James and Chris Tanner

Stacey Sheppard speaks to James and Chris Tanner from Tanners Restaurant in Plymouth

Chef Interview

The Tanner brothers have become local celebrities since opening their eponymous restaurant in Plymouth in 1999. But both James and Chris have had illustrious careers, working for five years under the supervision of the Roux Brothers. They have appeared on cookery programmes such as Ready, Steady, Cook and Saturday Kitchen and have had their own television series. In spring 2006 they opened their second restaurant in Plymouth – the Barbican Kitchen is a brasserie sited within the Plymouth Gin Distillery; and in March this year they opened the Kitchen Café, downstairs from the brasserie.

How did you first discover your love of food and cooking and when did you decide you wanted to be chefs?
We are from a family of four brothers but our mum is a very good cook. We’re originally from Kent, the Garden of England, so did plenty of scrumping when we were kids for Bramley apples and Kentish strawberries. We both started cooking and working in restaurants at the very early age of 12!

How would you describe your approach to food and cooking?
Our approach to food and cooking is very focused. We enjoy the ‘banter’ that goes on in kitchens and it’s important to ensure the staff enjoy themselves through training and motivation. Our food style is simplistic, we take the best ingredients we can and never over-complicate or fuss with the dishes.

What is it about Devon that convinced you to move here and open your restaurants?
At the time it was cheaper than the South East. Ultimately though, it was the produce and the fact we knew there was a gap in the market for what we did.

You do a lot of work in the local community and have been awarded Honorary Doctorates of Art from Plymouth University in recognition of this. How important is this work and why do you do it?
It’s extremely important to put something back into the community, whether it’s a cookery demo or working with different schools. We feel it’s important to nurture the next generation, passing on knowledge and experience.

You are well known in the region for championing locally sourced and seasonal produce. What are the main benefits to be had from buying local Devon produce?
We have always been supporters of local produce as everything stays in the local economy. It also cuts down on food miles. It is great to see local artisan producers expanding and the next generation coming through.

What are your favourite locally sourced ingredients and why?
Some of our favourite local ingredients have got to be fish, anything from line-caught sea bass to mackerel. The Tamar Valley strawberry is also pretty special, along with the local beef, pork, lamb... the list goes on.

Aside from your own restaurant, where do you most like to eat out locally and why?
A couple of excellent places are The Horn of Plenty in Tavistock and The Jack in the Green Inn near Exeter.

If you had to choose your favourite meal, what would it be and why?
A favourite meal would be hand-picked Brixham crab salad, seared scallops, and new season asparagus with crispy Denhay ham. Main courses would probably be grilled line-caught sea bass with lemon and rock salt, or slow-braised shoulder of lamb with garlic and balsamic. Desserts would be Tamar Valley strawberries with Devon clotted cream, or meringue, lemon curd, passion fruit and lime sherbet. We love these dishes: uncomplicated but, most importantly, flavoursome.

Tanners Restaurant
Prysten House
Finewell St
01752 252001
Stacey Sheppard

Published 20 June 2011

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