Leeds restaurants: From injectable cheese to bubble machines, meet the head chef behind The Alchemist Leeds' theatrical menus

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From colour-changing cocktails to bubble machines, a trip to The Alchemist promises theatre.

The growing bar chain, known for its molecular mixology, boasts two venues in Leeds - and senior operations head chef Tom Rowley heads up the kitchens.

With a background in fine art, Tom helps to shape the interactive food menus with an "Instagrammable twist" that perfectly pair with the extensive drinks offering.

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Born in Nottingham, he moved to Leeds for university but chose creativity in the kitchen over a career as an artist.

Tom Rowley, 31, is the senior operations head chef at The Alchemist (Photo: Gary Longbottom)Tom Rowley, 31, is the senior operations head chef at The Alchemist (Photo: Gary Longbottom)
Tom Rowley, 31, is the senior operations head chef at The Alchemist (Photo: Gary Longbottom)

Tom told the Yorkshire Evening Post: “My first food memory is making pancakes with my dad and I burnt my finger on the pan!

"I’ve always had a really varied diet, eating anything and everything. Throughout my childhood I was lucky enough to try all sorts of food.”

Tom has worked in kitchens since he was 13 and studied fine art at university in Leeds, where he met his now-wife and made the city his home.

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“Cooking was another creative outlet aside from art," the 31-year-old said.

Tom blowtorches salmon in the kitchen (Photo: Gary Longbottom)Tom blowtorches salmon in the kitchen (Photo: Gary Longbottom)
Tom blowtorches salmon in the kitchen (Photo: Gary Longbottom)

"I was working while I was at university and I decided about halfway through that I wanted to pursue a career in hospitality.

“I started in a chef position the day after graduation and I became head chef at Revolution by the age of 22.

“It was a proud moment for me.”

Tom joined The Alchemist as a sous chef six years ago and became head chef of the Leeds venues, before joining the operations team a year later.

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He helps to shape the interactive food offering; diners can inject cheese into their chorizo and cheddar dough balls with syringes, and brunch classics are given an unexpected twist - like The Alchemist's take on hash, harissa-roasted squash with new potatoes, red pepper, spring onion, sweetcorn, spinach and a poached egg.

“The menu has really evolved since I started," Tom added.

"It’s an eclectic mix at the moment - the main style is an Asian-fusion. I’m obsessed with Asian food, I could eat it morning, day and night.

"We ensure that the food is fresh and exciting, with an ‘Instagrammable’ twist on it.

"It’s theatrical and interactive for the guests, from a bubble machine to syringes.

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“And we want the food to look attractive and on-brand, the visuals are a really big part of it.”

Tom looks after more than 100 chefs in his role and has seen kitchen porters he's recruited become head chefs.

At a time when the hospitality industry is struggling with recruitment, he wants to encourage those who love cooking to take it up as a career.

He added: “We’re a training company so we’re happy to take people on with little to no experience and make them into an Alchemist chef. We really invest the time into developing them.

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“During the pandemic, the most important thing was keeping the team and we had a really high retention.

"When we first came out of lockdown, we adapted our service times and menu offering to make sure the transition for the team was as smooth as possible - we didn’t want them to go from nought to 100.

"The atmosphere has been fantastic since we reopened. Everyone wants to get out and enjoy life again.”

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