Eat Out with...James Tanner

The Kentish Hare
11/09/2017 - 16:43
Owners of award-winning Kent gastropub, The Kentish Hare and Plymouth casual dining brasserie, Barbican Kitchen, James Tanner and his brother Chris are known for their dedication to sourcing and cooking with the freshest seasonal produce they can find, and always supporting local suppliers. Eat Out catches up with him.

What’s your background?

I grew up in Kent, where I trained to be a chef at West Kent College and worked in local restaurants. I also spent time working in the Channel Islands, Devon, before moving onto two top-rated U.S.A. properties in Upstate New York for the Roux Brothers. Once back in the UK, I spent some time working at 2 Michelin star Restaurant Lettonie, in Bath, before eventually setting up our first restaurant in Plymouth, Devon, in 1999 with my brother and business partner, Chris.

Did you always know you wanted to be a chef?

Not always, but I enjoyed cooking at home for my family from a young age, and loved trying out new recipes - and food in general - so it was a natural progression from school for me to embark on a career in catering.

How did you come about opening your two sites in Kent and Plymouth?

We opened the first "Tanners Restaurant"- which was a huge step for us going into business together -  in Plymouth back in 1999, but later went on to sell that site as we wanted to concentrate on our brasserie – Barbican Kitchen – which opened in 2006.  Then our award-winning gastropub, The Kentish Hare, came about after we were approached to go into partnership in 2013. It was a great opportunity to be back in our home county and build a site up from an empty shell, transforming it into the special pub it is today.

What are your plans for the two sites and anything else you are doing/working on at the moment?

Our plans are to keep up the high standards of food and service we are already known for across both Barbican Kitchen and The Kentish Hare.  We hold regular tasting menu nights at both sites, and only recently, we put on a special collaborative Guest Chef Evening at Barbican Kitchen alongside Masterchef: The Professionals finalist, Elly Wentworth, and fellow former contestant, Dean Westcar. It was such a huge success that we did the same thing up at The Kentish Hare, with tickets selling out almost immediately. It’s definitely something we’ll be doing again!

We are always looking for inspiration for new dishes and exploring new food and drink ideas, and we change up our menus with the seasons to make the most of the very best seasonal produce.

Outside of the restaurants, I’m involved in a number of other exciting projects, which are ongoing. I do various bits for television, appearing regularly on ITV’s Lorraine, and also work with Sodexo Independents - an educational visit programme for schools - cooking with the next generation.

This summer, I hosted a successful pop-up restaurant at Royal Ascot, and the journey with them is set to continue - starting with a food festival in September, and a restaurant menu with Raymond Blanc and Phillip Howard. Watch this space for next year’s Royal Ascot, too, as there will hopefully be another restaurant popping up there in 2018!

Any further expansion plans?

Never say never - we are always looking at opportunities. I would like to look more into the event catering sector and pop up markets.

In your opinion, what are the opportunities and challenges for the restaurant industry?

There are some great opportunities out there. The restaurant industry offers the chance to get into a life-long trade, whether that’s creating, serving, or managing. With a diverse range of fabulous local and global foods from all cultures now being served up across the UK, and opportunities to learn on the job and travel the globe, it really is a fun, fast-paced and fantastic industry to be involved in. The UK is home to some seriously talented individuals, and the industry should be proud of how the country and its food offering is at the top of its game globally.

I think the biggest challenge for the industry has to be filling the positions! There is a massive skills gap with staffing across the board at all levels and in all sectors, and the industry needs to nurture and offer more opportunities for people thinking of going into the trade.  Things have changed for the better, though, with improved working hours and pay, and opportunities for progression so that people can really shine.

One thing I think is really necessary is for all schools to offer Food Tech as a subject choice, as this would get the younger generation into food and teach them an important life skill that also may make them think of going into the trade.

 Identify any up-and-coming trends?

These change all the time, but at the moment, clean eating is very trendy, with ingredients like almond butter, coconut oils etc. coming to the forefront. BBQ style slow cooked meat cuts and randomly vegetable based bread doughs have also made an appearance as alternative burger buns and sandwich options.

Do you think we, as an industry, are doing enough to encourage young talent into our sector?

The signs are better, but there is always room for improvement.  I think offering more apprenticeships is always a good start.

Who do you admire within the industry?

Jason Atherton is someone I look up to in the industry. I think he has 18 global restaurants now, serving a mix of food offerings which are all of a really high standard. What an achievement, and an incredible business to run!

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