Toby Burrowes, Head Chef, Elystan Street

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th February 2017

Toby Burrowes is head chef at Phil Howard's Elystan Street. The pair also worked together at The Square restaurant, which at the time held two stars in the Michelin Guide UK.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Toby about settling in to the new role, the food style at Elystan Street and his working relationship with Phil.

Sweetbreads by Toby Burrowes, Head Chef  Phil Howards Elystan Street

Why did you want to be a chef? 

 An early love for food got me interested in cooking from a very young age. I have looked back on school books from when I was eight years old, and they say “I want to be a chef when I grow up” - not that I've actually grown up yet! I suppose it all started with cooking classes when I started high school. It was something that really made sense to me.

What was your first job in the kitchen? What was that experience like?

 D'Amicos, a small and very busy family run Italian restaurant in the town of Corowa, Australia (where I'm from) - it was just brilliant! I started working nights after school washing dishes at the age of 14. It was there that I got to see, first hand, the fire and excitement of a busy service!

So I did my formal training as an apprentice chef with them for the next four years.  But it wasn't just the cooking that made me fall in love with the industry - it was also the D'Amico family's incredible passion for true warm hospitality that has kept me on this path – the path of giving the people what they want.

 >>> Related: Chef Phil Howard talks to The Staff Canteen about his new restaurant


How did you get the role of head chef at Elystan Street? 

I spent the last four years working my way up through the ranks under Phil at The Square, after the second year, I started doing all the outside events alongside him, starting with Obsession 2014 and joining him for dozens of events including Royal Ascott. During this time, we spent a lot of time together, building trust in each other and the bottom line is, the both of us are just a couple of scallywags, and we get on incredibly well.

Info bar

Dream restaurant

It's a little early to say for sure, but whatever it turns out to be, it will be food dictated by the seasons and it will have a great bar!

Dream brigade

Anyone with the right attitude.

How are you settling into the role? What are your responsibilities?

 Quite frankly, I love it! Apart from the usual cooking aspect a new responsibility for me is the - sometimes tedious but very necessary - accounting side of running a restaurant.

It’s actually very interesting, and important for the day I have my own place somewhere down the line.  Also Rebecca is like Rain Man when it comes to accounting and the details, so a really great lady to learn from!

What is it like working with Phil?

In a word - fun! He really is an incredible human being, the nicest bloke you would be lucky enough to meet. You would not find a person on this planet with a bad word to say about that man! 

 What would you say has been the most important lesson/skill you have learnt from Phil? 

To be honest, just about everything I know that is relevant. Mostly I would say the man’s natural ability to let the seasons guide his cooking, and finding a natural seasonal harmony of flavours. 

Salad of roasted vegetables with cashew hummus, curry oil and shallots by Toby Burrowes, Head Chef at Phil Howard's Elystan Street

Salad of roasted vegetables with

cashew hummus, curry oil and shallots 

What is your favourite item on the menu and why?

 It would have to be the beef! Aged beef fillet, braised short rib, a very rich and smooth mash potato, lovely wild mushrooms, smoked bone marrow and a juicy red wine sauce!

How is working at Elystan Street different to The Square? Any new challenges?

 It has many similarities. Being that The Square is basically all we know, so a lot of organising and systems are based on our previous movements. But it's not The Square, so we are freed up to do what we want. A new challenge for me is trying to move away from the very heavy, rich and classic cooking that we are used to.

How do you maintain a work/life balance?

 Easily. All my chefs work a full four days, then have a full three days off per week. Rotas are incredibly flexible so if they want to, they can work eight days, then have six days off in a row. Imagine a holiday every two weeks! 

 Where do you see yourself in the future, what are your plans? 

 I am so happy with the way things are going here at the moment, but somewhere far down the line I could see myself opening up a place back in Australia.

>>> Read more in the Heroes of the Hotplate series here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th February 2017

Toby Burrowes, Head Chef, Elystan Street