An Interview with Tom Genty, Head Chef at The Swan, Chapel Down

Chef Tom Genty worked at the Arts Club and the wine merchant Berry Bros. & Rudd, both in London before returning to Kent when the opportunity arose to become head chef at The Swan at Chapel Down, which was awarded two AA Rosettes and a Michelin Bib Gourmand in 2016.

Tom Genty, The Swan at Chapel Down

Tom Genty has had stints working at the Hotel du Vin, The Swan in West Malling and The Mulberry Tree, but his career could have gone in a completely different direction if it was not for his parents’ decision.

“My first idea was that I wanted to be a policeman, but my parents laughed and said what about catering? So I got ushered into the idea after sixth form and went to Westminster College. While I was there I was a commis chef at the Hotel du Vin, before it was brought up to the big corporation that it is now, when it was all privately owned and then I went to the Arts Club on 40 Dover Street for a couple of years.”

Tom moved back to Kent for a year to work with Andrew Clark and sous chef, Scott Goss at The Swan in West Malling, but couldn’t keep away from London for too long, as he had the chance to work with Stuart Turner, head chef for Jun Tanaka at Pearl restaurant and sous chef of Gravtyre manor which lead to six happy years at Berry Bros. & Rudd.

“My time there was very good as it wasn’t like a restaurant. There wasn’t any GP to hit or anything like that and we had the best of the best, we had hand dived scallops and white truffle, the best ingredients money could buy. I had quite a lavish time there and it was great the amount of produce and quality we had”, he said.

“However, I was a bit worried that it might pigeon hole me because the work was getting quite mundane and back then I wanted to learn everything there was to know about private dining and wine.”

Upon leaving the wine merchant, Tom went to The Mulberry Tree for 18 months returning to The Swan before receiving the job offer to become head chef at Chapel Down. Tom inherited two AA rosettes and a Bib Gourmand, which were announced just after he took the job, and the restaurant has gone from strength to strength ever since.

Tom Genty, The Swan at Chapel Down
Tom Genty, The Swan at Chapel Down

He said: “Things have been improving all the time and we’ve had the Michelin inspector come in so we’re waiting to hear what might happen in September and fingers crossed that we’re going to keep the Bib Gourmand.”

Coming in as the new head chef, Tom was not afraid to make changes to the menu. “I tried to simplify it and brought it down to three or four elements per plate to make those few elements as good or as interesting as they can be and also to be consistent as well”, he explained. “They are the main changes I’ve made, with an emphasis on being consistent, as sometimes simplicity is key. When the Michelin inspector came in he said he could see that it was visibly different, in a positive way I think.”

Tom has embraced social media as an inspiration for new ideas and creations to add to his style of cooking and the menu at the Swan, but still has plenty of cooking books, particularly Australian ones, which he likes to refer to as well.

He said: “I am a bit of a Twitter-holic and I use Instagram, I also have a lot of books which I go back to as well. Obviously, I don’t rip off whole dishes, I tend to take a look at a particular ingredient or the way they have done something different. There are some chefs where I think their plating up is very nice and Daniel Watkins has got a great artistic eye and he’s very similar as he has a Bib Gourmand and a similar style of operation. He’s virtually doing the same thing we’re doing, but in Essex instead and without a vineyard.”

Tom Genty, The Swan at Chapel Down
Tom Genty, The Swan at Chapel Down

He added: “Stuart Turner was the chef that I worked with the most, at the wine merchant and the private club. I loved his passion for products, he was the best at it and making the most of the ingredients. He is one of those guys who wouldn’t want to waste anything.”

Although they missed out on a Michelin Star this year, Tom is eager to push forward and make the restaurant the best it can be.

He said: “The main thing is to keep going, as we’ve all just started to gel and make headway at the restaurant with regards to trying to get the Michelin star. If we don’t get it this year, then we shall keep on pushing and aim for that next year. We are getting busier and busier, which is great as it means there is continued investment in the kitchen, which could lead to hiring more chefs and a bigger team. At that point we could aim to be one of the top restaurants in Kent and across the South East.”

*Post originally published by myself for the website thestaffcanteen.com

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