We sat down with Tom Brown of Cornerstone and The Pearly Queen to find out about his culinary journey and talk all things Japan!
SS: Tell us about your restaurant, how long it’s been running and what the core concept is?
TB: Cornerstone, Hackney and The Pearly Queen, Shoreditch. We opened the first restaurant in 2018 and it’s been a whirlwind since then. The focus is predominantly seafood, taking great produce and turning them into understated, small plates that pack a punch of bold, clearly defined flavours.
SS: How long have you been a chef and where did it all start?
TB: I’ve been cooking as long as I can remember, but my first real kitchen experience was at The St. Kew Inn. From there I went to the St Enodoc Hotel in Cornwall, where I spent a few years, before Nathan Outlaw took me under his wing and had a huge influence over my approach to seasoning and dish presentation.
SS: What are the biggest trends in the industry this year?
TB: I think definitely the move to casual dining without compromising on quality. People are shifting away from white table covers and stiff furniture and are looking for something a little more relaxed that still delivers big flavours.
SS: How is your relationship with SushiSushi and how long have you worked together?
TB:I just kept hearing the name and eventually reached out, one of the best decisions I ever made. Stu and the team have massively influenced the menu and couldn’t do enough for us. Coming down and doing tastings, letting us sample some incredible products. The menu would probably look very different if it wasn’t for you guys.
SS: What Japanese products do you currently use in your menu?
TB: We go through bucketloads of Yuzu Ponzu in our Sea Bream Tartare. That was the one that blew me away the most, I’d never tasted anything quite like it. It was amazing to then visit the Shibanuma factory in Tokyo and get a sense of the history and now whenever I taste that dish it just takes me right back there. Dashi Concentrate has always been a mainstay for us, it just adds a real depth to anything you put it in.
SS: If money were no object, what Japanese ingredient would you always have on the menu?
TB: Bluefin Tuna. Just a crazy level of buttery fattiness that I love working with.
SS: How has using Japanese ingredients influenced your menu?
TB: It’s been a game changer for us. Particularly with fattier fish, there’s so many incredible Japanese condiments that just help to add the citrus burst and umami you need to balance it out. When we did an ingredient tasting with Stu, there was so much I’d never tasted before and it just instantly got the cogs turning as to what we could do with it.
SS: If you could travel to Japan tomorrow just for food, what would be the top things you’d want to do or try?
TB: I’ve been lucky to visit with Stu and I’m currently planning the next trip. Visiting producers was a real highlight for me. Just seeing the process and the history behind these ingredients just makes me feel a real emotional link to the process of cooking them.
SS: Why do you think Japan is so admired in the West for its cuisine?
TB:It’s all about the heritage and years dedicated to refining everything, whether it be an ingredient or a technique.
SS: Sake or Beer?
TB:I’m a relatively new convert to sake, I didn’t know quite how much variety there was but some of your new stuff has blown me away. Both have their place, sake for a tasting menu and a cold beer on a summer's day with mates!
Links to Products Mentioned:
Yuzu Ponzu - https://www.sushisushi.co.uk/products/yuzu-katsuobushi-ponzu
Dashi Concentrate - https://www.sushisushi.co.uk/products/yoshioka-kaiseki-premium-dashi-concentrate-270ml?_pos=2&_sid=c940075fc&_ss=r