Cornish pasties come to town

Brennan LaBrie Special to the Leader
Posted 9/11/19

When Thomas and Nikki Skipper decided to finally open the restaurant of their dreams, they first had to decide what to focus the menu on.

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Cornish pasties come to town

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When Thomas and Nikki Skipper decided to finally open the restaurant of their dreams, they first had to decide what to focus the menu on.

“We wanted to bring something new to town,” said Thomas, co-owner of Tommyknocker’s Cornish Pasty at 711 Water Street, former home to the Boiler Room.

The Skippers landed on Cornish pasties, a dish that was a childhood favorite of Thomas, whose family is from England, and is similar to the empanadas that Nikki ate growing up in the Philippines.

The couple met in Colorado, where Thomas was ski instructing during the day and Molybdenum miner at night, and Nikki was cooking at the Park Hyatt during a six-month internship for her cooking degree at the De La Salle University in Manila, Philippines. Upon moving to Port Townsend, Thomas took a job as Food Service Director at the Resort at Port Ludlow and Nikki joined Taps at the Guardhouse in Fort Worden as Chef de Cuisine.

This year, they welcomed a baby girl, Kalia, now six months old, and decided it was time to check off one of their top ten-year goals as a couple: open a restaurant.

“We decided it was time to take the risk, make the jump and hope for the best,” Thomas said. “If we don’t do it now, once our baby gets older it’s gonna get tougher and tougher, and so we decided that it was the perfect moment to make the jump and figured it was either now or never.”

Thomas, who managed numerous restaurants in New York before moving to Colorado, would man the front of the house, with Nikki running back of house.

The couple started brainstorming pasty fillings, coming up with over twenty variations on the traditional Cornish meat and vegetables. They wanted to add a global twist to their pasties, inspired by their world travels during the “Mud Seasons” of Colorado. After all, “Everywhere around the world, they always do something like a cornish pasty,” Thomas said. “There’s empanadas in South America and the Philippines, calzones in Italy.”

They whittled the variations down to six, with Indian, American, and Mexican takes on the pasty, as well as a vegan shepherd’s pie made of housemade vegan ground beef, which is currently their second best-selling pasty after the traditional.

They plan on adding new pasties to the menu seasonally, but will keep the number of pasties steady at six.

“We want to keep our menu simple and good,” Thomas said. “Keep it fresh, keep it live so there’s always something new to try. Nikki’s main point is if we’re going to do it, we’re going to be the best at it.”

Their menu extends beyond pasties, with all dishes based in British cuisine, with global twists and local ingredients. The crab macaroni and cheese is made from Dungeness Crab and Mount Townsend Creamery’s New Moon cheese. The greens in their Washington apple salad are from Red Dog Farms.

Thomas is currently working to find local vegetables such as turnips that are essential to a traditional Cornish Pasty but are harder to find locally.

Even the drinks have a global spin. Nineteen-year-old Isaiah Favors came in during the grand opening on August 30 to order his favorite item on the menu – frozen hot chocolate, in which they put an ube, or purple yam, flavored wafer straw from the Philippines.

The name Tommyknocker’s comes from the British legend of small, leprechaun-like creatures who watch over miners and warn them of cave-ins. In return for their help, miners toss pasty crusts down the shaft. Thomas himself was a miner in Colorado, where he learned of the American spin on the legend, in which the spirits of past miners protect those living. Thomas and Nikki decided that if a Tommyknocker were to open a pasty shop, he would have a wide variety of pasty recipes after centuries of having pasties thrown down to him, tying in to their global theme.

Thomas said that the community has greeted them warmly, and that online reviews have been very positive, especially from those hailing from Cornwall and England in general.

“I had no idea how many British people were living out here until we opened this place up,” he said. “We really feel the love and support from the local population, it’s been amazing.”

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