Cateys 2020: Newcomer Award – Cornerstone
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Chef Tom Brown launched his debut restaurant in east London in 2018, transforming a site on a budget of £140,000, with the help of family backing.
Early in his career, the Cornish chef spent six years under the wing of Nathan Outlaw, starting out at Outlaw's at the St Enodoc hotel in Rock, Cornwall, before moving to London, where he took on the role of head chef at Outlaw's at the Capital in 2016.
With Outlaw's guidance, combined with his own grit and determination, Brown quickly made a name for himself. He retained the Michelin star held by Outlaw's at the Capital and in 2017 won an Acorn Award.
With this start to his career, it is unsurprising that Brown has continued to champion sustainable seafood, serving a menu of sharing small plates. His creativity in this area has earned him hordes of fans and column inches – his potted shrimp crumpet must have been one of the most Instagrammed dishes of 2018.
In the two years since its launch, Brown and Cornerstone have both been on the receiving end of a slew of awards and rave reviews, with Jay Rayner of The Observer saying he had served up a "fish masterclass", while Giles Coren of The Times said: "The cooking at Cornerstone is out of this world – confident, brilliant and beautiful".
Beyond what's on the plate, Brown has put a lot of thought into creating a buzzy yet relaxed restaurant, which features many personal touches and family heirlooms. He told The Caterer: "I don't like stuffy restaurants where you feel uncomfortable, so I wanted to create an environment where anyone can come in, feel at ease, read a menu they understand and that they relate to, and have a good time."
And onto those awards. Cornerstone was named the AA's Restaurant of the Year for London 2019-20, Best Newcomer in The Observer Food Monthly Awards 2018 and Best New Entry in the 2019 Good Food Guide.
Brown himself has also seen his profile skyrocket with his success in reaching the banquet of the Great British Menu in 2018, leading to a growing television presence.
All this may sound time-consuming, but Brown continues to find time to support charities including the Fishermen's Mission, Hospitality Action and Action Against Hunger. On top of this, after Cornerstone was broken into, his response was to work with Hackney youth charity Wickers to helping guide disenfranchised young people away from crime.
It's no wonder the judges of the Newcomer Award 2020 praised the chef for throwing "heart and soul" into all he does.
What the judges said
"This is a restaurant to inspire every entrepreneurial chef. Low on budget, big on heart, story, creativity, sustainability – and success." – Richard Ball
"Tom has established an outstanding restaurant and has the confidence to cook in a style that lets the ingredients speak for themselves. Backed by his family, Cornerstone has the right balance of quality, energy and drive to succeed." – William Baxter
"Tom had taken a very admirable financial risk while also opening a purely fish restaurant in a very untried area. His brand has developed very quickly and it stands out in an already saturated marketplace. This is an amazing achievement." – Paul Foster
- Brat, London
- Cornerstone, London
- Fordwich Arms, Kent
- The Little Chartroom, Edinburgh
- Restaurant Hjem, Northumberland
- Pascal Aussignac, chef-patron, Club Gascon, London
- Richard Ball, executive chairman, Calcot Collection
- William Baxter, chairman, Hospitality Action
- John Calton, chef-patron, the Staith House, North Shields
- Paul Foster, chef-patron, Salt, Stratford-upon-Avon
- Jane Sunley, founder, Purple Cubed
- Aaron Webster, founder, Smoke & Salt, London