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Meet The New Head Chef At Marlow’s The Hand And Flowers

The Hand and Flowers in Marlow has legendary status amongst foodies – and now there is a new head chef in situ with ambitions to make it even better, as Mark Kebble finds out

The COVID-19 pandemic has played havoc with the hospitality industry and, on the day of my interview with the new head chef of The Hand and Flowers, it still has its wicked way. Tom De Keyser is held up thanks to getting his second vaccine jab after the person in front of him passed out. “That’s not really want you want to see,” he sighs when he gets round to calling.

Said collapse, though, is not a metaphor for how De Keyser’s career in cooking has flourished ever since he decided a career in chemistry and forensic science, which he was studying at Leicester University, wasn’t for him. “I wouldn’t say I discovered my talent,” he says on swapping the lab for the kitchen, “it’s more I discovered my love and passion for it.”

Tom De Keyser
Tom De Keyser is the new head chef at The Hand and Flowers

He finished his degree and went home to Essex, where he dabbled in roles to take his cooking to the next level, and soon decided to take things further. “I took the plunge and moved to London,” he recounts, “and went to work at the York & Albany, which is one of Gordon Ramsay’s places – and I loved it. It was 19-hour days in the basement kitchen, with a lack of sunlight, but I fell in love with the energy, the camaraderie, the food, simply everything about it. The standard of the food there when I joined was sublime.”

After two and a half years honing his skills under head chef Colin Buchan, it was time for a change. “I wanted to move somewhere that was similar to where I grew up in Essex, a little town with lots of local pubs and nice food,” he says. “I told by brother I was looking and his wife – they are both big foodies – said there was a pub in Marlow that had just won two Michelin stars, and suggested I look there. I popped my CV over, had a trial a week later and started three weeks after that.”

It was quite a leap to head into a venue with those Michelin stars to its name, as well as working for a chef who was becoming high profile. “It was amazing,” De Keyser says on those early days in the kitchen alongside Tom Kerridge. “I was lucky enough when I first started that he was on the rota like anyone else. Having the Michelin stars does add pressure, but pressure is a privilege anyway. If you haven’t got the pressure, you are not going to get better. You end up standing still and going backwards.”

De Keyser’s career did anything but. He was soon promoted to chef de partie before, in 2014, becoming senior sous chef at The Coach (another Tom Kerridge pub also in Marlow). Three years later The Coach won its first Michelin star and De Keyser was promoted to head chef, then in 2018 he won an Acorn Award, which recognises the rising stars of the hospitality industry after being nominated by his peers. “It was a nice pat on the back personally,” he says about that. “Everything we do is team-orientated, so every now and then those individual pats on the back are very nice. It’s good to know you are doing the right things and other people recognise your hard work.”

Deep Fried Brill With The Hand And Flowers Chips Caviar Tartare Sauce And Minted Pea Puree
Deep Fried Brill with The Hand and Flowers Chips, Caviar Tartare Sauce and Minted Pea Purée

Nearly a decade after first joining, though, De Keyser is back at The Hand and Flowers as head chef. “It’s a massive privilege,” he enthuses. “I never thought I would be coming back here, particularly as head chef, but when Tom spoke to me about it I jumped at the opportunity. I feel very lucky.” How does he feel he has changed as a chef since 2012? “I appreciate quality more, I put myself under more pressure, and I look at myself to set an example when leading the team,” he rattles off. “You can teach people how to cook, but we want to be nice people and encouraging, and then your team will want to work hard and cook nice food.”

Describing his style as “ingredient-led”, he is looking forward to maintaining the standards set at The Hand and Flowers. “Every day there are set parameters to Tom’s food and he’s still here,” he says on Kerridge’s influence. “Every day we look at how we can make things better, how we can refine it, making full use of big flavours. It’s about getting a little bit better every day.”


126 West Street, Marlow, SL7 2BP

01628 482277

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