Tom De Keyser, head chef, The Coach

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th January 2018

Tom De Keyser is head chef at Tom Kerridge's Michelin-starred pub, The Coach in Marlow, Buckinghamshire.

From pot washing in a local bar to kitchen service at Gordon Ramsay's York & Albany Hotel, Tom jumped into his chef career at the deep end and hasn't looked back since. He joined The Hand and Flowers team just months after they were awarded their second star and was thrilled to be a part of the opening team for The Coach.

The Staff Canteen caught up with Tom to discuss how it felt to get their star in the Michelin Guide UK 2018, why he likes working for Tom Kerridge and the 'refined pub food' on the menu.

Banana custard with dates, honeycomb and pistachios   Tom De Keyser, head chef, The Coach

Banana custard with dates,

honeycomb and pistachios

When did you decide that you wanted to become a chef?

From the age of fifteen, I always worked part time washing up and doing salads in my local pub, The Ship. My grandad and my mum were both great cooks so I’ve always had a bit of a taste for food. But it wasn’t really until my last year of university. I ran out of beer money, so I started working in a little Scream bar (The Dry Dock) in Leicester washing up and doing the cold starters. I fell out of love with my course at uni (Chemistry and Forensic Science), and I thought, I’ve got a real passion for the kitchen. When other staff didn’t come in, I ended up cooking some of the hot food and eventually, they left me on my own sometimes and I just got on with it.

Where have you worked to date?

I started at the York & Albany Hotel in London. That was my first proper kitchen job and it was a massive step up from what I was used to. I started in November as well, so it was going in to a busy time of year – I was a bit like a rabbit caught in the headlights! I was there for two years and then I got a bit fed up of London. I didn’t really enjoy my days off and I wanted to go home and see the boys and family back in Essex. I missed that life so I looked for something a bit further out and I then saw that The Hand and Flowers were advertising.

How did you get the job at The Hand and Flowers?

Seven months after they got their second star, I went there for a trial with Tom and Nick (Beardshaw), who were both on the pass that day. I loved the camaraderie and the food. I saw the haddock omelette - one simple thing on a plate with four ingredients - with such big flavours and refinement. It was just my sort of thing and I really wanted to work there. I was very nervous! I was put on the larder with J-Dog - who is the senior sous chef there now - and I seemed to fit in quite well. I got on with all the boys and genuinely enjoyed myself.

Info Bar

Dream restaurant –

There’s this little pub where I grew up in Essex called The Hoop. I’ve always had my eye on it – it’s the perfect little boozer and it’s always busy as well. It’s got so much potential and I’ve always said to myself that maybe in my mid-30s, I’d get my hands on that place or something similar.

Dream Brigade –

I think I’d have my old head chef from The York & Albany on the sauce – Colin Buchan.

Then I’d have Nick Beardshaw on garnish - he’s an animal, he loves it and smashes through it!

I’d have Tom Kerridge on the larder because he’d always bail me out when I worked at The Hand.

A guy called Jolyon D’Angibau on the pastry – he was there at The Hand when I was first there. You never knew his age (and neither did he) but he had such a touch with pastry, he was incredible.

I think I’d have John Walton from Paul Ainsworth at Number 6 on the pass, because I’ve staged with them and he’s absolutely everywhere! You don’t know how he does it but he’s always on top of everything.

I’d have Simon Bonwick from The Crown at Burchetts Green just floating around the kitchen, looking after everyone. He doesn’t have to do much, just organise people and plate up or something, but as long as he’s there, that would be my dream. He can be chef patron!

I’ll have two KPs – Alan Shearer and Plan B. Then I can talk to one of them about football and the other one can just rap bars in the background.

What is Tom Kerridge like to work with?

He is phenomenal. I was lucky enough that when I was at The Hand, he was still on the rota five days on and two days off. Tom’s inspirational to work with. He’s always moving things forward, trying to improve and refine everything. There’s always something in the pipeline that he wants to sink his teeth into!

