Meet Head Chef and Owner of Helmsley's New Restaurant Pignut
Tom Heywood, former head chef of York's The Rattle Owl, has opened his own restaurant alongside his partner and sommelier Laurissa Cook
Tell us about your journey to becoming a chef.
I started as everyone does. I was 14 working in a local pub for a bit of pocket money, and then when I left school I wasn’t sure what I wanted to do as I didn’t really enjoy school too much. My dad was a chef and I enjoyed my job in the pub, so I decided to go to catering college. I did that for a couple of years and loved it. When I left, I moved down South to Cambridge and worked there for a little bit and then came back up North; working around York, and at The Cottage in the Wood in Cumbria. I then worked at The Pheasant in Harome but my first head chef’s job was at The Rattle Owl. I was there for three or four years and it was at The Rattle Owl where I really learnt my style and realised what I wanted to do with food.
Why did you want to open your own restaurant?
Things were going really well at The Rattle Owl so I felt I wanted to do it now because Laurissa and I haven’t got too many commitments – we haven’t got children and it seemed like a good opportunity. We saw this place and it instantly felt right when we walked in. We loved the area too and just thought, it’s now or never. It was a big risk but it’s really paying off so far.
I used to work at The Pheasant near here so I know the area quite well and I really like it up here. Laurissa and I used to come to Helmsley and do some foraging and there’s lots of nice walks. We didn’t really plan on Helmsley but we were walking around on a day out and saw the restaurant and it’s an amazing location, so it seemed like a good move for us.
Tell us about the name Pignut.
A pignut is a foraged nut which grows below the ground and it’s quite a tricky one to get to. It has a really long thin stem and it can bury quite deep. We liked the name as it’s unique, and when we were foraging, we actually found some nearby. You pick them between June and July time which were the dates we were looking to open the restaurant. It all seemed to fit nicely.
Tell us more about your cooking style.
My style is all ingredient-based with very simplistic presentation. We don’t put too many different components on a plate, we keep it simple and it’s all about the amazing produce. We don’t try and mess around with it or mask any of the favours, we just try and enhance them all and let the ingredients speak for themselves.
‘My style is all ingredient-based with very simplistic presentation. We don’t put too many different components on a plate, we keep it simple and it’s all about the amazing produce’
We forage and obviously that’s very seasonal, so if we’re out and we see something and it’s starting to come through then that can dictate what we’re going to create. Same for the meat, we are completely reliant on the local farms – they tell us what they have and what they can do and we go from there.
Doing this gives us scope to change the menu quite a lot, which people like to see as we’re getting a lot of regulars now – they don’t want to come back and see the same dishes over and over again, so our menu changes on the basis of what we can get. For instance this week some dishes are changing three times. Next week we will have a couple more changes, and it completely depends on what we can get. We had some local customers who came in to eat and told us they had loads of blackcurrants in their garden and invited us to pick them, so they’re going on our menu tonight. And we’re starting to work with the Helmsley Walled Gardens, using some of their produce in our dishes too.
How has the restaurant been received so far?
The fact we’ve only been open two months and we’ve already had people come back a couple of times is really amazing. The numbers are really good and we’re busy – it’s better than we imagined.
Your partner Laurissa is the expert on the drinks, tell us more.
Laurissa does all the wines and cocktails. We do a wine flight with the dishes and it can be difficult with all the changes, but I know a few days before if I'm going to add something new so we have time to prepare for it and we work together on it.
What are your hopes for the future of Pignut?
I suppose to maintain a good, busy restaurant for the locals. We would like to achieve some accolades such as a star and maybe a rosette star down the line. For now, it’s just to create a business which we can keep going and build around people in the area who we can help out with their produce.
Your favourite ingredient?
That’s a tough one. Foraged things, with my favourite being hogweed. It’s quite a unique flavour and a lot of people haven’t tried it before. It has so many uses, and the leaves, shoots and seeds can all be used. It’s got a really unique smell and flavour too, with some people comparing it to orangey-cardamom flavours, and almost chocolatey as well, although everyone interprets it differently.
Favourite place to dine locally?
We like going to Bantam, we really enjoy their food and the guys who work there are really nice. We also enjoy La Trattoria which is a nice little Italian on the corner – they do a really good tiramisu.
Food guilty pleasure?
I have a big sweet tooth and anything chocolate (apart from white chocolate) I’ll eat.
Drink of choice?
It’s the Helmsley Brewery beer at the moment. It’s some of the best beer I've ever tasted and they have loads of varieties.