> A talented chef who helped his former boss secure two Michelin stars is hoping to achieve the same success in his own right.
Country Range customer Thomas Carr, 29, was the head chef at Restaurant Nathan Outlaw in Cornwall when it was awarded the prestigious two stars. But now, after four years of working with the famous TV chef, Thomas is stepping out of Nathan's shadow and going it alone.
In May of this year, he took the helm of The Coach House restaurant at Kentisbury Grange, a beautifully restored Victorian country house hotel in North Devon, and he is loving the challenge of running things his way.
"Fish and pastry are my speciality and I'm spoilt for choice with the bounty of ingredients we have here in Devon," says Thomas. "Our fish and seafood come from Lundy Island just off the North Devon coast, and one of my favourite dishes on the menu at the moment is mackerel with Lundy crab, fennel and samphire - it's literally flying out of the door. Also on the menu is Lundy lobster cocktail made with smoked mussel mayonnaise, which I made one day when I was mucking around in the kitchen. It works brilliantly with lobster!"
Many of Thomas' skills with fish and seafood were honed during his time working with Nathan Outlaw.
He explains: "Nathan was particularly good at fish preparation - as well as making mayonnaise. He always used to buy whole fish and fillet them himself. Filleting fish is quite a skill and makes a big difference to the presentation of the fish.
"Most chefs tend to buy fish which have been scaled, gutted and filleted but doing it yourself means you tend to spend more time over it and as a result it looks neater. After all, fishmongers are paid by how fast they can do it and the flesh is often ripped as a consequence."
The Coach House is already receiving rave reviews, most notably in the Financial Times, and Thomas is finding himself more and more in demand. He has his first food festival in the bag, writes a monthly recipe column for North Devon Life, has done several radio interviews and is hoping to appear on Saturday Kitchen very soon. Not bad for a boy from Birmingham who found himself at catering college after failing his maths GCSE!
Says Thomas: "I originally wanted to be a social worker but I didn't get a grade C in my maths GCSE so I couldn't go to college. Catering college was the next best thing as I did a lot of cooking at home with my mum.
"After that, I worked in a café for two years but I got to the point where I couldn't fry another egg so I got a job as a KP at the best hotel in Woolacombe and stayed there for four years."
Although Kentisbury Grange only opened five months ago, it has been such a big success that the owner is already talking about opening other similar small boutique hotels - with Thomas heading the restaurant side of the business.
In the mean time, Thomas has set his sights on gaining some formal recognition for his efforts.
"Michelin stars are every chef's dream but they involve a lot of hard work and you are also dependent on the service," he continues, "so my first aim is to be awarded a Bib Gourmand (the Michelin Guide's designation for restaurants offering 'high quality dining at an affordable price'). That's exactly what I'm trying to do here and we don't have any mains over £20.
"It has been great to have a blank canvas and be able to put my own stamp on it. When I worked for Nathan he was the one who got all of the credit so it's very rewarding to be able to do it in my own right."
Article taken from October 2013 issue of Stir it up magazine. Get your copy here