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We chat with Tom Cook, Head Chef at London’s prestigious Le Pont De La Tour and a man who started out cooking at age 15, before eventually apprenticing under the likes of Gary Rhodes and Michel Roux Jr.
This man knows French food! Having worked all over the world, he shares a few nuggets of culinary wisdom gained from his many experiences, and a little bit of insight into life behind the scenes at the restaurant.
What’s he learned so far and what would he’d be doing if he wasn’t a chef? (clue: it involves Tottenham Hotspur). Read on to find out more…
Name: Tom Cook
DOB: 9th Feb 1976
Birthplace: Harlow, Essex
Role: Head Chef
Twitter handle: @Tomcooklepont
Current Affiliation: Le Pont De La Tour
Fun fact: “Although I’m afraid of heights, 2 years ago I skydived from 12,000ft!!”
You have perhaps the most appropriate surname ever – is cooking a family tradition, something in your blood, or are you the first?
Heard that many times before… cooking is definitely not in my family, but I always enjoyed helping my Mum in the kitchen at home.
I read that you started cooking at age 15. Did you always know that you’d be a chef, and that you’d come quite so far?
Started out in the summer holidays when I was 14 washing up at a local hotel, the veg prep chef didn’t show up one day, they asked me to do it and I’ve never looked back since.
What was it like working with Gary Rhodes at City Rhodes? That was earlier on in your career, right? What’d you pick up from that experience?
Working with Gary and his team at City Rhodes was a great experience for me. (My first Michelin kitchen) They showed me the basics of cooking and how not to over complicate things but still have an amazing dish.
Australia, France, New Zealand – do you see much of a difference in the dining cultures of the various countries you’ve worked in? How are the Brits different, if we are at all? And where have you enjoyed most so far?
There is a huge difference in cultures and produce from this side of the world to the other. The produce really dictates what is being cooked, for example you can’t get fresh foie gras in Australia and New Zealand so it’s not really used. The place I enjoyed living/cooking the most was Australia, worked at Pier restaurant in Sydney, we reached 94 in the worlds top 100 list. And of course loved the sunshine!
How does the learning process work for each new restaurant you end up at? Do/did you apprentice underneath people, do you have to learn an entirely new menu?
Every restaurant/chef cooks differently so you never stop learning. Still when I talk with other chefs today, I can pick up new techniques and ideas of what to do myself. The hardest place I’ve had to work was The Patisserie in Paris but I learnt so much.
Looking at your culinary CV it’s pretty bloody impressive. You’ve worked in a lot of 5* and Michelin Starred eateries. What’s the state of the fine dining industry today? Some have said that it’s suffered a little what with people curtailing their spending. Is this the case?
I think what you say is true but there are still many restaurants that fill up and are not the cheapest, I think it’s just down to perception, if they fill they are getting value of money or not.
What’s your ultimate aim and goal for your career? If you could achieve anything with it, what would you pick? Shoot for the moon…
To have my own busy, Michelin star restaurant.
What’s a ‘day in your life’ like? Could you give us an insight into the a day in the life at LPDLT? What’s your job entail?
Each day can be totally different, some days I will cook a section, other days it’s about organising and planning new menus or events. My favourite though was when I walked in one day and half the restaurant had been flooded so spent my whole morning getting rid of the water and making sure we could still open for lunch service!
What was your greatest cooking experience? Was there ever a time you remember making something particularly wonderful, or having a really great reaction to your cooking?
Cooking for Michel Roux Snr in Australia, after the meal he came and gave us a round of applause in the kitchen!
I hear some of your specialities are in pastry and French cuisine (which isn’t so surprising considering where you are now, right?) Do you do much experimentation and recipe development?
We are always trying to better what we are doing here, and changing with the seasons. Right now we are working on some updated dishes from the original menu 22 years ago.
What are your most and least favourite foods, and why?
Favourite has to be veal sweetbreads, ever since I tried them, love them. Least, oysters have become allergic to them now and they make me sick!
And your most and least favourite ingredients to cook with?
Love to cook all fish, to cook it perfectly is an art. Least is chocolate, it just seems to get everywhere!
What’s your culinary philosophy, summed up in a sentence?
Great, seasonal produce, cooked simply.
What does the great British public need to know about what you do? What one thing would you tell them, if you had a megaphone and the entire country’s ear?
We have some of the best fish and shellfish in the country right in the heart of London.
Who’s the person who’s most inspired you in your work – food industry or otherwise. Is there anyone that you draw inspiration or strength from? Do you have any specific culinary influences?
All of my chefs have shown me many things about cooking and running restaurants. But if I had to pick one out would be Michel Roux Jnr. He comes to eat here once a year.
What do you enjoy most and least about what you do?
Still really love getting in the kitchen and cooking, also helping my commis to progress and organise themselves.
If you weren’t doing what you do now, what would you be doing instead?
Playing for Tottenham Hotspur, the best team in the premiership!
What do you do to relax after a hard day’s ‘head cheffing?’
Nice glass of wine.
What advice would you give to aspiring professional chefs who’d want the kind of results that you’ve had? what’s it take to be a bloody good chef?
Hard work, listen and don’t make excuses for anything.
Where next for you and LPDLT?
Keep improving food and delighting the guests. Same again basically for the next 22 years!
And we always ask two customary ridiculous questions…
You’ve been sent back in time and made head chef of the Imperial Palace in ancient Rome. You’ve been tasked to provide a three course banquet for Emperor Nero and his court (he was a bit of a headcase). What do you make him?
Pasta, that’s what all Italians eat, don’t they? Whole roasted pig with all the trimmings, as the show stopper. Tiramisu, probably not invented yet, but what the hell…
Same as before but you’ve now been transported to an entirely new universe, and made head chef of Mordor. It’s time to cook a three course banquet for the Dark Lord Sauron and his orcs (who’s also a bit of a headcase, and the walking embodiment of pure evil as well). What do you come up with?
Blood sauages. Hobbit Pie, but don’t actually use hobbits just put some beef inside. Mud cake with some very strong poison inside (I can be a little evil too!)