Tom Brown, Head Chef, Outlaw's at the Capital

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th August 2016

 

Tom Brown who is Cornish born and bred, has come a long way since starting out as a KP at his local pub. Leaving Cornwall behind last year, he moved to London and has been head chef at Outlaw’s at the Capital since January. He honed his skills at Rick Stein’s Seafood Bar and St Kew Inn near Bodmin before joining Nathan at St Enodoc where he was head chef for 3 years.  

The Staff Canteen spoke to Tom about working with Nathan Outlaw, finding his own style and why he’d rather employ an apprentice than a chef with ten years’ experience.

Lobster risotto

Why did you want to be a chef and when did your interest in food start?

I fell into it really. I was working at my local pub as a KP on Sundays while I was at college and then I didn’t really fancy the A-Levels I was doing anymore. The chef there said ‘do you want to do it for a while and see how you get on?' I agreed and I loved it - I’ve never really looked back to be honest!

I wanted to be a doctor when I was younger, then I wanted to be a psychologist and then I was just done with classrooms. It just wasn’t for me so I didn’t really know what I wanted to do for a while and then this came about and I can’t really imagine doing anything else now.

Before you started working with Nathan Outlaw, you were at Rick Stein’s Seafood Restaurant. Do you think this prepared you to work with Nathan?

Yeah, it definitely did. Working at Rick’s with Paul Ripley (who was my boss and proprietor at the St Kew Inn before that) we did a lot of seafood there together. Paul was head chef at The Seafood Restaurant for like twenty years.

It definitely gave me a good starting point but then Nathan’s seafood cookery was just another level. I’ve gone up and up with Nathan.

How did you end up working for Nathan?

Nathan and Paul are good friends because Nathan used to work with Paul when he first started at The Seafood Restaurant and they’ve stayed friends ever since. I actually went and did a stage with Nathan and then a job came up and I said to Paul ‘can you put a good word in?’ I got a trial shift and then went from there really.

Info bar

Dream brigade

 Simon Davies- sous chef from Retaurant Nathan Outlaw - he can peel a bag of potatoes in 10 minutes! top lad! 

 April Bloomfield – her book on veg ‘A Girl and her Greens’ is unbelievable, she’s one of my favourite chefs.

 Claire Clark - pastry. Her cakes and creativity in pastry are incredible.

Nathan Outlaw - on the fish section of course.

Tom Adams - meat, it's the best! (Pitt Cue)

Kongolo Wani- KP from Outlaw's at The Capital. No kitchen is complete without Kongolo.

Dream restaurant

For me good food is clean, full of flavour and everything has a reason for being on the plate. Each ingredient brings its own purpose and story to the dish so my dream restaurant would be simple and something casual that I could show off lots of flavour where good food is the at the heart of it.

Did Nathan approach you to become head chef at Outlaws at The Capital? How are you finding the role?

When I was head chef at St Enodoc, Nathan said there would be the opportunity to go to London and take over at the Capital and I jumped at the chance! It’s a Michelin-starred kitchen in a five-star hotel, there’s a huge amount of prestige. The names that have been working through here with the Levin family - it’s ridiculous.

I fancied a new challenge as well. I’d grown up in Cornwall and I just really fancied a change and something to push myself. I wanted to bring a bit of what we did in Cornwall to London.

Does Nathan have a lot of input at Outlaws at the Capital?

Nathan has a big input. Obviously the day to day running of the hotel is down to me because he’s not here every day but we work on the menu together. It runs seasonally for three months and while we’ve got one running, we’re working on developing dishes for the next one.

Every time he’s here we’re discussing what’s going to be in season, what recipes we’ve done before that we liked, dishes that we’re going to bring back… so everything does go through Nathan. It’s all signed off by him but I would say a good amount of it is down to me. Because he’s here quite infrequently, it’s got to come through us as well. He’s not so much like a boss boss, he’s more like a guide. He steers you in the right direction and then it all falls in to place naturally.

Chocolate fondant tart

He’s here for two days at least every two weeks, often more depending on what he’s got going on. When he’s here, he’s in the kitchen doing service, menu tastings and so on.

