[The Vineyard Hotel: Executive Chef Tom Scade]
Chef Tom Scade is introduced on The Vineyard Hotel website as an artistic engineer, one who produces food that is clean and elegant. From the flow of that introductory piece, it would appear that the adjectives are principally applied to presentation. Tom earned his stripes in the kitchens of Keith Stanley, multi Michelin starred Martin Blunos before an extended spell under Michelin starred John Williams MBE at The Ritz. When sampling Tom’s food, one might argue that while clean lines and elegance to the eye are undeniable, to consider this alone would more than underplay his beautifully conceived dishes.
There is an abundance of depth of clean flavours alongside elegance in the balance and harmony of flavour on a plate. Indeed, such a combination only occurs with the mastery of multi-stage cooking techniques. Taste, texture, temperature and presentation are all well considered in dish construction. To further optimise kitchen output, the inputs must be well chosen, too. To this end Tom views that while local is good, best is best when it comes to selecting produce for a menu, a mantra followed by a significant proportion of the elite level chefs. In 2018, Tom was recognised as the winner of the Le Taittinger Prix Culinaire before coming third in the world finals later that year.
[Tom Scade’s trout dish demonstrates a depth of clean flavours, mastery of cooking technique and balance on a plate]
At The Vineyard Hotel, Tom is seeking to deliver one of Sir Peter Michael’s passions, that is the marriage of fine wine with the art of gastronomy. Sir Peter, who was the founder of Classic FM, is passionate about wine, food, music, art and good company. He acquired The Vineyard Hotel property in 1996, launching under its current guise in 1998. Beautiful pieces of art and sculpture from Sir Peter’s private collection feature around the hotel, alongside a visually stunning cellar stocked with premium wines, many of which have come from Sir Peter’s own vineyards in California.
[The Vineyard Hotel]
Over the twenty plus years since its opening, Andrew McKenzie’s stewardship of Sir Peter’s UK portfolio of properties has gone from strength to strength. Widely recognised as a leader in his field, his curriculum vitae includes the prestigious Hotelier of the Year Award. With unerring dedication, Andrew steers the group toward success through excellence. This is seen none more so, than in the gastronomic offerings found at The Vineyard over the years. In fact, Shay Cooper, Nathan Outlaw, Matt Gillan, Richard Davies, John Campbell, Daniel Galmiche and Billy Reid joined Robby Jenks as the roll call of chefs who had cooked at The Vineyard, where each delivered a service from June 25th, 2018 to July 1st, 2018. This formed the successful twenty-year celebration that was christened ‘Back to the Vine.’
[A roll call of chefs that have cooked at The Vineyard]
Fast forward to today and Tom Scade is the latest addition to this honourable brigade and speaks to Simon Carter of fine-dining-guide about his journey in the chef world to date and how he seeks to extend the happy culinary history of The Vineyard Hotel and help to fulfil its Eat, Sleep, Drink Wine philosophy.
[Tom Scade constructing the trout dish during service]
At 16, Tom won a scholarship to Royal Academy of Culinary Arts apprenticeship training in Bournemouth. For his placement he went to London to work for Keith Stanley at Langan’s Coq d’Or in London where he remained for the following three and a half years. Tom gained invaluable experience across all the sections, believing that it takes a year to learn how to work in a professional kitchen before each promotion across sections brings a new challenge and a new discomfort. “Perhaps when you are comfortable in all aspects of the kitchen, you have reached a point where you will benefit from learning from another kitchen, but not before,” Tom reflects, “In fact many chefs today want to progress far too quickly without having learned all the fundamentals.”
Before the arrival of John Williams from Claridge’s, Keith Stanley was Head Chef at The Ritz. By coincidence, Tom’s best friend had served his apprenticeship working at Claridge’s under John Williams, so when the time came to move on, he had the benefit of two recommendations of where to take the next step.
The beginning of what turned out to be a four-year first spell at The Ritz was very tough indeed and Tom doesn’t mind admitting that for the first couple of weeks he shed a tear or two. Then, one day he was saucing a dish and Chef Williams said “you’ve got it now, lad.” Tom realised that he had found his feet and from then onwards, his confidence naturally grew. This is somewhat symbolic of the high regard in which John Williams is held among his peers; a manager, mentor and motivator with an instinctive touch that from numerous accounts continues to encourage his many protégés long after they have left his kitchen.
