Mica Soellner is a freelance multimedia journalist who has worked at US and UK publications. She has been published by the Independent, i News, Novara Media, spiked-online and has been featured on BBC radio. Mica is completing her Bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Missouri. She is currently based in Washington D.C. interning at Politifact National. She has language skills in Japanese and German and is interested in labor relations, politics and foreign policy.
5 minutes with chef Tom Sellers
1. When did you realise you wanted to be a chef?
It wasn’t a case of a “calling” so much as being a teenager and needing to work. I was hired as a pot wash in a local pub, worked hard and fell in love with the atmosphere in the kitchen. It was my head chef who inspired me. He noticed my work ethic and taught me some skills. Tom Aikens is a chef he really looked up to so he encouraged me to move to London and get a job with him.
3. Do you think it’s imperative to work with the best chefs to become one?
I think it’s important to work with people who challenge and inspire you in everything you do. It helps you get better, and ultimately that’s what I’m constantly hoping to achieve. Some chefs are prominent for a reason – it was incredibly inspiring working with Tom Aikens and Tom Keller and taught me a lot for different reasons. From Tom Aikens, I learned what it meant to imagine through food and from Thomas Keller, it was the importance of discipline in your work.
4. What do you think sets the standard for Michelin-quality food?
It can vary a lot. Partly because dining is subjective, but there has to be an overall standard to Michelin-quality food, otherwise Michelin wouldn’t be doing their job.
5. What’s behind your restaurant names?
Restaurant Story – or Story – was the name and concept I thought up when I was 19. I wanted to make a restaurant that was all about the narrative on the plate, and the guests are told the stories as part of their experience. Restaurant Ours is so named due to the collaborative nature of the restaurant – which has been set up drawing on the talent and experience of quite a lot of people – and also because we wanted to create somewhere where the guests felt that them and their friends could come, feel at home, and make it their own.
6. What do you think makes British food unique?
It’s among some of the best in the world these days. In London definitely – there aren’t many cities that can compete anymore.
7. Why is using seasonal ingredients so important to you?
It’s quite simple – you get the very best in the season. The food is naturally appropriate to the time of year. After we had a particularly cold spring, you have to wait a couple of extra weeks for fresh peas and that is reflected in your menu. You should never force food to taste as it shouldn’t – that’s an ethos I’m quite strict about.
8. Is there a specific way you test the quality of your ingredients?
We are very careful about the suppliers we work with – plus it’s a skill you acquire. Once you have seen enough produce, it’s fairly easy to see which can and cannot be used for a dish.
9. How do you cater to special dietary needs for people who may be vegetarian or gluten-free?
I think that of course, all restaurants should do their utmost to make sure their guests receive the food they wish to receive and can enjoy. There are some limitations to this of course – particularly when, as I do, serve tasting menus. It gets to the point where you start to run out of new ways of serving each course! I think it’s up to the diner to choose a restaurant that is appropriate to their needs, as much as it is the restaurant to cater to them.
10. Do you have a favourite memory of your career?
The day that I received the star at Story is very special to me because it was the recognition of an awful lot of hard work.
11. What was the hardest part about opening your first restaurant?
Being everywhere at once. I’m not the type of person who gives over responsibility easily so I was there basically round-the-clock and involved in absolutely every aspect of the opening.
But despite it being hard, opening in London means you’re in a cultural destination and people are desperate to try out new places – on the flip side of that is the immense amounts of competition, and you have to find ways to stay afloat.
12. What do you think it takes to really stand out in London?
The product you provide – there is no formula to it. It can be the simplest idea and it will fly, or it can be an exceptional high-end restaurant which is incredibly popular. You just need to be confident that what you are doing will make the people come to you.
13. Are you hoping to expand outside of the capital?
I am opening a restaurant in Hong Kong this winter with The Aqua Group as their Culinary Director. I’m really excited to work on menus that will make me reassess ingredients and their seasonality and find ways to express my cooking style in an entirely different way.
14. Aside from other chefs, what’s your biggest inspiration?
For my dishes, it’s the ingredients themselves and the changing of seasons. When beautiful produce comes in and out of season, it’s one of the most exciting times to be a chef.
15. What is your favourite dish to make or experiment with?
I always like working on fish and seafood dishes – I love the delicate flesh and the flavours you can marry together. Scallops and mackerel are two of my favourite examples.
16. Are there any dishes you find more difficult to make?
Everyone has their strong suits! I’m not that well practised in traditional pastry work.
17. How do you make cooking personal?
My cooking is inherently personal and I have framed my menu around my experiences. Arguably my most well known dish, the bread and dripping course at Story, is inspired by my dad and my relationship with him.
18. How do you think pairing wine changes a tasting menu?
I’m keen to promote pairing a range of drinks, rather than just wines, with different dishes. I think the dimensions in the food can be brought out so much more cleverly if you are willing to risk straying from traditional pairings.
19. After gaining success from a young age, what advice do you have for aspiring chefs?
Trust in yourself and trust in your ability. Listen to people that matter to you, ignore everyone else.
Originally published by the Independent on August 4, 2017