Features | 10 May 2021

Chef Tom Sellers: ‘How lockdown has changed my outlook on life’

In advance of Vodafone's #ThoseWhoDare event for small businesses, Tom Sellers, Chef Patron of Restaurant Story, shares how the pandemic has affected his business and his views on life.

Tom Sellers is in buoyant – but reflective – mood. His renowned restaurant near London Bridge was recently awarded its second coveted Michelin star, despite one of the worst years ever for restaurateurs due to COVID-19.

“It’s a big moment, for the restaurant and for the whole team,” says the tattooed thirtysomething. “With business being hit so hard it couldn’t have come at a more rewarding time.

“It just goes to show that if you remain focused and resilient, good things come.”

But being the driven and passionate chef he his, Tom already has his sights on the third Michelin star – the ultimate accolade. “It’s only natural,” he says.

As a creative person, the key to surviving the “stress and pressure” of a pandemic that has delivered economic hammer blows to millions of small businesses, has been surrounding himself with talented people who are “better at things than me”, says Tom.

Having presence of mind is empowering and helps you make better decisions

His financial team, for example, has helped keep the business afloat, furloughing some staff and keeping a tight rein on costs. The fact that debt levels were much lower than four years ago certainly helped, says Tom.

“Life is all about timing,” he reflects.

As one of the speakers at Vodafone’s Those Who Dare event (see details below), what advice does Tom have for fellow entrepreneurs and small businesses struggling to emerge from the pandemic?

“My advice to anyone who has huge responsibility is not to underestimate the value of living in the present,” he says. “Having presence of mind is empowering and helps you make better decisions.”

Footage courtesy of Food Story Media Ltd.

Throughout the lockdowns he’s had time for enforced reflection – time he’s never given himself before, because his career has been a whirlwind of early success. He learned his craft under the tutelage of world-famous chefs, such as Tom Aikens in London, Thomas Keller at three Michelin-starred Per Se in New York, and René Redzepi at two Michelin-starred Noma in Copenhagen. And all this by the age of just 21.

“I realised that because I was always looking ahead – driven by my ambition – I never valued the time I had now. I’ve learned to harness that desire for more in a positive way, so that I don’t always feel dissatisfied with what I have now,” says Tom.

Being a chef is tough – long hours, fierce competition, intense scrutiny from the press and the dining public. Getting to the top requires many sacrifices, admits Tom, both of oneself and – perhaps more importantly – of others. And this relentless schedule can take its toll on relationships.

I took this time not to think about cooking for a change!

So while the pandemic has undoubtedly been tough on the business, it’s at least given him a chance to reassess his life and values.

“I took this time not to think about cooking for a change!” he quips.

That said, Tom is excited to be reopening on 19 May and delighting customers once more with his magical recipes featuring the very best seasonal and local British ingredients. From his now-famous Candle, made from beef fat, to his Paddington Bear pudding, featuring foie gras, cardamom and marmalade, each mouthwatering dish is designed to tell a story – hence the restaurant’s name.

Sustainability is also core to Tom’s culinary and business philosophy, he says, as he is all too aware of the over-fishing of the oceans and the deleterious effect of intensive farming on biodiversity.

“We can be an extremely selfish species – so many things are going wrong on a global scale,” he says.

“So we have to act responsibly, supporting local farmers and producers, using local ingredients, keeping food miles to a minimum, and reducing food waste and plastic usage.”

Lockdown has been hard on many small businesses, but Tom Sellers at least is emerging from it with his restaurant intact and with a new way of looking at the world. Surely that third Michelin star is his for the taking, or perhaps he may come to the conclusion that it doesn’t really matter so long as he is continuing to delight his customers?

  • Tom Sellers will be sharing his top tips on managing a sustainable business at Vodafone’s #ThoseWhoDare virtual conference on 18 May. As part of its ambition to support SMEs (small and medium-sized enterprises), the week-long event will feature keynotes speeches from more than 30 dynamic and game-changing entrepreneurs. To register your attendance click here.
  • For the full press release about the ThoseWhoDare event click here.

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