Thomas Straker

British Chef Thomas Straker is known for his passion for fresh produce and his uncomplicated style of cooking.
Having worked at some of London's top restaurants, as well as travelling the world as a private chef, Tom is now set to start his own restaurant, curating a fuss free experience with sustainability and seasonality at the top of the menu.
We spoke to Tom about the ever-changing relationships with food, his career to date and his views on sustainable, healthy living. 

Tom's playlist is also available to listen to now.

Listen via the Basic Rights Spotify.

 Because of lockdown cooking became a massively important part of people's lives, in a way it did not have to be before. How did cooking originally  become important to you?

I was never really that academic at school, and I grew up in rural Hertfordshire where my parents have a small holding. We have sheep, pigs and chickens and everything. So I was immersed in the food and farming culture from a very young age. I used to go fishing, so I would catch and then eat the fish I caught myself, and so began to develop am interest for food and where it comes from really early on. 

How do you think people's relationship with eating and food has changed over the last few years? Pre lockdown the trend was for extreme healthy living and "insta friendly meals". Have you seen a shift away from that recently?

Yeah definitely, the food culture has definitely shifted. People now want to be eating food that is nostalgic. If you look at social media, the pictures that do really well are pastas and pizzas. Dishes that evoke a feeling of happiness, and trigger good memories. Obviously there will always be a place for healthy eating, and I like to think that the food I cook is healthy and beneficial for you. I think the shift has been in part due to young people caring more about the environment, and making sure the food they buy is not harming the planet. Also more and more it is becoming about convenience and cooking what we have access to. I also think lockdown gave people the time to explore their kitchens, and really get into cooking and figuring out what they actually wanted to eat.  In a way most people probably did not have the time to before. 

Your career has changed a lot over the last 2 years, from working in kitchen, to then being a private chef. How did you manage to make the shift from  behind the scenes in the kitchen to being in front of the camera?

Well it actually all happened really organically, I didn’t ever really plan to move into the media side of cooking. My plan was always, work in a restaurant, and then open a restaurant. Thats where I thought my skill set lay. Then of course lockdown hit and I was cooking for a family but had some spare time and just started putting recipes out there, and people seemed to like it. I then partnered with some good people and it kind of just took off.

At Basic Rights sustainability is very important to us. It is one of the core values of our brand.You also champion sustainability when cooking. What can we do to eat, and shop, in a more sustainable way?

Its all about shopping seasonally. I mean people ask me all the time if I ever cook anything without tomatoes in the summer. Or why I cook with sweetcorn so much in September. The answer is really simple, its because they are in season at the time. That is how we used to eat, and definitely something we should try and go back to. Also, buy local when you can. Try and buy food that was grown here in the UK, rather than things that have had to fly over from Peru. I eat everything, but I make sure that the meat and fish I cook with has been sustainably source, I know it does get expensive but if cost is an issue, then eat meat less often if you can. Its all about the animal welfare, and making sure they had a good quality of life. 

Social media is obviously a huge part of your career now. In such a saturated market, how do you manage to stay authentic to yourself and your style of cooking?

I try not too spend too much time trawling Instagram looking at what other chefs are doing, I use it mainly to showcase my own work, so I don’t let myself get distracted by what other people are going. I think also its about not overly complicating things, I trust that people will like what I show them because I don’t let it get too fussy, with too many machines and ingredients. I also try and keep it fun and lively, and make sure that I try and be myself in my videos as much as I can, and just try and be natural. People can tell if you are faking it!

What do you wear while cooking? Whats important to you in clothing when you are in the kitchen?

Always my trusty Birkenstocks! I always wear them in the kitchen, apart from one time where my mum bought me Crocs for my first job in a kitchen, and I was mortified! Although apparently Crocs are back in now. I like to wear trousers that are quite loose fitting light trousers, like those Basic Rights ones!! If I am working and evening service I will always wear a shirt.

So what is next for you?

Well I am still working all the Instagram stuff out, I still haven't been doing it for very long, so it is about getting it right. All the online stuff is like starting a new business, you really need to keep on top of it. It takes a lot of work, and commitment. I am also working on a book, I just had a publishing deal come through which I am excited about, but want to make sure it is the right time to be doing something like that. I am also desperate to find the right spot for a restaurant, that is a top priority.