Blackheath resident and MasterChef finalist Tony Rodd is carving out a good career in food, but he never really wanted to be a chef… Here, he tells The Resident about making the most of opportunities that come your way, his new cookbook, and appearing at Blackheath Foodies Festival
Words: Trish Lesslie
For someone who never wanted to become a professional chef, Tony Rodd is certainly making a great job of being one. Since reaching the finals of the 2015 series of the BBC’s MasterChef, the man dubbed ‘the master chocolatier’ by judge Gregg Wallace has spent his time since the competition honing his skills in the pastry kitchen and beyond, turning what was basically a hobby into a career.
‘I could think of nothing worse than becoming a chef,’ says Tony, who had spent his working life as a recruitment consultant until MasterChef came along. ‘It’s long hours, it’s not great pay and it can sometimes be quite a thankless task. But I was offered a few opportunities I felt I had to explore. Worse case scenario, I thought, three months down the line I’ll go back to the day job.’
I could think of nothing worse than becoming a chef
Tony soon realised he could have a far more varied life as a chef than he had imagined. ‘Instead of going into the kitchen for 60 or 70 hours a week, repeating the same dishes over and over, some days I’m at my desk working on my book, the next I’m doing a private dinner for a small group with a brand new menu and then maybe a supper club for 30 or 40 people before driving off to a food festival. Every day is unique. It’s tough, but it’s much more fun.’
At the supper clubs he hosts at The Guildford Arms in Greenwich on the first Tuesday of the month, he gets to ‘work with other chefs and spend time front of house, which enables me to learn skills and share my love and knowledge of food with people in the industry. I also get to cook for large groups of people before coming out to chat to them all. It’s nice to be able to engage with that many people at one time.’
His private dining events, where he caters for between four and 14 people, are ‘a little bit more personal. You get to create bespoke menus for people and spend time with them in the comfort of their own home.’
The benefits for his clients are that ‘you don’t have to go anywhere, you can dress how you like, talk as loud as you want and stay as long as you want. If you want another bottle of wine, that’s absolutely fine. It’s just a much more relaxed environment.’
Private dining events are a little bit more personal. You get to create bespoke menus for people and spend time with them in the comfort of their own home. It’s a much more relaxed environment
Much of his time over the summer will be spent at food festivals, including Blackheath’s Foodies Festival, taking place on 8-10 July 2016. Foodies Festival has already conquered Syon Park and Alexandra Palace, as well as Edinburgh, Brighton and Bristol, but this is its first outing on the Heath.
‘They’re really nice events with lots of bespoke producers – you name it, they’ve got it,’ says Tony.
‘Then you’ve got the chefs’ theatre, which is where I do my demonstration. There are always Michelin-starred chefs demonstrating seasonal dishes. It’s nice just to go out and wander round and meet interesting people, eat drink and be merry.’
OnBlackheath, taking place 10-11 September, is another local event he’s looking forward to. ‘I’m not cooking, but I will be there as a punter. I know a few of the chefs working there, so I’ll be learning a few things, making the most of the food, the drink and the music.’
It’s not just the local food festivals Tony supports. ‘It’s important to support local shops, especially in a village like Blackheath. Without them you’d end up full of chains, which is not what we’re about here.’ he says. He’s particularly passionate about local suppliers when it comes to sourcing ingredients. ‘I’m very conscious of the distance that food has travelled, how it’s been grown or farmed and how that affects the flavour. I’ve worked with the guys at John Charles [the local village butcher] for such a long time. The service is superb and they educate me about meat. I know the meat I get from them is the best quality from reputable farms and sources.’
It’s important to support local shops, especially in a village like Blackheath. Without them you’d end up full of chains, which is not what we’re about here
Tony is currently working on a book of recipes aimed at helping the amateur cook create beautiful plates of food at home. Due for release this summer, Well Dressed Plates focuses on dinner party food – and how to make it look stunning.
‘Most cookbooks show you how to cook the food, but often that’s where they leave you. They never tell you how to put it on to the plate. But presentation is more important than ever now everybody’s on social media taking photographs of their food. If it doesn’t look good, people are always slightly disappointed.’
Judging by Tony’s success so far, few are disappointed by his work – and it doesn’t look like he’ll be going back to the old day job any time soon.
For more on Tony’s cookbook, supperclubs and private dining, see welldressedplates.com. For more on Blackheath Foodies Festival, see foodiesfestival.com. For the chance to wine VIP tickets to Blackheath Foodies Festival and our exclusive reader offer, click here