Two minutes with Mitch Tonks

Published 31 July 2019

In this week’s Q&A, Mitch Tonks sits down with CODE to chat about his switch from accountancy to hospitality, why he doesn’t get too bogged down with trends, and why he loves the European hospitality scene.

When did you realise you wanted to work in hospitality?

There was no real defining moment., but I do remember my first all colour Hamlyn cookbook and making my first cheese puffs and had an immediate fascination with cookery. I think I was about 8 years old. Many years later I remember reading about Fergus Henderson and St John, and knew I wanted to go there and be part of what they were doing in the hospitality world.

Where and how did you get your start?

I was driving past Swindon on the M4 when I was working in accountancy one day and on the radio Paul Weller’s ‘All The Pictures on the Wall’ was playing. Then I had an epiphany and just made a definite decision at that moment that I didn’t want to work in an office and I was going to change and start selling fish! I did and then taught myself how to cook and it’s been a passion every day since.

Sum up your current work life in one sentence.

What I do is my life.

Who has been really influential on your career and why?

Several people at different times really.  Mark Hix, Will Beckett, Trevor and Fergus. Laura Cowan for her guidance and loyalty over the years.  A host of restaurants too and many independent small Mediterranean restaurants that conjure up the true spirit of hospitality in a way that no one else matches from a simple trattoria to a venetian bar.

What’s next for you?

Doing the same but better.

What’s your one piece of advice to someone starting out?

Have a clear vision from the start and stay true to it, rather than following trends and fashions. I do look at Instagram and awards, but I work from the heart; that’s what drives me and it’s served me well. Also always see your cooking from your guest’s table.

Where did you last have a great meal?

At Darrio Cecchini’s in Italy last weekend with all my family.

Are there any openings you are looking forward to?

I don’t get excited about ‘new’ openings, I get excited about ones that have endured and been there for years, that you can keep going back to and that keep doing things well and are full of people who love them.

Where is the most exciting city for hospitality (aside from London)?

I’m not sure of one city, but I love the hospitality you find in Spain, Italy, Portugal. It’s more a way of life, it’s not so much exciting as in their DNA.

Who would you identify as a rising star?

Anybody that has the balls to open their own place or someone who sees the work they are doing in an existing restaurant as a legacy and taking that legacy with them – you see this at great places like Al Gatto Nero in Venice.  In my mind Jake Bridgwood, who has been with us for 10 years since opening and is now Head Chef at the Seahorse, seeing him with his team which includes Matt Redclift and my son Ben, and seeing him take the Seahorse through the next decade is really exciting. Watching them grow and learn as a team and truly love what they do, that’s stardom.

This Q&A was first featured in the CODE Careers Bulletin. To subscribe please click here

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