Barry Tonks has been cooking in some of London’s finest kitchens for over 20 years, accumulating awards, accolades, press acclaim and a Michelin star along the way. He is currently “on top of the world” – as head chef of Searcys at the Gherkin…

From where (or whom) do you draw your culinary inspiration? I’ve worked in some fantastic restaurants over my career and with each post I have taken I’ve been inspired by the chefs that I have worked alongside. I get really excited about seasonal produce and when its at its best, great ingredients, passionate suppliers, eating out with chefs and friends.

How do you maintain your passion for cooking after 20 years in the business? I think the trick is always exploring new ways of cooking, and discovering fresh ideas to work with. This is one of the fantastic reasons about working with Searcys at the Gherkin – there are always creative pop-ups, new menu ideas, and partnerships that are not only enjoyable, but each time my culinary remit is stretched just that bit further.

Your “office” boasts one of the best views in London (on the top three floors of the Gherkin). Do you get much chance to admire it?! The service kitchen is one of the busiest parts of the entire restaurant, so I never have the chance during service hours to stop and admire the view. That being said, there’s something really special about working in a building with such iconic status, and it’s certainly the best view I’ve ever had in my career!

Apart from a short sojourn in Kenya, you have always stayed loyal to London. What is it about the capital that makes you stay? I’m a big fan of British cooking so patriotism has a lot to do with it. We are also in the amazing position of having so many fantastic ingredients available in London. Working in Kenya was a great experience as I was always working alongside local ranchers, fishermen, and producers, and this same process applies to being a chef in the UK. I always have my butchers, and suppliers of choice for the best seasonal foods, but it is also fun to be in the fortunate position where specialty ingredients are easier to come by.

Looking at your CV, you have tended to move on fairly quickly and your average stay in a job is a year or two at most. Is it important for a chef to move around on a regular basis? I haven’t always moved around so much – I had a fantastic eight-year career with the Eton Collection, but since then I have been lucky enough to work in some of the best kitchens in London for around two years at a time. As I have said, it’s important to garner as much experience as possible and to work alongside inspiring chefs and restaurateurs to really hone your own skills and expertise as a chef.

If you could work anywhere other than London, where would it be, and why? France for the ingredients, producers and their passion about the industry. France has a culture of live to eat, not eat to live. You recently hit out at “humdrum event catering”.

What advice can you offer to event caterers when planning their conference food menus? I think it’s important for those working in event catering to never lose that touch of personality or identity. Feeding hundreds of people at an event is no easy task, but what really sets caterers apart is their attention to detail, and the addition of their own signature style.

Tell us about your Saints and Sinners menu collaboration with Clean Eating Alice. The concept behind working with Alice is the idea of bringing more fun and balance back into healthy eating. The point of this menu is to inspire people not only with a journey to a healthier lifestyle, but also as a reminder that it’s important to enjoy the glass of wine, or the indulgent pudding – life’s too short for a cabbage soup diet! I am heading up the Sinners side of the menu with rich courses such foie gras and lobster ravioli, butter roasted halibut and truffle risotto, and Baba au rum (which really packs a punch). And on the Saints side we have the fantastic Clean Eating Alice who has shared recipes with me from her new book; roasted aubergine nuzzled in feta, tahini and pomegranates, super seed load with smoked salmon and minted yogurt and some fantastic and surprisingly healthy desserts such as French toast. Guests can either stick to their side, or pick and choose from both the Saints and the Sinners choices – food is meant to be enjoyed and this partnership is all about The point of this menu is to inspire people not only with a journey to a healthier lifestyle, but also as a reminder that it’s important to enjoy the glass of wine celebrating a balanced and happy approach to dining.

What words of wisdom can you share with aspiring chefs? You need passion, commitment and self-motivation. Get your head down, work with a good chef/mentor, absorb and learn as much as you can and the rest will follow. Put nothing into life, get nothing out!

And now for three questions that we ask all of our Leading Lights…

1. What are your three kitchen secrets? i) Before peeling baby onions, garlic or shallots, soak them in water for 10 minutes. This makes them easier to peel. ii) Use a potato peeler to take shavings from a piece of Parmesan. iii) To keep your chopping board stationary and from moving cut some ‘spongtex’ into strips and lay it underneath your chopping board.

2. What is your favourite ingredient and why? Perigord truffles – needs no explanation!

3. Please could you share your favourite recipe, along with your reasons for choosing it? Roast loin of Rhug Estate venison, pumpkin puree, confit cabbage, braised chestnuts, black berries. Why I love this recipe is its just screams seasonality and it appears on my menu every year at this time of the year along with lashings of Perigord truffles just for pure decadence. Click here for the full recipe

Click here to read the rest of the April 2017 issue of Stir it up