FOOD HEROES: TOM MILBY
PUBLISHED: 12:49 19 May 2014 | UPDATED: 12:38 30 August 2017
Winner of Cornwall Life's 2013 Gastro Pub of the Year, we stop off at Restronguet Creek to meet the Pandora Inn's head chef
Winner of Cornwall Life’s 2013 Gastro Pub of the Year, and Gold Pub of Year in 2013 and 2014 in the South West Tourism Awards, we stop off at Restronguet Creek to meet the Pandora Inn’s head chef Tom Milby
Tom Milby began working at the Pandora Inn, Restronguet Creek as a kitchen porter at the tender age of 16. Over the next decade he worked his way up through the ranks to become head chef in 2011. So what are the secrets of his success?
How would you describe your food style?
My style is definitely very traditional, but with a bit of a modern spin. I love good, hearty food, and cooking in a simple way that lets the quality of the ingredients speak for themselves.
Who has been your greatest food influence?
Raymond Blanc. When I started out I loved watching him on TV, and seeing his passion and enthusiasm when he cooks. His was one of the first cookbooks I ever owned, and I love the way the recipes always work perfectly every time. He’s very traditional, never pretentious, and the techniques he uses are old school, but they work.
How important is seasonality in your menu?
Seasonality is key for everything. We’re so lucky with the amount of excellent produce here in Cornwall, from the countryside and the sea, that it would be silly not to use what’s local and in season. Our specials’ menu is 90 per cent local produce, and even on the set menu, which changes quarterly, I’m careful to use ingredients which will be in season, or doing things like not naming a particular type of fish so we can use whatever is available at the time.
What is your favourite flavour of Cornwall?
Definitely sole, either lemon, megrim or Dover. They’re all local to Cornwall, they’re available all the time and I always have sole on our specials’ board. The flavour of the fish is so subtle that you can keep it really simple, just grilled with a little butter, a splash of white wine and a squeeze of lemon juice – that for me is Cornwall.
What ingredientcouldn'tyou do without?
It has to be mustard. I love all the varieties, they’re all so different and they complement all types of food, from game to fish. You can put it in anything and it’s a great flavour enhancer.
What was your most memorable meal?
It’s actually quite a recent one that I had last year at Gidleigh Park. The owners of the Pandora, John Milan and Steve Bellman, took me and the landlords Catherine and Lester out to celebrate winning the Cornwall Tourism Pub of the Year Award. We had an eight-course tasting menu, and were treated to a tour of the kitchen and the wine cellars. It was so special I couldn't forget it, the attention to detail was spot on, and there was one dish in particular, salt cod with chorizo foam and lemon purée, that was just incredible.
Why did you become a chef?
I left school and needed a summer job, I lived in the village so I started working at the Pandora as a kitchen porter. It was a strange environment at first but I really enjoyed it and so I decided it was what I wanted to do. My friends who were all doing 9-5 college courses thought I was mad for giving up my evenings and weekends, but I loved it and have never looked back.
What is your food heaven?
Either scallops or monkfish. Scallops I love raw, cooked or cured, and monkfish is so versatile and I love the meaty texture, whether it’s simply grilled or used in a curry.
What is your idea of food hell?
Mass-produced, naff desserts – the type you get on big stands in chain restaurants. They’re all about quantity rather than quality, and you can tell that no love has gone into them whatsoever – that’s my food hell.
What’s going to be big in 2014?
I hope it will be either hake or pollock. Both are very underused at the minute, I know fishermen who have to land their catch in France because there isn’t enough demand for it here in England, but they’re versatile, sustainable and delicious. We’ve always used both, but recently I’ve been starting to see them more on fish counters and on restaurant menus, so hopefully 2014 will be the year they become more mainstream. n
The Pandora Inn at Restronguet Creek is part of the St Austell Brewery Estate of pubs and inns and is open 7 days a week, serving food from 10.30am – 9.30pm.