Tom Sellers, chef/owner , Restaurant Story

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th January 2015
The Tom Sellers life story is laid bare across his menu. The 27-year-old chef is inspired by his already incredible life experiences and his dishes all have a tale to tell in his Michelin starred and aptly named Restaurant Story.  Originally from Nottingham, Tom pursued a career in cooking aged 16 and has since then worked with some of the best chefs in the world including Tom Aikens, Thomas Keller and René Redzepi. At 25 he made the decision to go it alone and open his own restaurant in London, receiving his first star just five months later and four rosettes last year. He’s now opened The Lickfold Inn, his second venture, in Petworth and it seems there’s no stopping this exciting young chef. STORY 2The Staff Canteen spoke to him about creating his dishes, working in the best restaurant in the world and how if he wasn’t a chef he’d be a bank robber! Where did your passion for food come from? I never grew up wanting to be a chef – I left school at an early age, started cooking and I just fell in love with food. My parents told me I wasn’t going to just sit on my arse at home so I went and found a job at a pub. I went from washing dishes to getting involved with food – the rest is history. You headed to London age just 16 – what prompted you to take that step? I was just very driven. There wasn’t much for me where I was, so I decided if I was going to do it I should do it properly. Youth and nativity prompted me to go to London as I thought that’s where all the best restaurants were. You approached Tom Aikens – why him?
Off the menu: Onion, apple and old tom Heritage potato, winter tops and coal Scallops, cucumber and dill ash Fallow deer, yeast and dandelion Pumpkin, burnt clementine and cardamom Favourite ingredients: I love anything that comes from the ocean, I love the delicacy of it and the challenge of it. In terms of flavours I think horseradish is something that I love and I like to use as much as possible, in different ways to what people may think. I like to use it as an acid, or as a seasoning or a heat – not necessarily as the ingredient should be seen. So I’d use it to season things instead of lemon juice or a vinegar – I’m giving all my secrets away now! Signature dish I think if you were to ask the public they would say the bread and dripping candle. I never thought I would have a signature dish but if you were to say what am I most known for it would probably be the candle.
Because he was the best at the time in the country. From the internet to word of mouth, everyone was saying he was the most exciting chef in the country with the food he was cooking so I thought that’s where I need to be. I knocked on his door and asked for a job – he said ‘yes, you start tomorrow - £12,000 a year, 100 hours a week.’ Was working with him what you expected? I didn’t know what to expect to be honest. I had no idea what cooking at that level required. Obviously everyone has this perception of Tom of being this very tenacious chef, who was hard in his kitchen which he was - he was a very driven, passionate and hugely talented individual. He always wanted perfection and yes, it was difficult to work at that time in his restaurant and especially at that age but I learnt so much from him. You moved on to work with Thomas Keller in New York. How did that experience differ from London? It was the same – I spent 100 hours a week working in a kitchen! Getting on a one-way flight to New York age 18 is daunting but I was very driven with what I was doing. There was obviously a culture change which took a while to adapt to. But cooking at this level, it doesn’t matter what is going off in your life you can lose yourself in cooking and it can be a great remedy. I realised how much I loved food, how dedicated I had become and I had definitely found my calling. Continuing to push yourself you made a move to Noma to work with René Redzepi – what was that like? What better way to push yourself than to go and work at the best restaurant in the world? I’ve stood next to some of the best chefs in the world and René was one of them. He was inspiring to every level – the way he looked at food, how passionate he was about Nordic cuisine, he was an individual who would never take no for an answer. There was just so much passion and if you aren’t inspired by an environment like that I don’t know what would. What made you decide the time was right to open your own restaurant? Noma – when I was there I thought why not? When I had made the decision, people asked me what it was going to be and I said ‘the story of my life.’ How I grew up, where I grew up and the influences of that – who taught me how to cook, where I cooked, the countries I cooked and the restaurants. They all play a part in what I’ve become today – I’m telling my story through food and that’s where the whole premise of Story came from. There was a lot of hype around the opening of Restaurant Story – did you feel under pressure?Scallops, Cucumber and Dill ash There was a lot of media attention but I had put so much pressure on myself they could never have put any more pressure on me than I had on myself. I didn’t open the restaurant to cook for those people – I opened it because I believed in what we were trying to do. Was it the same for your latest project The Lickfold Inn? Did you feel you had the same hype surrounding that? I tried not too - we picked our opening date carefully, obviously during the Christmas period industry wise everyone is very busy including the critics. I intentionally didn’t do much PR as I wanted to keep it low key. But it’s going well and I’ve got a good team in there and we are just finding our feet. So is Restaurant Story where you hoped it would be? I’m the sort of individual who always feels I could do better. It’s very easy to look at what you don’t have rather than what you do have. The second Michelin star was something I wanted but to go from one to two in 18 months has never been done before so it was disappointing but retaining one and getting one after five months was a dream. I have no doubt that other accolades will follow – we got four rosettes last year as well which if you think there are only 22 restaurants in the UK which hold that award it’s very special. It was a pinch myself moment, we’d been open 18 months and we were receiving the same award as places like Le Gavroche. STORY 3On your menu at the moment, do you have a favourite dish? So many hold different memories and a different story. I know everyone talks about the candle there’s a big story behind that and the relationship I did and didn’t have with my father so that’s quite a personal thing. We have four or five dishes which have been on the menu since day one and they probably won’t go anywhere. There are no rules – I can cook whatever I like and however I like, and no one can tell me if it’s right or wrong. That sense of freedom and creativity is an amazing thing and it becomes very addictive. So how often do you change the dishes on your menu? The menu evolves naturally and obviously it’s dictated by the seasons. If we know something really great is coming into season we will make sure we use it and we are always looking for new ideas, progressing and tweaking – it’s just a constant workload of looking at how we can do things better. How do you source the right ingredients? All of our suppliers are British, we work with people in all corners of the UK whether it be fish and shellfish from Scotland, meat and game coming from the Lake District, different foragers for all of our vegetables and herbs – so it comes from all over. What’s your favourite season for ingredients?Bread and dripping candle I think spring is a great season, it’s when everything starts to come to life, to flower and come out of the ground. What do you think of the UK’s food culture at the moment? I think it’s massively powerful. Food is one of the most influential topics across the world right now and I feel very lucky to be involved in that. It’s so fast paced and full of talent I’m just a needle in the hay stack. And finally if you hadn’t found food and cooking what would you be doing now? I’d be a bank robber! I don’t think there would be a bigger adrenaline rush than robbing a bank – and getting away with it! But honestly I don’t know what I would have done. If you're interested in a career in London like Tom then view all our jobs in London here

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 13th January 2015

Tom Sellers, chef/owner , Restaurant Story