Toby Thomas is the newly appointed Head Chef of Norwich Theatre Royal’s in-house restaurant, Prelude. We chatted to Toby about what it is like to cook for theatregoers, his inspiration and the importance of seasonal food.
Where did you learn your trade?
I was lucky enough to learn on the job at The Wildebeest Arms at Stoke Holy Cross, when I was not particularly sure what I wanted to do. I wasn’t sure if I wanted to go to university, but then I was offered a kitchen porter job. Suddenly, there was another vacancy available, and I progressed from there. I was lucky enough to learn from some wonderful chefs, including Eden Derrick, Brendan Ansbro, and Daniel Smith.
If you could make anything, what would you make?
That is a tough one. It depends on my mood and on the season as well. I love cooking barbecue. I love doing rotisserie barbecue, chicken shawarmas are always a crowd-pleaser, and I always do that for my family in the garden on my rotisserie at home.
Who inspired you to be a chef?
I remember watching Keith Floyd a lot as a kid, and I really loved him and his approach to cooking and drinking at the same time! Also, my mum was a midwife, but she always made fresh food despite working nights and stupid hours. She used to make 12 meals from one chicken. It was incredible. So, that philosophy really resonates with what I do now, and I have taught my children to do the same.
What was the first dish you ever learned?
Well, with any significance, skill, or training, it would be when I started on the larder section. I was doing a mature cheddar and spinach soufflé, which required a little skill, timing, and effort. It was one of the things I learnt to do first, and once I had achieved that, I thought it’s fine, I can do that; I can do anything now.
What is the importance of cooking seasonal food?
It is the most important thing you can do as a chef. We have to support the farmers, the butchers, and the fish suppliers. We have to ensure we get the best produce we can, and you do that at the right time of year. That is vital, and it is my core message with my food, and everything on the menus is seasonal.
How do you deal with the time constraints of the theatre?
The most important part of this is planning your menu. It is really challenging to have 70 people arrive in a very short space of time, but if you write the menu knowing that you will be under that pressure, it’s achievable. We have really pushed the boundaries with this new menu, but the team has taken this on board and is doing really well.
How does it feel to see guests back in the interval?
It is really important that we make dining a part of the theatre experience wherever we can. It’s a bit of a treat, especially for the customer, to know they can return to their table and relax with dessert.
For more information or to book a table please visit norwichtheatre.org/prelude