In 2009, at the age of 24, Tom wanted to try running small restaurant kitchens and achieved a Bib Gourmand at The Bee pub in Windlesham before heading down to Cornwall and taking the property in Rock that would later become Paul Ainsworth’s outlet. Tom learned how to run a business the hard way, including the challenges of the ups and downs of very seasonal demand, while multi-tasking well beyond the four walls of a kitchen. With some relief, Tom joined Martin Blunos, at Blunos in Bath where “his pure love of cooking was reignited” and he once again enjoyed an environment where he had peers to work with and learn alongside. In 2015, Tom joined the opening of The Crab and Boar in Chieveley. On one service, he was to have a first chance meeting with Andrew McKenzie. Tom was cooking for a large party (of over twenty) that included Andrew as a guest. The group found the food impressive and that it far exceeded high expectations. So, when Tom came to the table after the meal, he exchanged cards with Andrew, something that would return to benefit him some years later.
Tom was getting married to a wife in the army and was expecting them to be posted to Canada when the week before the wedding, his wife was posted to London. This led to a career rethink and Tom once again spoke to John Williams. During his time away from The Ritz kitchen, he had learned not only how to run a business but also aspects of being a head chef as well as significant creative learning from other influences. John explained to Tom that he had a vacant Sous Chef role. Spencer Metzger was leaving The Ritz for L’Enclume but was to return less than a year later. Together, the three Sous Chefs of Deepak Mallya, Spencer Metzger and Tom were to motivate each other in the newly Michelin starred kitchen. Tom sees both Spencer and Deepak as important inspirational figures in his career to date and he was to spend a happy two and a half years working in that kitchen. In June 2019, Tom joined The Vineyard Hotel as Executive Chef.
[The Vineyard Hotel dining room]
Tom now oversees a brigade of twenty-two chefs, where the first challenge is in the organisation. Tom’s current team face a similar task to The Ritz (although on a smaller scale) in that everything comes out of one kitchen. Tom’s mandate is to ensure that all aspects of the hotel – from main restaurant to spa, from conferencing to room service, from afternoon tea to banqueting to The California Bar will all receive a consistent, high quality product. Andrew McKenzie adds that key ingredients of Tom’s successful application were “his demonstrable appreciation of the need for structure as well as organisation, discipline and attention to detail in running a five-star hotel kitchen.”
The main restaurant front of house is well served with efficient, knowledgeable but unobtrusive staff who also understand the imperative of gentle conversation with an engaging smile. Consistency across the whole hotel F&B operation is a mantra, highlighted by the customer food and service experience in the main dining room.
[The Vineyard Hotel wine cellar]
The Vineyard remains a self-described wine-led hotel. The cellar boasts 30,000 bottles which are ably managed by Head Sommelier, Romain Bourger, the current UK Sommelier of The Year. The wine-led element means that certain wines will be showcased, with the food created to complement the wine. Having said this, the relationship of wine to food works out as roughly equal; wine will be paired with food created by Tom for the à la carte menu of the hotel dining room.
[“After The Upset”: Sir Peter Michael (far left) looks on at The Judgement of Paris]
The menus are impressive, ‘The Judgement of Paris’ which in line with the 1976 event, features a comparative blind tasting of French and Californian wines alongside a collection of matched dishes. There is a five starter, five mains, five desserts à la carte which will gradually introduce slightly simplified dishes such as smoked salmon, oysters and a fillet of beef to appeal to the breadth of a hotel audience. The set lunch at three courses with four choices per course is a steal at £29 per head.
Tom’s ambition is to drive forward The Vineyard Hotel’s gastronomic offering in the context of the hotel strategy, which no doubt will follow over the coming months and years. His blank cheque restaurant visit would be Maison Pic in Valence, which has been a family business since 1889. Their strapline is “three generations, three stars.” A chef family of international acclaim with current custodian Anne-Sophie Pic a wise choice for a special occasion meal. The evidence of the meal at The Vineyard as well as the interview meeting, was of a chef with a great touch, a mastery of classical technique and an eye to relevance in the present and future. Good luck to Tom and The Vineyard Hotel and fine dining guide will continue to follow their paths with interest.