2012 Chef of the Year Alyn Williams takes a (very) brief breather from his hectic schedule for a catch-up with Fed Up & Drunk…
Your menus display a great sense of imagination. Where do you get your inspiration and ideas from? Do you ever experience creative blocks?
I like to look at dishes from different angles. Some of our dishes are playful, with nostalgic references like the walnut whip or the tom yum prawn crackers. Others are more serious with a focus on different techniques. Flavour, seasonality and provenance are at the centre of all of our dishes.
I am quite creative and inquisitive, as is Richard, my sous chef, so between us we keep the menus evolving. Sometimes you have flashes of creativity and at other times, inspiration is a little slower to arrive.
How has the style or concept of your food changed and evolved over the years, if at all?
As a chef I think your food is always evolving fractionally on a daily basis; every time you change a dish, you are travelling somewhere. The world of information has also become so large and fast-paced that we are seeing what other chefs are developing so much quicker, and often that can feed into your own ideas and direction you want to take your food in.
You’ve worked with your fair share of influential chefs. Is there anyone who has really left their mark on you?
I think out of all of them I would have to say Mark Askew. He was Gordon’s executive chef while I was sous chef at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea. His eye for detail was phenomenal; he would spot the slightest mistake from a hundred yards. He left a great impression on me.
CHEFstock, where you collaborated with various chefs to create some exciting menus, was a resounding success. How did the preparations go? Had it been a long time in the making?
We decided on the CHEFstock idea about a year ago. I drew up a wish-list of all the chefs that I was keen to involve and I have to say that I was pleasantly surprised and very humbled when the first four came back with a yes! The guest chefs were in the driving seat with the menus as it’s mostly about them being able to show our guests what they do. I worked my own dishes around them to complement them as best I can which, hopefully, resulted in nice, harmonious menus.
Was there anyone you were particularly excited to work with during the course of the event?
I was equally as excited about working with all of them. It was very humbling for me to have such great talented chefs coming to work in my kitchen. I’ve known Sat [Baines], Simon [Rogan] and Iggy [Chan] for a number of years, so I was particularly interested to meet and work alongside Bart. I hadn’t met him before but have been aware of him and his successful restaurant in Belgium for a couple of years now.
You had a very successful year last year, winning ‘National Chef of the Year’, making the top 15 in the UK’s 100 Best Restaurants, and earning three AA rosettes and a Michelin star. How did it feel to finally reach this level of success after so many years of hard work?
It is a great feeling each time we receive an award. They are always a real team effort, and we all felt proud of our achievements last year. I know that it will be difficult to get to our next set of goals, but at least we are now on the road!
So, what’s next on the agenda – do you still have any goals left to achieve?
There are always goals. We are still under two years old as a restaurant so it would be lovely to improve in almost every area. I’d like to think that we are still in our formative period here and that the food will continue to evolve and improve. I have a great team both in the kitchen and front of house. With a good team you can set your sights higher.
Have your career goals changed over the years?
I’ve always been ambitious but I’ve realised that you need to set yourself short-term achievable goals to finally reach where you want to end up. I have quite a few more stages to reach before I am properly happy with what I have done.
Are you still quite hands-on at your restaurant, or have you been able to transfer the reins and take more of a backseat in order to focus on other projects?
I’m in the kitchen and on the pass more or less every day, six days a week. I do have other projects going on but I won’t take on so much that I can’t focus on The Westbury. I’ve already said that I have a good team and a fantastic sous chef but I don’t plan on taking a backseat any time soon.
After a busy week at the restaurant, do you still enjoy cooking at home or do you prefer to stay out of the kitchen?
Sunday is family day. I have two young sons so we try to do lots on my day off. After the dreaded homework we usually go to the cinema or play football and cricket in the park. My wife also needs my attention. So I don’t tend to do a lot of cooking at home.
Do you eat out often? What are your favourite restaurants at the moment?
We usually eat out as a family on Sunday. It tends to be a good pizza or something quite casual. We all enjoy Indian food, so Sunday evening usually involves a trip to a nice Indian restaurant. I try to get out to eat once a month to try other restaurants in London. I have my favourites, amongst them.