‘You’re only as big as you dare to dream,’ says chef and skilled kitchen alchemist Tom Sellers, who at 26 has to date had a stunning foodie career, including wowing diners with his version of a ‘bread and dripping candle’. As his highly-anticipated London Restaurant Story opens on Bermondsey’s Tooley Street, ACHICA Living catches up with the experimental chef to talk food, fun and creative flair…
What appeals to you about cooking?
I love that there are no hard and fast rules with food. It’s a creative process that allows me to freely express myself.
If you hadn’t become a chef what route would you have pursued?
I’ve been a chef since I was sixteen; it’s honestly all I’ve ever wanted to do.
What was the highlight of working at French Laundry in California and what was the best thing about the dishes there?
Just to work with Thomas Keller was an absolute privilege. The dishes were so consistent and precise and I learnt so much from him. There wasn’t a bad thing about it; the whole experience was a gift.
You worked at Per Se in New York. Do you think the food in New York differs to the food in London?
London has become increasingly similar to New York in recent years although the food does differ still. They have access to some different ingredients and have slightly different preferences. Also the fast-paced American culture lends itself more to no reservation restaurants. They’re on the increase here in London, especially in Soho so that’s a shared trend.
What was it about London that made you return here?
England is my home. My family and friends are here. I spent a lot of my early 20’s working overseas and developing my skills but when it felt like the right time to open my own place I knew it had to be in the UK. I want to cook British food, using seasonal British ingredients. Personally, I think London is the best place to make your mark at the moment.
You spent a year working at Noma restaurant in Copenhagen. What was the highlight of working there and your favourite dish?
Watching how Danish chef René Redzepi discovered food and his process behind it. My favourite dish was the raw chestnut, with fish eggs and rye.
At your pop up restaurant Foreword, the Bread and Dripping candle caused quite a stir. Any equally interesting recipes you’ve been working on since? How experimental have you got?
I work on food and new dish development every day and I’m always looking for new products and ingredients. Mermaid’s Hair, for example, is a type of seaweed we’ve been introduced to by our forager. It has a really punchy flavour and we’re definitely going to use it on a new dish.
[Above - image from Bearbites] Bread and Dripping, served at Story restaurant, is lit at the table and served as an edible candle with bread to mop up the melted wax.
What signature dishes should we look out for at Restaurant Story?
Well the beef-dripping candle is already getting quite a bit of attention. Other than that, I really love the burnt onion, apple, gin and thyme dish as it combines two of my favourite memories. The onions take me back to the fairground as a kid, eating hot dogs with my dad, and gin is my favourite drink now as an adult.
[Above: The interior of Tom Sellers' Restaurant Story, Below: Three bears' porridge - 'one too sweet, one too salty and one which is just right', which is served at Restaurant Story.]
“Story will tell my story though food,’ says Tom. “It will be me – all my experiences, influences and inspirations – on a plate.”
[Below: Scallops, cucumber and dill ash at Restaurant Story]
Who and what inspires you?
Working with my incredible team. They inspire me daily.
You’ve worked with renowned chefs Rene Redzepi, Tom Aikens, Adam Byatt and Thomas Keller. Who has had the most influence on your work?
I’d say that Thomas Keller has had the most influence in terms of running a restaurant on a daily basis. From him I’ve inherited the systems, ethos and the way he works.
Which fellow chefs do you admire?
I admire anyone in our industry that is running a restaurant right now. It’s a tough economy and staying in business is never easy. There is so much competition out there.
Who would your five fantasy dinner party guests be?
What three kitchen items can you not live without?
I constantly taste my food when cooking, so a spoon is essential. A good set of knives is something no chef could live without. Finally, a good apron – I like to keep things nice and clean!
When you’re not cooking, how do you spend your free time? Any hobbies?
At the moment I’m spending all my time in the kitchen! It takes a lot of work to get a restaurant off the ground. I did manage to get to the cinema the other night, though.
Describe your ideal weekend?
I’d fly to New York. I’d eat at Per Se in the early evening and watch the sun set over Central Park. On Sunday I’d go for brunch at Balthazar and then an early dinner at Momofuku. Their pork buns are stunning.
What is your top cooking tip?
Fat is flavour.
What’s your motto?
You’re only as big as you dare to dream.
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Emily Peck, Editor
View all posts by Emily Peck, Editor