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Ones to watch: Tomos Parry

Ones to watch: Tomos Parry

by Nancy Anne Harbord 27 August 2015

Tomos Parry has been attracting attention for his skills with wood-fired cooking since he headed up the food offering at Climpson’s Arch. Now running the kitchen at Kitty Fishers in Mayfair, he endures the relentless, sweltering temperatures of the grill to bring creative, Celtic-inflected cooking to London’s diners.

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A degree in politics and history is not the typical route into cheffing. Tomos Parry told us: ‘I still passed, but I knew cooking was what I wanted to do.’ Positions in Cardiff then London followed, where he secured a role at The River Café: ‘They had incredible produce and that got me excited – it was phenomenal!’ After that came a stage at Noma where he met James Knappett, going on to help him open Kitchen Table at Bubbledogs. But it was at Climpson’s Arch, a space under the railway in Hackney, that Tomos Parry was able to develop his skill with a wood-fire grill.

Dedicated to providing a platform for young chefs to show off their talents, this unusual location houses two huge wood-fired ovens and offers chefs the chance to come out of the isolated kitchen environment and, as the founder says, ‘get back to basics with food and fire’. Tomos Parry told us: ‘I’d been drawn to grilling for the past few years, but I didn’t have the opportunity to really go for it. That’s why I left Kitchen Table to go there, it just felt right. It’s got massive wood-fire grills and things you could never get away with in a restaurant. It’s a very weird place to work, but it allows you to grow and develop ideas. There’s not much pressure on you there, because people didn’t have expectations about what they were going to get, so you could play around with dishes. I think I was quite lucky. A lot of the dishes I cook today were developed there, just a bit more refined.’

‘I didn’t really think about if I was ready to do something myself. I just really wanted to do it, so I did it and then it worked and it was fine. I think it was just the rawness of it – it’s quite an exciting way of cooking I think. I like the simplicity of it. I like having restrictions in cooking, it helps creativity in a way. You can have all the cooking gadgets in the world, but what are you doing with them all? There’s no way you can master all of them. I also love the flavour of it and the way it reacts with produce, which is what it’s all about. The more you cook with it, the more you find ways to cook with the fire and the smoke.’

I like having restrictions in cooking, it helps creativity in a way. You can have all the cooking gadgets in the world, but what are you doing with them all? There’s no way you can master all of them.

Tomos Parry

Tomos Parry’s stretch as head chef at The Arch saw him win Young British Foodie in 2014, but it was the grilled grouse that got him where he is today. The now-owners of Kitty Fishers came to eat there about a year ago, and the rest, as they say, is history. Their original plans for the restaurant centred on traditional Basque cooking, but Tomos Parry made it his own: ‘It wasn’t for me to cook Spanish food – I’m not Spanish and there were already loads of guys doing it really well. So I thought I would do it with a bit of Spanish influence, but do it my way.’

He continues: ‘The menu is built from all the ideas I’ve been working on for the past two years at The Arch, and from working really closely with good producers. Also my friend in the kitchen, Chris, who I’ve known for fifteen years – he’s my sous-chef so that helps, we can bounce ideas off each other. The Basque influence is there, but the menu is what I like to eat and what’s in season. I don’t like to overthink it. Also you’re not ever inventing anything new – you can bring something up to date, but you’re never the first person to do anything. I think as soon as you get over the fact that you’ll never make anything new it helps you become a better chef. Some people get so stuck on creating something new that they forget about the food and its flavour.’

A proud Welshman, there are influences from his native land peppered throughout the menu. A dish of white crab that has been on the menu since Kitty Fishers opened is seasoned with pickled Welsh seaweed and lava bread. They also use Welsh lamb, and other products such as salami and cheese that are sourced from the region, though opening up supply lines between Wales and the capital has been tough. He told us: ‘It’s quite a slow process. If you have more publicity and a better profile you can use that to show suppliers that it’s worth their effort. The best thing about getting good reviews is that suppliers recognise you from the papers, so I’m able to help other people off the back of it.’

He told us: ‘There’s a big Celtic influence across the whole setup. You have me and Chris who are Welsh, two of the owners are Irish, then you have the Basque way of cooking which has Celtic roots as well. Also, most of our produce is from Cornwall. It wasn’t really planned like that, but I guess the reason why we all ended up cooking together is that we were all coming from the same angle without knowing it.’

This has been a whirlwind of a year for Tomos Parry: ‘every critic came during the first two weeks – there’s been no teething time! When Giles Coren came in there were only four dishes on the menu because we opened with just me and Chris in the kitchen, which was really, really hard. It’s been so full on, I can’t believe that we’ve only been open for eleven months. It feels like we’ve been open for years!’ Brad Pitt dined there the other day, but it was the possibility of meeting Steve Coogan that had Tomos Parry excited: ‘He’s my hero!’

We asked him what the future holds, but Tomos Parry is keeping an open mind: ‘If you had told me a year ago that I would be here now, I wouldn’t have known. So there’s lots of stuff that we’re working on, but mainly we’re just trying to get this place to be good. It’s lucky that it’s had good reviews, but it really doesn’t matter if you can’t keep it up. So it’s really about making this place strong and building from there.’

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