Ben Tish

Ben Tish

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After thirteen years helping to grow Salt Yard into one of London’s most acclaimed restaurant groups, Ben took a year out to plan his next move. He wanted to strike out on his own and open a restaurant with his wife, focusing on the Italian and Mediterranean food he’d fallen in love with. After a site in Soho Square fell through – despite Ben putting a lot of money into the concept and design – he and his wife knew they couldn’t go through the process again on their own, so when Stuart Procter, the CEO of The Stafford Hotel, approached Ben and asked if he’d consider working with him on the hotel’s restaurant The Game Bird, Ben accepted.

‘They asked me to be the culinary director of the hotel, overseeing the already great executive chef there, and then they’d help me open my own restaurant, as the concept and design had already been done,’ says Ben. ‘We decided to go for it, and a year after starting at The Stafford, we opened Norma.’

Norma is the result of Ben’s years of experience in kitchens and extensive travels throughout Italy and the Mediterranean. It’s his style of cooking through and through – and since opening in 2019 it’s had heaps of critical acclaim. ‘Mediterranean and Italian food has been a massive part of my career, and I’ve spent a lot of time in Italy, particularly in the south and on Sicily,’ says Ben. ‘There are a lot of Italian restaurants in London but I think Norma has a different angle. It’s got a high-end feel to it, which I like, but everything is toned down and made more relaxed with a Mediterranean feel. The food is rustic, but there’s a refinement to it.

‘I love the frugality of Sicilian food,’ continues Ben. ‘A lot of the dishes come from poverty and the few humble ingredients that were available. But then in contrast to that there’s lots of opulent, showy, almost garish dishes that come from when the island was under Arabic rule – lots of dried fruits and sugars and spices. Sicily is a huge melting pot of cultures because it’s been invaded so many times, and that’s seamlessly intertwined with the island’s culture today. Sometimes you could be eating something there and it’ll taste North African, but then you look down and it’s a bowl of pasta. I’m not big on authenticity – Norma certainly isn’t an authentic Sicilian restaurant – but it’s a fantastic region to be inspired by, and the flavours you find there are among my favourites.’

With Norma to run alongside overseeing the food operations at The Stafford Hotel, Ben certainly isn’t short of things to be getting on with. And while the Covid-19 lockdown has meant any future projects have been put on hold, there’s still lots in the pipeline. ‘The plan is to grow the restaurant group in the years to come. I think Norma has legs – perhaps opening a Norma Café or a deli, and I’d love to open another New York-style Italian restaurant too.’ Ben has proved himself to be an excellent chef, prolific restaurateur and an authority on the flavours of southern Italy – we can’t wait to see what he gets up to next.

Three things you should know

Ben has written three cookbooks (Salt Yard Food & Wine; Grill, Smoke, BBQ and Moorish), with a fourth on the way called Sicilia.

Ben teaches classes at the likes of Leith's, Divertimenti and Soho Farmhouse, sharing his skills and knowledge with both keen home cooks and professional chefs.

Ben is an active member of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts and is involved with the Adopt A School project, where he educates primary school students on the potential of becoming involved in the restaurant industry and the benefits of healthy eating.