Paul Sowden, group head chef, Tomahawk Hotel Group

11 May 2006
Paul Sowden, group head chef, Tomahawk Hotel Group

Paul Sowden is group head chef at Tomahawk Hotel Group, a venture set up and owned by Rob Foulston and Tom Horsfall.

The company has three properties - the Victoria in Bradford, Aston Hall in Sheffield and the Woodlands in Leeds - and Sowden looks after the food and beverage, sourcing and menu strategy for them all when not slaving in the kitchen.

Sowden applied to join the RAF from school, but quickly found the reality of life in the Services a disappointment.

Instead, he returned to the West Park hotel in Harrogate, where he'd previously had a part-time job washing dishes.

Sowden loved the atmosphere in the kitchen and soon progressed to basic cooking.

Interest piqued, he moved to the Hopper Lane Inn, near Skipton, in 1993 with one of the chefs from the West Park.

Owner and chef Simon Swayne trained him and in time left him to deputise when away - responsibility Sowden relished.

Next stop was the Sous Le Nez restaurant in Leeds as Sowden took his first steps into fine dining. He joined as a commis, but found it tough.

"It was traditional French, and I didn't understand a lot of the terminology. But once I saw the actual dishes I recognised them and my confidence grew."

Leaving as junior sous chef after three years, Sowden joined Simon Gueller's Rascasse in Leeds, which gained a Michelin star while he was there.

In 1996 he moved across town to be junior sous chef at the Fourth Floor restaurant in the Harvey Nichols department store.

Twenty months on, a recommendation by a colleague led him to his first head chef role, at the Wellington pub near Skipton. "It was exciting and a great opportunity at a time when the gastropub idea was just taking hold in the North," he says.

Sowden moved the pub's menu from frozen food to local, fresh produce and watched turnover rocket from £3,000 to £25,000 a week.

Then, through a supplier contact, he heard of an exciting new hotel development in Leeds: the Woodlands.

He auditioned by cooking a meal at the owners' house, overcoming the vagaries of their domestic electric cooker, to win the role of head chef.

Despite his now-expanded role, Sowden remains hands-on. "I tried the management thing, but it's not for me. Nowadays I stay in my chef whites," he says.

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