Tom Booton

Tom Booton

Tom Booton

Having entered the world of professional cooking at the age of just fifteen, Tom Booton has gone on to become one of the UK’s most exciting chefs. In 2019, he became the youngest head chef in The Grill at The Dorchester’s history.

There are certain traits any good chef needs to possess if they want to become successful – creativity, drive and self-belief to name just a few. Age, however, is simply a number when it comes to cookery; regardless of how old or young a chef is, if they possess the right qualities, they’ll give themselves as good a chance as any to flourish. For years, Tom Booton was the youngest chef in pretty much every kitchen he worked in, but through a combination of sheer determination and raw talent he has fast become one of London’s most talked-about chefs.

Food wasn’t initially a huge part of Tom’s life when growing up in Colchester. His mum a nurse and his dad part of the army, it was always more of a case of food being rustled up quickly at home. But from a young age Tom saw the importance of hard work. ‘I remember my first ever head chef asking me what my parents did,’ he says. ‘When I told him, he was like ‘you’ll be a good chef then’.’ Having enjoyed baking in his early teens, when it came to looking for work experience he decided to apply to Le Talbooth, a local three-AA-rosette restaurant in Essex. After spending two weeks there he’d caught the cooking bug. ‘I just fell in love with it,’ explains Tom. ‘Particularly the way that when you work with a team in a kitchen, you become a family.’

Excelling during his work experience, Tom quickly caught the attention of executive chef Ian Rhodes and aged just fifteen began working part-time at the renowned restaurant, all whilst still at school. When the time came for him to choose whether to go to catering college or go full-time at Le Talbooth a year-and-a-half later, Tom’s decision was easy. ‘Ian told me not to go to college and that I should start working straight away,’ he explains. ‘I do think you progress quicker that way but I guess I did miss out on making friends at college and it meant that I was the youngest in the kitchen, as I was only sixteen at that point.’ Tom worked at Le Talbooth for almost four years whilst living at home, spending a year on each different section, getting experience in all aspects of cookery (‘It was the perfect place to start my career because I got to learn all the classical stuff’).

Eventually in 2012 after taking some time out to go on a ski season, Tom decided to leave Le Talbooth and move to London in order to take his food to a whole new level. Through a connection he soon found himself working under Alyn Williams at The Westbury (now closed), which had just been awarded its first Michelin star. ‘It was nice because everyone was at the same point – we were all commis chefs and it was our first job in London,’ Tom explains. ‘Alyn instilled in us that everything we did needed to be the best we could possibly make it; he was all about precision and I still have that now.’ A year after joining The Westbury and keen to continue progressing, he moved to L’Autre Pied – a much smaller kitchen of just five chefs (compared to over twenty at The Westbury) run by head chef Andy McFadden – where Tom spent three years which he describes as ‘the hardest I’ve ever worked’. By the time he left the Michelin-starred restaurant aged just twenty-two he was sous chef.

The only problem with Tom having so much success so early on in his career was that by his early twenties he’d already spent four years in London with hardly any time off and he was starting to get restless. Fortunately, after a brief stint at Pied à Terre, owner David Moore spotted how hard he was working and suggested he went abroad for a bit. Initially travelling to Iceland to do a stage at Dill in Reykjavik, Tom next spent time in New York with fellow chef Charlie Taylor before finally settling down in Copenhagen for two months, working at Studio and then Amass. ‘It’s a much slower pace of life in Scandinavia,’ says Tom. ‘They only do a dinner service and stay up really late compared to London. It was great to see both sides.’

Tom was able to continue this slightly less hectic pace of life when he returned to London to become sous chef at Dabbous in Fitzrovia, where Ollie Dabbous took great care of his staff. ‘As well as obviously being an amazing chef Ollie was also very people-driven,’ Tom explains. ‘He gave us three days off a week so he didn’t overwork us. He’s also a great businessman and was the first person to teach me about things like council tax and price of ingredients, which I still put into practice today.’ Tom would need an impossible-to-refuse offer to draw him away from Dabbous and that ultimately came in the form of a call from Alyn Williams asking him to return to The Westbury as head chef aged just twenty-four. ‘It was too early [to become head chef] to be honest,’ muses Tom. ‘But you have to grab opportunities like that with two hands, and I remember thinking it could make me or break me.’

Taking over the kitchen of the restaurant he first stepped foot in six years earlier and being trusted by someone he respected as much as Alyn was an honour for Tom. Over the course of the three years he spent as head chef at The Westbury, he retained the restaurant’s Michelin star and started imparting his own influences onto the menu. So when the opportunity came about to help relaunch The Grill at The Dorchester, Tom was able to be very specific about his vision. ‘I was happy at The Westbury and wasn’t looking for a job,’ he smiles. ‘So I thought I may as well ask for everything I wanted and if they said no it wouldn’t matter. But they just kept saying yes! Alyn was really happy for me though.’ Tom spent three months building a team (many of whom he worked with at The Westbury), helping with the redesign of the space and developing a menu that showcased his own style of food. ‘I wanted to do simply plated, precise plates of food using beautiful ingredients,’ he explains. ‘It’s harder doing simple food than doing powders, oils and foams because you’ve got nowhere to hide when cooking a sweetbread or a rib-eye.’

The Grill at The Dorchester relaunched in 2019 with Tom at the helm – the youngest head chef in the restaurant’s kitchen – and was quickly met with a flurry of fantastic reviews, praising the chef’s cookery. Before reaching the age of thirty, Tom Booton has already achieved more than many chefs do throughout their entire career and is showing no signs of slowing down. It’s anyone’s guess as to where he’ll be in another thirty years.