Chef of the Week: Thomas Carr, Chef Patron at Thomas Carr 1873 in Ilfracombe, Devon

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
We opened 1873 in September 2020. It was a huge leap of faith for us as we had successfully ran the Michelin-starred Thomas Carr @ The Olive Room for 5 years. Issues with Covid and also problems with the tenancy meant that we could no longer stay there, but thankfully a friend of ours had his old restaurant sat empty only a few doors down, so we picked up the keys in August and spent three hard weeks transforming a dusty, empty space into a beautiful, functional restaurant.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
My passion from cooking came from my mum and dad I suppose. My mum was a teacher and we’d often get home from work before her so we used to make our own dinner and learnt the basics of cooking that way.

I went to East Devon College to develop my passion. I worked in multiple restaurants across Devon and Cornwall, each time taking on positions that were higher ranking than the one before, so essentially I worked my way up the ladder learning as I went.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
Being creative. I love the whole process of coming up with an idea of a dish and then developing it until I feel happy that I’ve achieved what I set out to do.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Salt, pepper and garlic oil.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
Well it’s been really hard to spot anything as everywhere has been closed, but obviously the market for At Home style boxes has been huge this year. In all honesty I just try to concentrate on what I am doing as if I started looking at what’s trendy I’d be influenced by someone else’s ideas and not my own.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
Poor seasoning. You could take a wonderful piece of fish and cook it perfectly but it can be instantly ruined by the fact that the chef has failed to season it correctly

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
I’d say spring. I love it when things like asparagus are in season and also mackerel which is a favourite.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
I’d actually say it’s probably more of the elements for dishes that I think I’ve invented (or at least haven’t seen done elsewhere), so mussel butter and black pudding bread for instance.

How do you come up with new dishes?
When I’m lying in bed I will often have ideas come into my head for new dishes. I have a little notebook and pen that I take down notes on to look at the next day.

Who was your greatest influence?
Chris Essex. He was my best friend and our Head Chef here at 1873 and he sadly passed away a few weeks ago after he had a really tough battle with cancer. He was a remarkable chef and an incredible mentor to the younger chefs who we worked with over the years.

Tell us three chefs you admire
Paul Becouarn, Marcus Waring and Philip Howard.

What is your favourite cookbook?
The Square by Philip Howard.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
It’s really hard to say as the industry has been at a standstill for the last year, but now it does seem to be whichever chefs are appearing on cookery shows that tend to be catapulted into the limelight so maybe whoever has been on telly recently.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
Well, it has to be ours – Thomas Carr 1873. We worked so hard to get it open and we were so proud to have achieved a Michelin star for our new venture. We have dedicated our star to Chris Essex.