Lemon tart with raspberry sorbet   Tom De Keyser%2C The Coach
Lemon tart with raspberry sorbet

He’s also been massively supportive to us all, at work and with things outside of work. If there’s anything you need or you’re worried about, he’s always there. He knows what people have been up to on their days off.  Even now, he comes down to The Coach everyday, pops in and checks everything is alright. He’s a top bloke.

How would you describe your relationship with Nick (Beardshaw)?

He’s one of my best friends and we’ve got a great relationship. We’re always talking about food or football and working on refining everything. I’ve stepped up at The Coach and he’s stepped out as such but he’s always there for support or if I’ve got any questions. If we’re putting new dishes on, I’ll always speak to him about them. He helps with everything and always looks after us.

When did you move to The Coach?

Myself and Nick opened it with one other guy in the team in 2014. Apart from that the team has all changed, but I’ve been there since day one. It was great to be a part of opening a restaurant – you learn so much.

How much input do you have in the menu and dish development?

We’ve got a rotisserie and the meat on it changes every day. It’s quite a focal point of the kitchen – when you come in, that’s the first thing you can see. Obviously, the menus change seasonally, then there’s a few dishes that we’ve taken from The Hand and Flowers old menus like the mussels and the crab. We’ve always got a terrine-style dish on and a pasty, pie or wellington.

Tom De Keyser, head chef, The Coach, Marlow
Tom De Keyser

We’ve got a gamekeeper as well so he’ll bring venison, mallard and pheasants and things like that, so we get to mix it up quite a bit. We’ll never put something on that isn’t in our style and it won’t be on a whim. We will always talk about it and try new things and we will get Nick or Tom to try it first. We’re left to it as such, as long as everything is in fitting with the style.

How would you describe your food style - do Tom & Nick influence you?

They’ve influenced me massively, particularly since I moved to The Hand and Flowers. My food style is ingredient-led, not messing around too much with the best quality ingredients we can get our hands on. It’s all based around deliciousness really! If something tastes good, we’ll make the most out of it.

The cooking style is the same as The Hand but it’s simpler with  smaller plates. Everything is packed full of flavour though. We don’t compromise on produce and we’re very lucky with what we can get.

What is your favourite dish on the menu?

My favourite dish is the quail, boned out and stuffed. It sums us up really – it’s a bit of meat cooked on the rotisserie. We change the garnish and stuffing for it around alot but at the moment, it’s served with bread sauce and stuffed with sage, onion and sausagemeat. It’s lovely and simple but packed full of flavour.

How is The Coach different from The Hand and Flowers?

They’ve got two stars up there and they’re on an A La Carte menu whereas we do smaller plates for sharing dishes and grazing. You can top yourself up as well, so when people come in and eat, we’ll recommend two or three dishes each and then if you want to add on more such as chips, a burger or a mushroom risotto, you can. It’s very relaxed and it’s an open kitchen too, so that’s massively different.

We’re a much smaller team as well, there’s eight of us at the moment. Of course, all of our values and standards are the same. Some of the team have come from The Hand too and others have been promoted – there’s great progression within the company. 

Chicken kiev with cauliflower cheese
Chicken kiev with cauliflower cheese

What was it like getting the Michelin star this year?

As a team, we achieved that together. The day that we got the star, nearly everyone in the kitchen had been there a year and a half so it was everyone’s. We’ve all been in it together pushing on and refining what we do, thinking everyday ‘how can we make that a little bit better?’, so we were all very pleased. My coffee went up in the air, me and the lads ran into the kitchen and we were all jumping up and down! It was brilliant and it gave everyone such a boost.

What are your plans for the future?

Keep doing what we’re doing really. We’re not going to make any crazy changes but we’re putting new dishes on, and we’re trying to do social media everyday so we can look back on dishes and see how we can refine them. We’ll keep trying to be a little bit better every day, not necessarily for the accolades, but because we’re a really busy place and we have a lot of returning regulars.

Everyone who works there really enjoys it and the regulars speak to us and see us enjoying ourselves, in the kitchen and front of house. I think that’s the most important thing, and hopefully that happy atmosphere reflects into the restaurant and our guests enjoy themselves too.

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th January 2018

Tom De Keyser, head chef, The Coach