Interview conducted by Adam Coghlan
In February this year, Tim Spedding and his girlfriend, Louise Rødkjær Jørgensen, spent four days in Cornwall. It’s something they’ve made a habit of over the last 12 months. Sometimes it’s for pleasure; on this occasion it was for business.
During the visit they viewed 16 different properties – the first stage of their planned relocation to the Southwest this spring. The pair have an acute appreciation of hospitality – their chef and front-of-house partnership is just one pillar of the memorable experience they provide.
“Louise has always wanted somewhere cosy and beautifully styled – that’s her dream,” he tells me. His dream is to be a part of that (working title ‘Louisiana’). Other than a sensational residency on two induction hobs at P. Franco in Clapton last year, Tim’s career as a chef has not been all about his being the front-man.
Now they’re at liberty to realise their idyll: “We’ve had this vision of a place in the country where we can grow our own veg, have a [real] relationship with suppliers, live near the coast, go surfing,” he says, smiling. The fact that people are calling Cornwall the ‘San Sebastián of England’ is convenient from a marketing perspective.
Tim is more than au fait with suppliers Kernow Sashimi, Warren’s Butchers and Keveral Farm, as well as chef Tom Adams at Coombeshead Farm. But his connection to the county dates back to a summer holiday, aged 17, at Porthminster Beach Café in St Ives where he first cooked professionally.
After that, when at catering college, he was posted for summer work experience to The Headland Hotel in Newquay. His parents had to drive there to bring him back to Slough; he’d caught the surfing bug, loved it there, and appears always to have had one eye on going back. He went to university in Plymouth, and left as student of the year with a scholarship to what was then Michael Caines’ Gidleigh Park.
It’s tempting to assume that the good life in Cornwall is a convenient way of getting out of the restaurant rat race, while, at the same time, avoiding the risks of opening a restaurant in London. But Tim is quick to demur. “It would be much easier and more sensible to open a restaurant in London,” he says.
People believe there’s less competition outside the city but it only seems that way because there are fewer restaurants – there are also far fewer diners. “But I’ve never had a desire to have a restaurant in London,” he adds.
Tim made his name as sous chef at The Clove Club – the one-time supper club that crowd-funded itself to permanence in Shoreditch Town Hall in 2013. Just before Spedding left last year, it had entered the World’s 50 best restaurants list as the highest new entry at number 26.
He says, sheepishly, “It was one of the main things we wanted to achieve and it seemed like a good time to move on when we got into the top 50.” If it was Isaac McHale’s restaurant, then, for a certain amount of time, it could be argued that the kitchen was as much Tim’s as it was Isaac’s. But that was the “very inclusive” way in which Isaac ran the place. Tim remembers thinking, “‘I don’t need to be in this meeting.’ But it’s empowering – and giving ownership [to the team] means they respond and do a better job,” he says.
Tim met Isaac at The Ledbury in Notting Hill, where the latter was a development chef. I find it hard to imagine Tim tolerating – for three years, with hardly any holiday (his choice) – the day-to-day of kitchen life at The Ledbury.
It’s a restaurant that’s neither old- nor new-school, at once smart and table-clothed but also modern in its approach. There exists a hangover of the alpha brutality of a now distant restaurant era – the one through which Gordon Ramsay swore his way to global superstardom.
It seems at odds with Tim’s soft-spoken politeness and placid demeanour. But there is steel behind his decorum. There has to be. He accepts that The Ledbury was tough, but adds, “It was one of the best restaurants in the country, and we changed the menu every day – there was nowhere else I wanted to work in London.”
He, like everyone else who stayed there, thrived on the passion and drive of Brett Graham, the head chef; Tim describes him as “among the very best.” It’s hard to fully understand the demands placed on chefs who are tasked with maintaining a restaurant’s two Michelin stars, and meeting the expectations of the kind of diner that attracts, when the menu changes so often. Tim relished it: the most important lesson he has taken from his time at The Ledbury, and one he took with him to The Clove Club, “Was to treat the restaurant as your own – to give 100%,” he says.
At the end of 2012, between leaving The Ledbury and starting at The Clove Club, Tim used his accumulated holiday to stage in Copenhagen and Paris. He spent a total of six weeks in Relæ, Radio and Septime. It was important, after having spent so long in the same place, to “learn that there was more than one way to skin a cat,” he says.
Relæ, as one of the first eye-catching Noma offspring, interested him “in their ability to do things other restaurants couldn’t” because of the ecosystem of their own locale. What would, for example, in most restaurants, have been waste, would go to sister restaurant Manfred’s across the road. It meant Relæ could be ruthlessly pure in its prep, unbound by the traditional constraints of kitchen thrift.
Tim is as much an avid learner as he is a grafter, and I sense he was always working towards something: methodically availing himself of the things he felt he needed to do and understand. The day after we met, he was going to fly to Nepal to participate in a 10-day hike for Action Against Hunger. His affection for being free is real, too.
I get the impression many chefs do not love cooking; they may love food, love the alchemy, love the pressure and the buzz. But the demands of turning out exactly the same dish time-after-time in a pro kitchen don’t necessarily make it the best place in which to nurture a love of cooking. I suspect Tim does love cooking and hopes to be reacquainted with why he does when he gets to Cornwall. “I’m looking forward to having the space to do my own thing, and to build for the future,” he says. louisiana-inn.com
TIM IN SHORT:
Favourite drink: Mauro Vergano Vermouth Bianco
Favourite dish: Whatever Louise cooks
Most memorable meal: Last summer, a group of us stayed in a house on a hill in Umbria. We stocked up on wine from a local vineyard and cooked feasts each night, BBQ suckling pig, fried potatoes with rosemary and salads of wild herbs.
Chef you most admire: Brett Graham
Guilty pleasure: Mangal Ocakbasi
TIM’S MINI-GUIDE TO CORNWALL
Coombeshead Farm, Lewannick
Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Port Isaac
Portminster Beach Cafe, St. Ives
The Star & Garter, Falmouth
Philip Warren Butchers (for the pasty), Launceston
Words | Adam Coghlan
Photographs | Joe Woodhouse and Sam Hendel