From pot washer to Executive Chef of one of London’s leading restaurants. The Wordrobe chats with Tom Cook, Executive Head Chef of Smith & Wollensky
What inspired you to become a chef? Where did you train?
I started as a Kitchen Porter at a hotel in my hometown of Harlow, Essex and immediately fell in love with the fast pace and pressure of a professional kitchen.
I trained at my local college while still working and got promoted to commis chef. I still love the buzz of the kitchen and learning new things every day.
Do you have any culinary heroes?
The Roux brothers are definitely up there! They shaped the way fine dining in London is today. Thomas Keller is also an inspirational chef for me, he creates really amazing dishes and I had the best meal of my life in his New York restaurant.
Describe your cooking philosophy in three words
Quality, seasonal, consistency.
What’s next on the cards?
I’ll be spending most of my time developing the menus here at Smith & Wollensky. They are already amazing but I want to put my own take on a couple of dishes. It’s great to come in to a restaurant that is already producing top quality food!
What food takes you back to childhood?
Classic British food is a reminder of home! Things like a proper Sunday roast with all the trimmings, a shepherd’s pie and bangers and mash are definite contenders as well. My mum did most of the cooking at home but I did try to help wherever I could.
What’s the sign of a perfect steak?
Even marbling throughout the steak is really important. People often try to go for as lean a cut as possible when selecting a steak in the butchery or supermarket but the fat is where all of that lovely flavour is.
Also when buying a joint, you want it to have a nicely aged look and darkness at edge of meat. This means it’s been hung properly and will be packed with loads of flavour.
What’s playing on your kitchen soundtrack?
Anything by Coldplay.
What’s your favourite autumnal dish?
I absolutely love game so anything with grouse, partridge or venison is good with me.
Name us three of your favourite restaurants
The Ledbury, Midsummer House, El Celler de Can Roca
What has been the toughest challenge of your career so far?
Running a restaurant and having kids is definitely a challenge. The long hours can really take a toll on family time so it’s important to make sure you get the balance right.
What would you say to aspiring chefs?
Are you sure you want to do this?! Seriously though, I would say work hard and learn as much as you can in your early years. It’s an extremely rewarding job but it’s tough. It’s got to be a real passion.
Hungry for more? Find out more about Tom and Smith & Wollensky here.