ALMEIDA RESTAURANT JOINS FORCES WITH NSPCC
On Monday 20 April, 2015, the Almeida Restaurant will be hosting a very special dining event, with all profits being donated to the NSPCC. Almeida Head Chef, Tommy Boland, offers an insight into what to expect and how it feels to be in charge of one of London’s finest restaurants at just 27 years of age
Chefs can be notoriously difficult people to interview – either because they’re crazily busy and barely have time to stop for a coffee, or because a lot of the time they’re simply not what one would call a ‘people person’. But Tommy Boland – or Tommy B as his team calls him – oozes a casual friendliness. In typical chef style, he’s looking a little overtired, eager to get back to work, but glad for a moment to sit down.
The head of the kitchen at Islington’s Almeida Restaurant will feature as one of three notable London chefs presenting a three-course menu for charity event Once Upon a Dine on Monday 20 April. All profits for the evening will go to the NPCC, the children’s charity dedicated to ending child abuse in the UK and Channel Islands. The dinner is representative of Tommy’s success at the young age of 27, collaborating with Tim Allen (of Launceston Place) and Tom Cook (of Pont de la Tour), to build a carte du jour inspired by the concept of nursery rhymes and fairytales of the past.
Tommy will design the main course, named ‘three little pigs’, a creative pork dish incorporating three ‘houses’ and a cauldron that represent’s the dastardly wolf’s end. There will also be an incorporation of apples and pears, as ‘the original writer of The Three Little Pigs was called James Orchard,’ says Tommy. The evening of childhood nostalgia will be hosted by award winning journalist and NSPCC advocate, Robert Crampton, with live and silent auctions featuring prizes from The Broad Gallery, The Dorchester and Sipsmith Distillery.
It just the latest landmark event in what has been a hugely successful period for the restaurant. Almeida was recently listed in the top 150 restaurants in The Daily Telegraph’s Good Food Guide. Throughout his career, Tommy has worked under internationally renowned chefs like Eric Chavot and Phil Howard, and has taken much from their tutelage. ‘[Phil Howard’s] passion for food and simplicity and pure hunger just to produce simple, tasty food is one of the key things that makes me who I am now. I’ve had the very lucky opportunity to work in some of the most phenomenal kitchens with some of the most phenomenal chefs,’ he says.
Yet Tommy’s number one desire is to simply create something that people will return for. He describes his regular menu at Almeida as seasonal, very honest and generous with quality sourced ingredients. ‘We’re not trying to be clever,’ he points out. His commitment to produce is resolute. ‘I love gardening, so it’s nice to see something grow from a seed. To actually put it on to a plate with the respect of how it was grown is really cool. Having your own garden is like having your own little family. You see something go from one state to another state and then to someone actually eating it,’ he smiles.
So how did he get from his childhood home in Scotland to here in Islington? Tommy puts it down to little more than a lot of luck, which is clearly an understatement. ‘It’s being lucky to have the chance to work with some amazing people. A lot of people apply for jobs, and they don’t get it, not because they’re not good enough but because they don’t have the space at the time,’ he says.
Tommy’s family home wasn’t the catalyst for his love for food. As a teenager, the young Scot was introduced to the kitchen environment by taking a weekend job as a porter for spare cash, where he met Kev, a local chef who became his first unassuming mentor. ‘The restaurant was on the border of Edinburgh, a small town, not a phenomenal restaurant, not phenomenal food, but [Kev’s] passion for what he did was unbelievable.’
Pressed a lot more, he does admit the job isn’t for everyone. ‘You don’t get anything for free. It takes a willingness to do something and I guess at some point a natural talent,’ he says. ‘You can learn a lot, but there are certain things that can’t be taught. Being passionate about something you can only learn yourself – no-one can teach you to be passionate. No-one can teach you to be creative, it’s somewhere within you.’
However when I ask him what he loves most about his job, Tommy is stumped for just a moment. He pauses, before deciding on one simple fact. ‘Creativity. No-one can tell you you’re right or you’re wrong. There’s no such thing as perfection, only your own ideas about what makes something perfect. You have that chance to create something, and no-one can actually tell you it’s wrong. It’s not like there’s a manual that tells you how you have to do things.’
On a rare night off, you might find Tommy trying out another top restaurant on his bucket list, such as Typing Room in Bethnal Green, or cooking what he calls ‘a big chunk of beef’ for family on a Sunday. Having achieved so much, where to go now for Tommy B? ‘I’d love to have my own place. I like learning about how to run a business. I’d love to open something and make it my own’.
For now, though, this celebrated young chef is content to be where he is, tucked away off Islington’s Upper Street, serving what he says is ‘hopefully delicious’ food. He succeeds admirably and shows why this is one casual, friendly and easy to talk to chef.
Words: Phillipa Rust
30 Almeida StreetN1 1AD; 020 7354 4777; almeida-restaurant.co.uk (see website for more information on Once Upon a Dine)