Tom Booton, 26, is head chef of the relaunched Grill at the Dorchester. The 2019 Acorn award winner, previously head chef of Alyn Williams at the Westbury, tells Emma Lake about being a part of the Dorchester legacy
At 26, you're the youngest person to be appointed head chef of the Grill at the Dorchester in its history. How does that feel?
I don't think age has much to do with it. I'm still very young, but I've been cooking for 12 years professionally; 12 years for most people in a job is quite a long time! I've been a head chef before. This is a new challenge, but it's a good challenge.
What was it that drew you to the Dorchester?
It's the legacy. It's a legendary hotel with so much history and this is a new chapter.
You joined full-time this summer, but how long have you been working on the relaunch?
Since about January I've been coming to the restaurant every day, talking about redesigning the restaurant, getting my team and front of house together, working on the concept. How far it's come from when they first approached me is massive.
Can you tell us about some of the changes?
What I want to achieve is a restaurant I would want to eat in on my days off. When I think of a grill, I think of meat and two veg, but this will be a lot more elevated. My food is very fresh and ingredient-led – it's not messing around too much. We've got a scallop dish which is super-fresh: it's just scallops with an orange and yogurt granita. And the steak dish is going to be special – I've got beautiful ribeye steak from HG Walter and we're going to make a beef sausage roll and on the side we'll serve brisket with creamed spinach.
There are nods to the old school grill dishes, but they're done in my kind of style. It's quite exciting – I don't know another hotel in London that has a grill in the way we want to do it.
Are there any dishes you're particularly excited to unveil?
One really cool dish is the lobster Thermidor tartlet, which gives a nod to classic grill dishes but is in no way a bog-standard version. We have a Cheddar cheese tartlet filled with mushrooms and onion, all the lobster knuckle meat and then a beautiful Thermidor sauce, as well as a lobster tail, roasted whole, which we finish with a bisque at the table.
We're also going to have a pudding bar; it's going to be very English and have a soft-serve ice-cream machine, which will be great.
What about front of house?
We're going to make more of an entrance and have some flowers on stands. We'll have stunning white banquettes to go around the four corners – at the moment it feels like a hotel restaurant, whereas we want to turn it into a restaurant in a hotel. There will be a lot more interaction. The uniform isn't as formal; it will be more relaxed, fresh and approachable. I will come out and all my chefs will come out.
You gained a reputation for low staff turnover at Alyn Williams at the Westbury, how was that achieved?
I think by just being human. I never use "I" or "me"; it's always "us" and "we". I want the chefs to run the kitchen; I want them to do it for the sake of my sanity and it makes them better – if you don't give people the opportunity to shine, they don't shine.
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