Alyn Williams, head chef Alyn Williams at the Westbury
Alyn Williams. Photo: Laura Lajh Prijatelj
Alyn Williams caught quite some attention already as head chef of Marcus Wareing, so it was not surprising that he won a Michelin star on his own already in the first year of opening the Alyn Williams restaurant at the Westbury hotel in Mayfair. His cuisine is sublime and pleasant just like his personality. He managed to gather around himself an excellent team of very loyal people who make every visit to his restaurant an unforgettable experience. We have met him to talk about his career and of course about chocolate.
When and how did you fall in love with cuisine and how did you decide to become a chef?
I have always enjoyed food, during childhood we ate well at home, my parents were early foodies and experimented a lot. Mealtimes were an event at home that leaves happy memories. I decided to cook as a profession when I was about 14 or 15.
Is there any particular memory from your childhood related to food?
Lots of dishes create memories, my dad’s chicken risotto and minestrone in particular. Pork chops with kidneys in … kippers black pudding and fried eggs and deep fried lambs brains were my favourites. My mums liver and onions sticks in my memory too, but for different reasons!
I loved Sunday lunches too, they usually lasted all afternoon. My dad would use a lot of the vegetables from his garden, my favourite was boiled beetroots in the skin… a big bowl full which resulted in lots of mess!
What was the best lecture you’ve received during your learning?
Gordon Ramsay once sat me down and explained his philosophy of being a chef and restaurateur. He was totally focused on hospitality and exceeding his customers expectations. He also said that he considered good service to be more important than good food to keep guests coming back.
It’s an opinion that stuck with me and has helped form my own style of running the restaurant.
Semi frozen chocolate ganache with candied Seville orange and buttermilk mousse.
Who was your greatest teacher?
I’ve had a lot of good teachers throughout my career. I would say that I gained the most from watching and listening to Mark Askew and Marcus Wareing.
What was your greatest challenge ever?
The hardest thing I ever did was to do a new opening of a restaurant immediately after my mother died. It was a terribly sad time and very hard to focus on my job.
I also took part in the ‘dinner in the sky’ event last autumn. I have a fear of heights and agreed to being hoisted 100 feet up on a large table by a crane!
What was your most valuable experience?
My years working for Gordon and Marcus. Without that experience I might not be where I am now.
Do you have any special memory related to chocolate?
I remember going to the cinema as a young boy and being given a choice of sweets to take in, I chose a bar of Cadburys Bourneville … I fell in love with dark chocolate after that, so much so that I rarely ate milk chocolate as a child.
And today? What is inspiring you today?
My team at the Westbury. We have a great group of cooks here with good attitudes and some real creativity.
Which are your favourite flavours and why?
My favourite flavours change with the seasons and they are different every year. Classics like tomato and basil, chocolate and orange, fennel, lamb and saffron never get tiring.
How would you describe your cuisine?
My food is fundamentally French but I use a lot of flavours from around the world. I would say that it is light, flavoursome and often playful.
Aerated white chocolate with lime and fennel. Photo: Laura Lajh Prijatelj
What does chocolate as ingredient mean to you?
I couldn’t have a dessert menu without chocolate. It’s one of Gods best inventions.
Which chocolate desserts are on your menu, which is your favourite and why?
We have two chocolate desserts on the menu at the moment. A semi frozen chocolate ganache with candied Seville orange and buttermilk mousse, it reminds me of a Terry’s chocolate orange … We also have an aerated white chocolate with lime and fennel. Its quite modern and very moreish.
How do you like to enjoy chocolate?
As it comes, usually a handful of a good milk chocolate with a cup of tea. I have also got a penchant for Kit-Kat chunky peanut butter at the moment … it will be the first thing I will eat once lent is finished.
The best chocolate or chocolate dessert you have ever eaten?
I remember eating an amazing double chocolate soufflé at the Bath spa hotel about 25 year ago I can still taste it!
If you could chose any place in the world to go and try the cuisine or pastry or chocolate, where would you go and why?
I was in Bali last year, they produce fantastic chocolate and I love Balinese cuisine. I would like to go on a culinary tour of South America.
What is your greatest achievement?
I gave up chocolate entirely for lent each year – that is quite an achievement.
I would have to say opening my own restaurant ranks up there along with some of the accolades that we have won since.
And your ultimate dream?
Professionally to build a small group of successful restaurants and personally to watch my children fulfil their own dreams.
What would be your final message to our readers?
Keep eating chocolate!
For more visit http://www.alynwilliams.com