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From Cornwall with Love
Tealight recently took a visit to the impressive Capital Hotel in Knightsbridge to meet Tom Brown, Head Chef of Outlaw's at the Capital.
This is part-one of a two-part look at Tom covering Tom himself and his food, make sure you signup below so you don’t miss part-two.
The first thing that strikes you when you meet Tom is his relaxed nature. When you’re meeting the Head Chef in one of London’s most iconic hotels turning out Michelin star food just before lunch service, you may expect to meet someone rushed and distracted, yet Tom met us with a big smile and relaxed attitude. Something we’d later discover is a trademark to his style in the kitchen. London could take a leaf out of his book.
We quickly got into Tom’s background, where his humility soon became apparent. Tom started his journey with Nathan Outlaw just over 5 years ago, making it from Chef de Partie to Head Chef in only 18 months, a rise that’s certainly not common, before becoming Head Chef at the Capital in January 2016. Despite this meteoric rise through the ranks, he simply puts it down to his age, before quickly diverting the conversation to genuine praise of how fantastic the other Chefs are, which endears you more to Tom. Although after you taste his food, you’ll probably agree there was a lot more behind Nathan’s decision than his age.
Lobster Risotto, Orange & Basil
Next, we turned to his younger life, Tom grew up in Cornwall and lived there until moving to London to run Outlaw's at the Capital. Tom talks about how he fell into being a Chef, and he admits not being a lover of food when he was younger. Tom was academic at school, with a plan to follow family into a career of medicine, but admits not liking college so he quit. You get an instant feeling with talking to Tom, that he’s a man that knows his own mind. He tells us how he did some part-time work as a Kitchen Porter, but the approaching busy summer season meant he was asked to cover some other jobs, which started him on the path of a Chef. This isn’t the usual story that you hear of a child who played Chef, destined to spend a life in the kitchen, yet that’s not slowed him in turning out some of the best food in London in a Michelin star restaurant
As the conversation turns to food, we raise the subject of sourcing ingredients and its importance to Tom, and it’s clear this is an area of focus for him “the Chef with the best ingredients cooks the best food” he remarks, and it’s here where Tom really lights up. When someone is this passionate about their subject it’s hard not to hang on every word. He’s glowing in admiration for his ingredients, “The fish we buy is second to none in London… there is no one that has a better quality fish than us, I truly believe that” and the praise continues for his suppliers, with relationships so strong he classes them as “genuine personal friends”. Tom’s in full food mode now, and it’s enthralling “my favourite main course at the moment is turbot with crispy oyster, smoked hollandaise and leeks, literally those four things, that’s it”. The theme of great produce is never far from Tom’s lips, this time recounting the detail with great excitement, of how the fresh asparagus from Cornwall is picked and driven up overnight and the ensuing joy that him and the team share when these new season ingredients arrive.
It’s fair to say Tom doesn’t like complicated, “try hard” cooking processes, which he describes simply as something “to tell people the story at the table”, instead preferring to focus on the best ingredients prepared well.
It’s clear by now that simplicity, with a focus on execution, is king in the Tom Brown kitchen, but what about the equipment we hear about in modern kitchens, Souis vide machines and the like? “the only thing we do with water baths is put radox in them and have a soak” Tom quips back, but continues “…no powders, no gums, no gels, no dehydration, no spherification, no siphons, no nothing, it’s just cooking” he admits to talking to diners and them being blow away that he DOESN’T use these things, instead opting for something that’s done us well for many years, cooking with all your senses.
Lemon Sole, Oyster, Smoked Leeks & Tarragon
Great produce, bold flavours without complication summarises Tom’s styles, attributes he also applies to his mentor, Nathan.
When not working Tom remarks his “favourite restaurant in London is The Marksman on hackney road” and also calls out St Johns and the Holborn Dining Room before summarising what he loves, “places where people clearly love food, a clear passion for produce and zero ego”, a statement you could equally use to summarise the Capital under Tom’s stewardship.
For eating back at home in Cornwall, Tom’s full of praise for Nathan Outlaw’s other restaurants as well as Paul Ainsworth, before recounting joyful experience of The Wheelhouse in Falmouth, a town Tom used to work in, again, the importance of good produce being front and centre of Tom’s review. As we talk about similar experiences it boils down to one thing for Tom “I hate it when people say this food is challenging, I don’t want to be challenged, I just want to have a laugh…”
Onto the menu at Outlaw's, and Tom describes the symbiotic relationship between him and Nathan. Explaining how they used to change the menu every 3 month, but soon realising the produce doesn’t confirm to this, they now change the title every 3 months to reflect the season, spring, summer, etc, but the menu is constantly being tweaked to keep it at the best. Tom describes a cured monkfish dish with peas and how once the peas are past their best, they swap them for broad beans. Again the central theme of Tom’s food; using the best ingredients.
Cod, Devilled Butter, Brown Shrimps & Celeriac
With only 4 people running service to cover 40 covers in the restaurant, “unheard of at this level” he explains how he’s broken away from the traditional kitchen setup, instead opting for one person to be totally accountable for each course. Tom is all about reducing stress in the kitchen something he simply puts down using your head and thinking logically. Ultimately this comes back to Tom’s focus on giving people a good time “If service is calm and organised, it’s smooth, the customer can feel that cleanliness of execution”
At the time of the interview Tom was leading the charge in the semi-finals for the west in the Great British Menu (a round he later won!), we asked if it was fun? “Great fun” shoots back Tom, and chuckles as he describes the screenshots the team send him of the attention he’s receiving on social media because of it… This is very much a Chef taking everything in his stride.
After speaking with Tom, we had lunch in the restaurant and approaching the kitchen afterwards we’re met with a Chef full of excitement about the food and produce asking with particular interest about the fresh asparagus. it’s amazing as a diner to see a Chef, who does this day in and day out, showing so much excitement for dishes his kitchen puts out. This is a Chef with no apparent awareness of his impressive nature, and to paraphrase the man himself, is someone who clearly loves food, has clear passion for produce and zero ego.
In Part 2 we’ll be covering the food, so stay tuned for more from Tealight and their adventure with Tom Brown and Outlaw's at the Capital…!
For the latest pictures of Tealight's time with Chef Tom Brown head over to our social pages below.