Chef profile - Tom Parker, The White Swan at Fence
PUBLISHED: 13:24 31 October 2017 | UPDATED: 09:30 02 October 2018
Tom Parker and the team at The White Swan are taking flight, as Emma Mayoh discovered
Tom Parker is a chef who doesn’t take himself too seriously. The talented 27-year old, head chef at The White Swan at Fence, bounds around regaling stories of staff nights out and joking with his colleagues. He has a fun, laid-back approach to being a chef that offers a refreshing change to stereotypes sometimes peddled by the latest reality television shows.
His carefree personality has permeated throughout the business. The White Swan may turn out top quality dishes that have been highly rated by critics including Jay Rayner but there is no formal stuffiness you may find lurking in another restaurant of the same calibre.
‘There is no need for that,’ said Tom, who is originally from Burnley. ‘Some restaurants are so formal you go in and people barely say a word. Going out to eat is supposed to be enjoyable, it’s supposed to be fun.
‘We like showing our customers a good time here. It doesn’t mean that standards drop; it’s just more relaxing and a more enjoyable setting to be in. We’d even go out at the end of the night with our customers if they wanted.’
But don’t be fooled by the bravado. Tom Parker is a chef who is serious about his food. And his talents have earned him many accolades including being named Dining Pub of the Year at last year’s Lancashire Life Food & Drink Awards and well as being named in Estrella Dam’s Top 50 UK Gastropubs.
‘The Lancashire Life award made a massive difference to us,’ said Tom. ‘I couldn’t quite believe how many more diners that brought to us. It was a powerful thing and an award that meant a lot to us.
This meteoric rise to success saw the The White Swan at Fence awarded a Michelin Star in October 2018, joining Northcote and Moor Hall in Aughton as the only Michelin starred establishments in Lancashire.
Since opening, The White Swan has garnered a stellar reputation through the skills of all the team, including Tom. After writing to Nigel Haworth, the chef got his first job aged 16 at Michelin starred Northcote. While there he worked with Lisa Allen, now executive head chef at the Langho venue.
‘Lisa was a massive influence on me,’ he said. ‘Working alongside her and Nigel had a huge impact on what I learned and I was lucky to be able to do it.
‘We also had a lot of fun. It was hard work but we enjoyed it too. It was a great place to work.’
In 2011, aged just 21, he was awarded Young Chef of the Year and went on to become the youngest ever sous chef at Northcote. After a stint cooking in Mexico, he moved back to Burnley and became head chef at The White Swan in Fence.
Tom was put under the spotlight earlier this year when he featured on Great British Menu – an experience he said is good for business but won’t be desperate to repeat.
Tom’s ever-changing menu is inspired by his memories of summer, from holidays in France and by some of Lancashire’s old food traditions on his menu, including those from his great-grandmother’s treasured handwritten recipe book. Regular theme nights are held that are inspired by the local community – when we visited there was a school dinners night planned with a menu being put together using suggestions from customers of what they used to love to eat at school.
Ingredients come as locally as possible and Tom is proud of the relationship he has with local producers which include Gazegill Organics, Pugh Piglets and Wellocks. Some of the fruit and vegetables also come from the village, utilising growing space loaned to them by local residents and Tom’s gran and grandad do all of the gardens.
‘They’re absolutely brilliant,’ said Tom. ‘They can’t keep away from here and I wouldn’t want it any other way. They’re just great.
‘I also love the relationship I have with our suppliers. Some places I can pop down there and pick out what I want for the restaurant and get the pick of the bunch. Being able to do that makes such a difference and also helps us to be really flexible with our menus.’
Tom’s main focus at the White Swan is to keep improving.
‘When I started out almost four years ago I wanted to come in all guns blazing and do everything all at once,’ admitted Tom. ‘I quickly learned that just isn’t possible. We have kept things simple but done them well and now we’re really getting somewhere.
‘Now I just want us to keep getting better. Yes, I’d love to get a star, what chef wouldn’t. The team and I get a lot of out this place. But it really is about being the best we can be but also having a lot of fun.’