Not all chefs aspire to own a big, five-star restaurant. Some honestly just want to make good food. What makes Chef Tom so admirable is that he’s barely into his 20s and already has a focus that eludes many people much older than that.
Tom — who asked that I withhold his last name to uphold a “shroud of secrecy” — offers private dining from a secondary suite in Richmond, B.C. Newly graduated from Vancouver’s Pacific Institute of Culinary Arts, Tom decided to try running a private supper club so he had creative freedom to focus on quality for a small number of people. He said the alternatives, such as being a line cook in someone else’s kitchen, felt limiting especially if you disagreed with the chef’s standards.
Tom’s Kitchen offers set menus, starting at $40 per person. Chef Tom creates courses based on your budget, tastes and dietary restrictions.
When I first visited in December, Tom’s Kitchen had just started and it was rough around the edges. There was Tom’s drum kit in the corner and a saggy old couch pushed to one side. The dining chairs had seen better days. But the food was delightful.
My dad, who had invited us as his guests, likes clear soups so Tom made a simple chicken consomme with mixed vegetables to start. It had good flavour but hardly a show-stopper. Keep in mind though that this was a request from my dad and not a regular menu item.
We watched Tom and his girlfriend manoeuvre the tiny open kitchen, as he chopped and cooked, and she served and cleaned up. One of the perks to private dining is your group can be as intimate and casual as you want to be, without the gaze of other diners. I plugged in my iPhone into Tom’s speakers for music and my toddler scrambled around the living room.
Homemade spaghetti with wild mushrooms came next. I loved this intensely earthy, buttery dish. After I wolfed it down, we chatted with Tom as he plated the next course.
“I’m not sure what my favorite thing to cook is, but I know I really like making sauces,” Tom said. “Intensifying and concentrating flavours is really awesome. Like turning lobster shells into a lobster glacé. My favorite method of cooking is confit.”
Our “Surf and Turf” entree was simple but well-executed. The filet of beef was cooked PERFECTLY and topped with a divine dungeness crab compound butter. I would have eaten the butter with a spoon, but that’s socially unacceptable. The seasoned prawns were nice and meaty. The side asparagus, carrots and mashed potatoes could have used a little oomph but really, it was all about the beef and butter.
Not being much of a baker or dessert maker, I was fascinated to watch Tom roll out the pastry and peel apples for tarte tatin. While the dessert’s shape ended up more free form than a tight tart, the flavours were all there, especially with the accompanying shot glass full of crème Anglaise.
We were impressed with the meal and with Tom’s aspirations. He didn’t have much support growing up. After his mom passed away, Tom spent a few years in the foster care system. Other than a small loan from his uncle, Tom put himself through culinary school.
Tom and his girlfriend have spruced up their place considerably since my first visit six months ago. Two freezers now sit against one wall, new dishes are stacked on new shelves and a host of fun gadgets like an immersion cooker are on hand.
I’ve written about another underground supper club run by Chef Alex Mok, who now owns Caché Bistro in Yaletown. But Tom doesn’t aim to open a restaurant; rather, his dream is to own a house with a huge dining room so he can cook for a small number of people.
To reserve dinner in Tom’s Kitchen, email firstname.lastname@example.org. More info and mouth-watering photos on his Facebook page.
Check out this amazing video about Tom’s Kitchen that looks like it came right out of Top Chef Canada: