Tom Duffill, head chef, Bistrot de Luxe - Galvin Restaurants

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th February 2016
Having to finance his own university degree, Tom Duffill fell in love with cooking while training to become a graphic designer. Working in the kitchen fuelled his creative side and, once he had graduated, Tom embarked on a new journey to become a full time chef. Starting under the command of Shaun Hill at The Glasshouse, Tom moved through the ranks before being appointed head chef at Anthony Demetre’s Arbutus. Inspired by Chris Galvin’s ethos, Tom moved on to work for the brothers at Bistrot de Luxe - Galvin Restaurants, where he is currently head chef. We spoke to Tom about how he came to work for the Galvin brothers, the biggest differences when moving out of a Michelin-starred kitchen, and the secrets behind ten years of success at Bistrot de Luxe. 4 chefs in a row - tom duffill - low resHow did you end up working for the Galvin brothers? I cooked for Chris a few times at Arbutus, he would call in, sit at the bar and eat something. When I finished at Arbutus I was invited to meet him, and in about ten minutes I thought to myself ‘I want to work for this guy’. What was it about Chris that appealed to you? He is very motivating, and inspiring when you talk to him. Everything he says comes from the heart. When you’ve been in tough kitchens your whole career and someone actually talks to you like a peer, not as a junior, and inspires you by talking about the things they have seen and done and tasted. He listens to you and is interested in what you have got to say! Did Chris approach you to become head chef at Galvin Bistrot de Luxe or did you approach him? A bit of both really! He knew I was looking and I knew they were looking and we just met in the middle really through mutual people. The industry is so small, everybody knows everyone’s business and they even know it before you do!
Dream restaurant I'd love to open a restaurant bistrot that was modern, close to nature, somewhere unusual, in a forest or up a mountain, where it would be easy to cook naturally, using ingredients on the door step, Natural wines, simple service and a small team, Dream Brigade Pass:  Alain Passard Meat:  Anthony Demetre Fish: Stephane Jego Garnish: Petter Nisson Larder: Chris and Jeff Galvin Pastry: Janice Wong
What is Chris like to work with? Chris doesn’t work here during day to day operation, but he is definitely about. It’s fantastic when he talks to you about an idea, you can be in the kitchen all day and sometimes the blinkers are on a little bit, and when he comes in it is inspiring and that’s exactly what you want from your boss. Does Chris have a lot of input at Galvin Bistrot de Luxe? With regard to the day to day running of the business, Chris gives us responsibility for that. That includes front of house, back of house; the lot. Regarding to the menu, there’s great respect with what made the restaurant popular for the last ten years, and we have to respect that with the kind of clientele we have in mind. When I first sat down with Chris he said to me ‘now look, the restaurant has been a success for ten years, it’s not broken, but I want to make it last another ten years. And the way to do that is to break it again in order to reinvent it and take it to the next level’ and that’s what we have done here. How do you think you have done that during your time at Bistrot de Luxe? When I say reinvented I don’t mean I’ve changed everything. It’s still Galvin, there is still a style. During my first three or four months, Chris was working with me every day and I learnt his style, how he approaches things, the way he writes his menu. pork belly tom duffill low resSo it was really great to see how Chris worked, because that’s what I did when I was working for Anthony. I wasn’t writing my menu, it was what I wanted to put on, but it was still putting it in a style that my boss would want it. You’re representing them at the end of the day, people are coming to eat their food! Has Chris influenced your style? Is it hard to find your own style with the Galvin name above the door? Definitely, there are dishes that have been on the menu for a long time, and there’s a specific client base that come specifically for those things. Ultimately we are a bistro and not a fine dining restaurant, but we try to be better than a bistro. We try and give our customers value for money and an experience they could get in a fine dining restaurant, and we are still using the best quality ingredients we can get our hands on. What have you learnt from Chris? The biggest thing Chris has taught me is how to look after the business. The cooking is a major factor of it but it’s also about seeing the bigger picture and he’s teaching me skills as well for one day when I open my own restaurant. tom duffill quoteFor example, buying for flavour and quality. Say you want a corn-fed chicken, do you buy the corn-fed chicken that comes from the cheapest person or should you source the best corn-fed chicken from an artisan producer in south west of France? That’s something he laid on to me quite strongly. You went to Obsession 15 with Chris and Jeff, how was that experience? It was amazing, the kitchen was like a space station! We met some amazing chefs while we were there. We opened the first night, and we were there for two days prior to that organising the six course tasting menu. We all sat down, myself, Chris, Jeff, Warren and Joo, all had a section each of the menu so we all did a course. It was a great experience and Nigel Haworth was a great host. What was it like working under Shaun Hill, did he transfer his Michelin star standards at The Glasshouse onto you? I was wet behind the ears when I started working for Shaun. He really opened my eyes up to cooking and food. He is a bit of a godfather, he has his own style completely. I was really young and he opened my eyes to new ingredients. He never wanted to dress the dishes he always wanted to do the cooking. When I first started working for him he was in his 60s and he’s still cooking at The Walnut Tree now! He has a serious zest for cooking which hasn’t left him at all. He’s a really brilliant guy to learn from, you just have to crack him open first! You have worked in a lot of Michelin-starred kitchens, namely Arbutus and Wild Honey under Anthony Demetrie. What’s the biggest difference moving away from that atmosphere? Nothing! I’m still the same cook, I run my kitchen the same way that I did at Arbutus. Anthony really taught me to cook, he was really tough and disciplined. Second best was never good enough! He installed a high standard into me, and I still work at that high standard. That translates wherever you are and wherever you work, with Anthony it was tough, but I was with him for seven years.claufoutis tom duffill low res When I was working for Shaun, he actually took me to Arbutus for something to eat, and I thought to myself ‘holy shit, what is this’! I went back about two months later to eat again, and I was bowled over. So I wrote a letter to Anthony asking if I could come and work in his kitchen and I started two weeks later! I worked up from the ground to head chef. Anthony definitely has been the biggest motivation to my career. At the time, before Wild Honey, there weren’t many brilliant cooks like Anthony who were still working in their kitchen every day. He’s a motivator, you only have to stand next to him to soak it up! What are your plans for the future? I’m in no rush to move on, I love working for the Galvins. I want to keep learning new skills to make myself a better cook and manager. But ultimately I’m learning to run a successful business, with Chris teaching me, I want to be a successful owner of my own restaurant one day.
The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 17th February 2016

Tom Duffill, head chef, Bistrot de Luxe - Galvin Restaurants