Food Stories with Tom Heywood: ‘It’s about being sustainable and creating an experience that people can take something away from.’

What can only be described as a chic bistro restaurant with a focus on local and fresh British produce, the Rattle Owl takes up a prime spot on the busy independent street of Micklegate in York. Owned by Clarrie O’Callaghan, The Rattle Owl proudly displays grandeur and decadence from its seventeenth-century frontage that smoothly contrasts but complements the light and bright open-plan restaurant interior. After enjoying the delicious new autumn set lunch menu accompanied with a much-needed glass of wine (reminiscing of summer days minus the rain), Head chef Tom Heywood joined me for a coffee to chat about his journey with the Rattle Owl so far and his future plans for the restaurant. 

So, Tom, how long have you been at the Rattle Owl?

I’ve been heading up the kitchen here at the Rattle Owl since February. Before this, I was working at The Pheasant at Harome and then did a little bit of agency work before joining the team here. 

Can you tell me a little bit about the style of cooking here at the Rattle Owl?

I think it used to be associated with French bistro cuisine but not anymore. Every chef has that French influence within their cooking, but here we focus on using British seasonal produce. Next year we are going to start a new thing upstairs where we offer a little bit of a different experience. We are going to be changing the front of the restaurant downstairs into a bar and put a few extra tables out the back, and then upstairs we are going to be serving a tasting menu that will be focusing more on sustainability and using products that would normally get thrown away. 

That sounds exciting. What kind of dishes are you going to be serving on the new menu?

When the guests arrive, it won’t be a traditional menu that they get, it will be a list of ingredients that we are going to use. For example, at the moment we have loads of pumpkins and parsnips, so we are trying to use them in as many dishes on our current menu that we can. We will be using what is in season and in abundance from local farms and it’s all about being sustainable. It’s a big movement at the moment in the industry and lots of people that we work with are moving in that direction too. 

Do you think that people will appreciate the renewed focus on sustainability?

I think so. The issue is that it takes time and we have to build up slowly, we try and tell people what we are trying to achieve but it does take time. 

And who would you say your target audience is going to be for the new tasting menu?

On a Sunday at the moment, we do a Sunday roast that is really popular. We get lots of families that come in to eat with us and we really like that, but I would say that our target audience for the upstairs tasting menu will be foodies and people that are interested in seeing something different. We want to create an experience that is exciting, and that people can take something away from which I feel hasn’t been done in York before.

What do you think has been a key factor to the growing success of the Rattle Owl this year?

The kitchen and front of house team are really close, and I would say that we are like one big family now and we really want to maintain that vibe moving forward. I know that in some places and certain restaurants I’ve worked in previously, the kitchen and front of house have been at war with each other and it’s not nice. Here it’s very different and we all go out together on a Sunday after work and we’ve got a great team because of it.

What is your favourite thing about living in Yorkshire?

I grew up in the middle of nowhere and the amount of time I spent going around the fields and the countryside is a bit mad haha! The local suppliers and quality product that is on our doorstep is just incredible and there is wildlife everywhere. Even here in the middle of the city, the countryside is still just around the corner which I love.

Do you use a lot of locally sourced ingredients then?

All of our food is sourced from reliable local farms and the guy who we get the vegetables from grows them all himself in Bishopthorpe. Because we are a small business, we like to try and support other small businesses as well. Our chicken for example, is sourced from a guy who didn’t agree with the current farming methods, so he decided to do it his own way and only produces forty chickens a week. he’s not trying to change the world he’s just trying to make things better by doing his part.

What is your favourite dish on the menu at the minute?

I would say that it has to be the grass-fed chicken dish. I think it epitomises everything that we are trying to do at the moment. The dish itself is split into three elements which is another thing I really like. We use every single cut we can off the chicken apart from the feet as we thought it was a bit too far at the moment to do that! There is no wastage in the dish, and it changes and evolves with the seasonal produce that is available to us, so for me, it’s a great dish. 

What would you say is one of the biggest challenges that you’ve faced so far at Rattle Owl?

Before, we used to serve a grazing menu at lunch which was a selection of small plates, but it wasn’t really working for us as people in York wanted something a bit different. Since we’ve changed to a set lunch menu, we’ve been so much busier which is great as lunch trade has always been quite challenging for us. 

And Tom, where do you see yourself this time next year?

Hopefully still here if all goes well! We’ll be doing things that are similar to what we do now, but doing them better. This year was never about achieving our ultimate goals, it was about sorting the kitchen out, getting the right front of house team going, and correcting all of the wrongs that have been happening over the last few years. I feel like now we’re really stable and we’ve created a great platform to move forward with. The kitchen has grown in confidence to handle the busy weekend service and we’ve got a great network of suppliers and a team to progress with so I’m looking forward to what next year has in store for us. 

Tom Heywood, 8/11/19

York Talks would like to thank The Rattle Owl for their hospitality and Tom for taking the time to share his Food Story!

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