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Tom Shepherd: “Covid was awful, but it helped me build my dream”

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Tell us a bit about your background

I started my training in Sutton Coldfield where I’m from originally and have been a chef for 18 years now. I worked as a sous chef at The Samling in the Lake District in 2013 when it was awarded its first Michelin Star before moving to Surrey to be a sous chef for Michael Wignall at The Latymer, where I worked for a year and a half. After that I was development chef at Restaurant Sat Bains before moving to Adams Restaurant in Birmingham to become head chef. From Adams I moved to open my own restaurant [Upstairs by Tom Shepherd] above my dad’s jeweller’s shop.

You’ve worked with some top chefs, what have they taught you?

I’ve been very fortunate to work with chefs I’ve really admired. I remember going to work with Michael and being amazed by the ingredients he was using. There was an incredible array of exotic ingredients that I’d never used before, such as scallops, foie gras, caviar, truffles, venison and smoked eel. The menus were extensive, 10 to 12 courses, and aesthetically his plating was wonderful. It was quite an aggressive kitchen, but it was fair. There were lots of guys over 30, but I went in as a 24-year-old determined to just be myself.

How was working with Sat Bains?

Sat is one of my mentors that has stayed in touch with me. I went to Nottingham because what he was doing was the opposite to The Latymer, using just four or five ingredients rather than 17 or 18 and trying to get as much flavour out of them as possible. My time with Sat as development chef working closely with him and John [Freeman, Bains’ head chef] was an incredible part of my career. It was Sat who said after 12 months that he had no positions for me to move forward in my career and so I took his advice and took over as head chef at Adams shortly afterwards. Maybe he was just trying to get rid of me! But that’s what mentors should do – do things for the right reasons, not for themselves. People hold Sat in very high regard, and you can see that from the number of chefs who have worked with him and gone on to open their own places. Sat has had the biggest impact on my whole career as opposed to just food or being a chef.

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