Chef owner of Pignut restaurant in Helmsley, Tom, who grew up nearby in Church Fenton, has spent years developing a passion for sustainability working in Michelin kitchens at Midsummer House, The Ledbury and The Cottage in the Wood and Dan Barber’s Blue Hill in New York. He then put all that knowledge on sustainability into practise in his first head chef position at The Rattle Owl in York, during which he was awarded 2 AA Rosettes, the restaurant was recommended in the Michelin Guide and, in 2020, was named Restaurant of the Year in the White Rose Awards.

In June 2023 the 31-year-old opened Pignut with his partner Laurissa Cook. Named after a foraged nut which can be found in the area, the restaurant has already achieved 2 AA Rosettes, featured in the Good Food Guide and is recommended in the Michelin Guide. Tom is ambitious and focused on delivering sustainable and high-quality dishes to his guests including ‘Wastage’ - a course designed around the waste from the other courses on the menu. Here is shares his food loves.

A little about Pignut

Sustainability is integral to Tom and his ethos flows through all aspects of the restaurant. All the ingredients are sourced locally, and he wants to keep his ingredients as close to the restaurant as possible. He personally collects ingredients from the local organic farm shop which is stocked with incredible produce straight from the ground. The pair also forage and Laurissa has been known to find foraging spots while out on her horse. It's not just the dishes, Pignut uses sustainable wine solutions, which pick up empty glass bottles and refill them. They use ReFood for their food waste which recycle the waste into bioenergy, and they recycle all plastic and cardboard. The tables in the 14-seater restaurant are made from old pub tables which have been upcycled and they donate to Helmsley Walled Garden which is run entirely by volunteers with the focus of using gardening to improve mental health and wellbeing. As supporters of the charity, Tom and Laurissa utilise the kitchen garden, allowing them to showcase local ingredients on their menu which have been grown and nurtured by the local community.

A childhood food memory?

We used to pick damsons and blackberries down the road from where we lived. We used to bring them back and make blackberry and damson pies – but I didn’t like eating them! I still don’t. I don’t like hot, fruit desserts apart from apple crumble. I never really thought about why I didn’t like them until now… maybe it’s because I was made to eat them.

What was your most memorable meal?

It was at Dan Barber’s, Blue Hill At Stone Barns in New York. It turned everything I knew about food on its head. I realised food isn’t one dimensional, butter isn’t just butter it depends on the process, the process is everything when it comes to food. And the better the produce the better the flavour – I never really thought about that before I went there.

Who in the industry inspires you the most?

Again, Dan Barber. But in the UK, it would be Jordan Bailey – I really like his style of food, it’s really interesting. They only had a small team at Aimsir, normally two-star kitchens have 15 chefs and 15 front of house. They only had five or six in the kitchen, it was a husband-and-wife team and when we visited it made us think we could do something like that.

Great British Life: Pignut has 2 AA Rosettes, featured in the Good Food Guide and is recommended in the Michelin GuidePignut has 2 AA Rosettes, featured in the Good Food Guide and is recommended in the Michelin Guide (Image: Oliver Lawson)

How would you describe your cooking style?

It’s very simplistic. Ingredient led. I don’t really mess around with anything too much. Ultimately, I try to get every bit of flavour out of the ingredients as I can. We don’t just have the pick of what we want, ingredients can be limited, and we have to think about how we can use them across several dishes. Or if we don’t have any fruit for example, can we make a dessert using mushroom? We definitely have to be creative.

What is the flavour of the moment in your kitchen?

We found a new ingredient recently called wood aven. It’s got a similar taste to cloves – I’ve not used it yet, but I’m really interested in trying it. But wild garlic is definitely prominent in the kitchen as it’s right in season and it’s very local to us. We have one spot we go to, and you’d never be able to pick it all there’s so much of it.

If you were a guest visiting Pignut, what stand out dishes would you order?

Our first course on the tasting menu, it is called Wastage, and we’re trying to show guests, straight away, our sustainable ethos. We don’t have food waste, and although the products in the dish are considered waste products, we want to show that they are tasty, and it surprises people. Also, right now, we have a crab dish – it’s picked crab, with a Goan spiced curry sauce. It’s inspired by a trip I had to Goa where I had a crab head with crab meat and spices, on the beach – I always remember that dish.

What are your top tips to anyone looking be more sustainable when cooking?

Try and use more of the ingredient, so for example, tender stem broccoli, they have big leaves so you can take them and fry them off until they are crispy or have them raw in a salad. Rather than just using the nice bit of the stem and then throwing the rest in the bin. It’s the same with peels, you can turn them in to powders or stocks. We make a celeriac stock with all the skins and cook that down in a broth.

Do you have a guilty food pleasure?

Chocolate and sweets but I have to really resist eating chocolate because I love it so much! Apart from white chocolate, I hate white chocolate. And it doesn’t help we have the Helmsley Traditional Sweet Shop next door to the restaurant; I always go there for the sour apples.

What is your favourite Yorkshire ingredient?

Apples. I like Ribston Pippin and apples are versatile so they can be sweet or savoury, used in pickles or purees, caramelised – plus there is a huge variety. They are one of those ingredients which come in abundance so you can use them in so many ways.

You’re hosting a fantasy dinner party, who would you invite and what would you cook for them?

Elvis Presley, Joe Rogan, Gordon Ramsay, David Attenborough and The Queen. I’d cook burgers because they were Elvis’ favourite and I’d use grass-fed Yorkshire beef from Castle Howard and a Yorkshire cheese from Shepherd’s Purse in Thirsk.