"Hey, I'm Tom": Chatting w/ Drake Catering Tom Hinchliffe

Posted by Drake, July 20, 2017

Do you get food fomo? You will after you read this post! We get inside the mind of Tom Hinchliffe, Drake Catering cook and the master behind the monthly Toronto-based dinner series BYO-Diner. Tom and his friend Dave created the series after realizing they had more then a few crazy amazing dining concepts they wanted to share with other people, not just their friends. Every month features a different themed cuisine experience, but Tom is a spicy boy at heart, so expect the unexpected. Read on to find both the secret to happiness AND the approximate direction to flavourtown. (Birthplace of Guy Fieri.)

What is BYO-Diner and how did it start?
BYO-Diner is a regular dinner that my friend Dave and I put on at his place. Each dinner has a different theme. It started after Dave’s friends from Austin came to town last summer and “incepted” the idea in Dave’s brain. They operate a restaurant down there, and every month when the restaurant is closed, they put a dinner on for their industry friends in the restaurant’s dining room. He was very interested in starting up something like that, and it was right up my alley. We were getting itchy to just cook whatever we wanted to and this was a perfect opportunity to make that happen. We were also interested in fostering a dining atmosphere with no pretension. We really wanted it to feel like you were having dinner at your friend’s place, but (hopefully) with really great food. We were/are very heavily into Thai cuisine and flavours, so it was kind of natural for us to gravitate towards making the first one Thai heavy. We made an Instagram account, told all of our friends we were doing it, got people to reserve through email and BYO-Diner was born. We did our first one on the 3rd Sunday of October, 2016, filled the 20-person table, made everyone eat 7 courses of insanely spicy, rich South-East Asian food over 4 hours, quickly realized we needed to actually make it happen every month, then went right to work creating the next dinner after everyone left. It’s kind of become that constant cog ticking in my brain, I’m sure Dave can attest to that sentiment. We are always thinking about insane new concepts and work towards making them happen. This month we did Canada Day, 10 courses, one for every Province (sorry Territories...).

SASKATCHEWAN: Bannock with pork fat "pemmican" cider pickled strawberries and sumac cured onions

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Where did you learn to cook?

I learned to cook from my Mom and (sadly) The Food Network. I grew up watching Delia Smith, Two Fat Ladies, Naked Chef, Chef at Home, Julia Child, America’s Test Kitchen, whatever was on. Never actually retained any of the information from these shows, mostly just ogled the screen over food itself. My Mom always cooked and I usually stood in the kitchen staring at what she was doing. It never really occurred to me growing up that I may want to be a chef some day though. I always had a strong interest in food, but for some reason I never put 2 and 2 together until I dropped out of Film school and needed a job/career/plan for the rest of my life. My first kitchen job was at The Wolfe Island Bakery in Kingston, Ontario. They wanted to fire me after a my first week, but they realized they needed some extra help, so decided to keep me on and help run their farmer’s market stall. They started to need a lot of help in the kitchen for brunch, so they decided to throw me into the fire and see what would happen. I guess I did alright by them. I was interested in learning anything I could, so they started putting me in the bakery as well. It was then I realized I just wanted to keep learning through experience rather than school, so it’s been the school of life for me ever since.

Where do you want to see BYO-Diner go in the future?
Dave and I have been getting asked a lot lately when we are going to make it a full time gig. Honestly, we have no interest in that whatsoever. We just want to keep going and having fun every month. It’s a nice little ritual we’ve got but we don’t want to exploit that and lose that spark that created BYO in the first place. It really is wonderful to put these things on and see who comes out every month, regulars and newbies alike. We have some pretty good plans for the future though, no less. Live band Karaoke BBQ, more house shows, more billion course feasts, so on and so forth. As long as we’re having fun and we are creating then we will be putting them on.

What is your favourite thing to cook?
I can hear the groans now, but probably anything Thai. I’ve really come to love the fundamentals of Thai cooking. Huge amalgamation of flavours that make me very happy. My girlfriend, Katie, and I checked out Pok Pok in Portland last summer and it blew my mind. My obsession started there for sure. I’m a “spicy boy” and I really enjoy making the Kao Soi dish from Pok Pok the most. I love making the curry paste for it. It’s such a cool combination of ingredients, it’s always so much fun to mash it all together. I usually make a huge batch, portion it then freeze it so I can have Kao Soi whenever I want. Also makes a wonderful gift.

What is your favourite part about doing BYO-Diner?
It’s always different. It changes so much, every month is something out of left field it seems. The range of cooking that I’ve done this year is pretty insane. We’ve tried our hand at Thai, Chinese, Mexican, Korean, Moroccan, Indian, Middle Eastern, the list goes on. It’s really nice because it breaks you out of your comfort zone a bit and challenges the way that you normally cook. When you start to play with so many cuisines as well, you start to see common threads between how human beings sustain themselves all over the world. Also, every month it’s an entirely new group of people. We never really know what the vibe is going to be until we’re a couple courses in. We’ve taken some real risks in what we present people with; only seafood, family style dishes for 24 strangers, lamb brains on toast, venison liver, but in the end we seem to be attracting people who want to experience the new and unknown with us, so it really has paid off.

