

In the culinary world, Tom's style reflects his experiences, encompassing the diverse cultures and techniques he has encountered. He takes pride in keeping things original and not adhering strictly to a single cuisine.

“I have always tried to be different, to be as original as possible, which is very hard in today's world,” Tom admits. “But if you can think outside the box slightly and try to do things that no one else is doing, it really kind of shows that you're leading the way.

Trends happen all the time but when everyone else starts doing it, then you know it's time to change off the menu.”

Since it was founded by Guy Ivesha in March 2023, Nessa has been a mix of challenges and accomplishments. The restaurant has quickly established itself, gaining a loyal following, but “we're still so new,” Tom adds. “It's a strange feeling as everyone knows who you are, but you're still kind of finding your feet.”



Nessa's menu showcases dishes like "syrup carbonara" and "black pudding brioche," which have become iconic. “When you first open a restaurant it's really difficult to know how well your dishes will be received and what your iconic dishes will be. We just worked hard and tried to get them right.

“One of the main dishes we have now is a carrot cake dessert, something that I've always liked to try and play with,” Tom reveals. “I've really kind of nailed it down and really worked hard on different recipes, different techniques and just different combinations of flavours. And now it's one of our bestselling desserts and became iconic really fast.”

Tom's dedication to sustainability is evident in Nessa’s local ingredients choice. “We made a decision not to use avocados. Instead, we use broad beans grown in the UK; available all year and don’t travel a lot,” Tom proudly admits.


When asked about his inspiration, Tom acknowledges his team as the driving force behind his creativity. “The team I work with inspire me the most. I work with them day in day out and I can bounce ideas off them and work with them. It pays dividends in the end.”

Nessa’s brigade of 25 chefs and kitchen porters works tirelessly seven days a week. They manage to cover breakfast, lunch and dinner with a bustling clientele. Tom is proud of the stability within his team, a rare gem in the ever-changing hospitality industry.

As for the future, Nessa aims to continue growing and improving, with each menu iteration surpassing the last. Tom hints at exciting plans, yet to be unveiled and “maybe a big party for our one-year anniversary,” he laughs.


In closing, Tom offers advice to aspiring chefs that want to rush up the culinary ladder: “Take it slow, savour the journey and get the experience - the money and the fame - whatever you're after - it will come later.”

In his experience, a solid foundation of knowledge and experience is the key to success in the ever-evolving world of gastronomy. “Many times throughout my career, I took a position that I wasn't ready for and ended up taking a step back,” Tom adds.

“There is no shame in going from a head chef to a sous chef or sous chef to a senior chef de partie because you want to get more experience. I felt uncomfortable in those positions and that actually put me in a better place now for my job role today.”



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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 22nd January 2024

A Culinary Journey Rooted in Tradition and Innovation - Tom Cenci Executive Head Chef at Nessa