Sustainable, local and fresh produce seems to be of the upmost importance to the restaurant – is this ethos something you are also passionate about?

Definitely. I grew up in and was always working in Cornwall so I’ve been fortunate enough to spend time around amazing seafood and fish and various other produce. It’s definitely something that I feel really strongly about - particularly with Nathan’s style of cookery. With fish I think we really owe it to the industry to use sustainable because it needs to keep going and that’s the only way it will so we owe it to people to address that issue.

What are your daily responsibilities as head chef?

There’s no two days the same really. It’s a little bit hard and fast here sometimes! Obviously the day to day running, making sure everything is as it should be. Everything keeps to a standard. We’ve got a lot of apprentice chefs here so a big part of my job is mentoring those guys. Menu tastings – that’s always a good day, you can just eat loads of food! Fish prep obviously, developing the dishes, keeping an eye on the KPs… plenty going on, it keeps me busy!

What have you learnt from Nathan over the years?

A whole lot about fish!

Has Nathan influenced your style? Is it hard to find your own style?

I think finding your own style is just doing the things that you’ve found over time that you like eating and enjoy doing. I’m really fortunate in the fact that I share a lot of my thoughts on food with Nathan. I really love the simplicity of his food - I really think that’s something that wherever I go, I’ll always continue with that. Lightness and balance is something that Nathan has such a masterful touch with. Balancing his dishes, the way he does is really important to what we do. I feel that my style is dictated a lot by the stuff I’ve learnt with Nathan but then I think that’s a good thing because his stuff’s amazing.

Outlaw's at The Capital

You’ve staged at Le Manoir aux Quat’ Saisons and the Hand and Flowers, how do they compare to where you are now?

When I was there, it was obvious that the fundamentals are always the same: great cooking, attention to detail, all of those things are always going to be there. It’s something that I really enjoyed doing when I was a bit younger, going to other kitchens and doing these experiences because I didn’t work at that level.

I didn’t work in that environment and I think it really broadened my horizons. As a young chef I think it’s hugely important that people do that because then you can see these fundamental basics – how they’re maintaining standards.

What really stands out when you move into a Michelin environment?

I think in this day and age more than ever it’s quite hard to put your finger on what constitutes as a Michelin star restaurant because the spectrum of restaurants is so broad. There’s a lot of casual dining places that have Michelin stars, there’s things that have Michelin stars now that people probably wouldn’t have expected to years ago.

But I think the one thing that you will always see in that sort of environment is a real eye for detail, innovation and with the chefs, there’s a competitive nature. You see everyone is striving to be as good as they can be whereas sometimes - although there are a lot of great restaurants without Michelin stars - people just see it as a job rather than a career or something they have a huge amount of passion for.  

What has your experience been when recruiting chefs?

I personally would rather employ an apprentice than someone with ten years’ experience. Often they’re a lot more ambitious and a lot more willing to do things how you want to do them. They’re  an empty vessel which you can mould in your own sort of way.

It’s quite rewarding as well. A guy works for me now who’s a sous chef at the Capital and me and him started working with Nathan around the same time and to start with he didn’t know what a poached egg was, let alone how to cook one! He’s now sous chef at a Michelin star restaurant so it’s really rewarding when you think how you can make someone’s career for them.

Whenever you talk to anyone about being a chef they always say its long hours and it’s unsociable with rubbish pay. The focus is never on the things which matter to me so,  the creativity, the sense of pride and love in what you do, the ambition that you can have and the way you can strive every day.

I definitely think programmes like Nathan’s academy in Cornwall are helping. I actually used to teach on that and you can certainly see yourself hopefully putting a bit more inspiration in them and showing them how rewarding it can actually be in this job and all the plus sides to it. 

What are your plans for the future?

I’m happy where I am but my plans for the future are just to keep cooking good food and to keep learning as much as I can, showcasing Cornish produce at its best because it’s something that I love.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th August 2016

Tom Brown, Head Chef, Outlaw's at the Capital