What is one cooking tip you would give to others?
Just do it! Honestly, we don’t cook enough for ourselves these days, me included. It’s way too easy to order food from one of the billion places downtown Toronto, but it’s also easy to make food for yourself too. I know I’m speaking as a cook, but even when I didn’t know how to properly cook, I still tried. There’s nothing more rewarding than taking a chance in trying something new for dinner and having it pay off, or even having it blow up in your face! At least then some part of you says “next time I’ll do it this way”, and there you have it, there is the possibility for a “next time.” There are millions and millions of recipes and new techniques out there, it’s practically impossible to fail outright at making yourself a meal, so get in there!

"Near & Deer" Dinner by @byo_diner @goddamntom #dinner #nearanddear #dinner

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What do you cook at home for yourself?
I do love to make the long-process meals for sure, but nothing can beat a good old fashioned French omelette. I’ve made endless omelettes in the last year, and I just can’t get sick of them. I tend to make breakfast the most, regardless. Katie and I like to have a gameplan for what breakfast is going to look like the next day. Pancakes tend to win out a lot as well. I like to think it’s because of my recipe, but I know it’s another excuse for her (and mostly me) to put my grandparent’s maple syrup over something. Although I do tend to sneak it into everything I make...

What is your idea of perfect happiness?
Honestly, I couldn’t tell you what perfect happiness is, BUT I do know that I am happy right now. I want to keep doing these dinners, I want to keep pushing the boundaries with Drake Catering, I want to keep exploring the world with Katie. I think the pursuit of happiness is much more savoury to me than reaching it outright. I was very good at settling before, but I know now that I want to keep moving and pushing towards who I am and what I can do in the world. Just being able to figure that all out will make me perfectly happy.

What is your greatest fear?
Right now it’s honestly getting doored by some idiot on Dundas while I’m biking. I don’t know if it’s the summer or what, but everyone is getting really unpredictable out there. Please watch out for cyclists! I know we suck sometimes, but we don’t have airbags. :(

What is the trait you most deplore in yourself?
I feel like I have an attention problem, I can really be living in a dream world sometimes and I would really love if it would just stop. I have too many things I want to get done and not being able to focus really isn’t helping anything. I feel it makes me come across like I don’t care. Which is bogus because I DO care, I mostly just forget….

What is the trait you most deplore in others?
I HATE when people are OK/unaware that they simply just take from people. I liked to think that that attribute would disappear with age, but sadly it hasn’t. As I get older, I have started to see the multitude of ways in which we use each other for personal gain, and it gets under my skin. Whether it’s at work, in a relationship, in a friend group, or even on the sidewalk, we can have a tendency to put ourselves first at the expense of others. I think that we are all on an equal playing field and no where in the rules does it encourage us to screw each other over. We’re all neighbours, we all want the same thing, no reason to make life more difficult for anyone.

What is your greatest extravagance?
I have a few things I like to splurge on: tattoos, clothes, cookbooks, food… Nothing very extravagant, but the bills can definitely end up in that territory from time to time.

What is your current state of mind?
I’m happy. A little tired, but happy.

Duck duck goose

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What do you consider your greatest achievement?
I don’t know if I have a greatest achievement yet! I’m at a really good place in my life and I think that’s probably what I’m most happy about. I used to be very unsatisfied with everything. I was always looking for something new, never being happy with what I had. Now I feel like I’ve really got my path laid out and I am excited to stay on it and see where it leads!

What is your most treasured possession?
I don’t really have one, I’m kind of a pack rat in some regards because I see sentimental value in everything I’ve got. A little silly, but true. I have a few kitchen items that were handed down to me that I really like having in my life. My parents gave me some of their older Sabatier knives a few years ago, things that had been in our kitchen drawer my entire childhood. It’s cool to have those as part of my knife roll and knowing they came from them. I also have a cast iron pan that was my grandfather’s until he gave it to me. His mother used to cook everything in it, so I have tried to use it for everything I cook as well. It’s nice to have these items that I use day to day that remind me of family. Also, every piece of D’Arcy merchandise I own. Represent.

What is your most marked characteristic?
Really depends on who you ask! I’m a bit of a goof ball, so maybe that’s it. Is “goof ball” a characteristic? Sure. I try not to take myself so seriously, I feel it helps with stress. It’s nice to make other people smile as well, certainly a lot nicer than making them frown. I like to know I don’t generally make people miserable with my presence!

Who are your heroes in real life?
All of my friends who are just out there doing it. Whatever it is. I have a few people in my life that are just going out and getting it DONE. Right now Katie is doing an internship at a gallery on the Lower East Side Manhattan then coming back to work at the AGO. My friend Jake is really doing well with his D’Arcy Death Merchants merchandise. Everything looks awesome and it’s really taking off. My friend Kirk has been working full time and attending school and as such he’s basically created his own position in his company. Elliott finally learned to play bass well and he’s been spending his free time recording. Dave works 60 hour weeks AND does BYO AND he does the Junction Farmers Market every other week. These people and their drive tend to get me pumped up about what I’m doing and make me want to get better at whatever it is I try.

What is your motto?
“Hey, I’m Tom”
“I’m a spicy boy”
“You only YOLO once”
“__ flavourtown”
“__ flavour country”
“__ tasty time”

What are your favorite names? (the only right answer is DRAKE)
I really want to get a golden retriever and to name her Buffy. Great name.

Take a look into who we are, what we do and how we do it. Check out #workwithdrake.

Posted in: Food + Drink

Tags: dinner  drake  drake catering  drake hotel  food