Interview: Talking food with Michelin starred chef Alyn Williams
Alyn Williams has led a successful culinary career, working alongside some of the biggest names in the industry. Previous experience includes a placement at Claridge’s, working under Michael Perraud at Les Alouettes as it gained one of only 25 Michelin stars in Britain and work at Le Champignon Sauvage, now a two Michelin star restaurant.
Alyn took a break from the culinary life and took on a backtracking trip to India before spending 6 years teaching skiing and snowboarding in France and the USA. He returned to the kitchen with a bang thriving in top restaurants including Petrus, working alongside Marcus Wareing and Gordon Ramsay at Royal Hospital Road. Alyn now heads up Alyn Williams at The Westbury, a one Michelin star and 4 AA rated restaurant that has a focus on excellent, creative and seasonal food while highlighting vegetarian cuisine, micro seasoning and beer pairings.
Luxury Lifestyle Magazine food editor, Natasha Heard talks to Alyn about his influences and what makes him and his restaurant unique…
The restaurant has a vegetarian tasting menu, as well as the non-vegetarian one, which is unusual. Why did you decide to introduce this?
I felt there was a severe lack of options for vegetarians when it came to fine dining restaurants and I wanted to address that. My wife is vegetarian and this really drew my attention to the lack of imaginative dishes on offer when we went out to eat. I also have a real love for vegetables and believe they should play much more of a central role in restaurant menus. I think our vegetarian menu really shows how a dish without meat or fish can be equally as flavoursome, innovative and exciting.
You have the typical wine pairings for the menus; tell me about the craft beer pairings.
The beer pairing was the idea of my restaurant manager Giancarlo Princigalli, who suggested it before we opened. I was slightly dubious about it at first, be he soon convinced me it was a good idea. We started to carry out a number of tastings which really got me thinking about how brilliantly beer would pair with certain foods, from light lagers all the way through to dark ales. It’s proved really popular ever since.
Tell us about CHEFstock.
This April will be the third CHEFstock event, which involves me collaborating with a different internationally-renowned chef every Tuesday throughout the month to create an eight-course tasting menu. This year I’ll be working with Marc Wilkinson and Nigel Haworth, both from the north of England as well as Sasu Laukkonen from Finland and Ricardo Camanini, who has a restaurant in Lake Garda in Italy. They’re all extremely talented, one-Michelin star chefs who will bring an entirely different feel to each evening. *
I understand you’ve travelled a lot, how has the travel influenced your style of cooking and dishes, if at all?
As someone passionate about food, everywhere I go gives me inspiration; so all the places I’ve been to have heavily influenced my cooking. I’ve spent a fair bit of time in the Far East so I use a lot of Asian flavours in my cooking such as my Miso, various forms of dashi and Asian spices. I’ve also lived in America for a time and was influenced by really good casual fine dining there. The classic southern fried chicken flavour is occasionally used in the menu.
Tell me about micro seasoning.
A micro season is simply a term used to define smaller ingredient and temperature seasons within the traditional four seasons. Each season spans three months therefore different ingredients come and go during that time. For example wild flowers, wild asparagus, garlic scapes, acorns and green walnuts. These ingredients are all around during single seasons but not for very long. I like these products because nature is forcing your hand and you have to jump at the chance to put them on the menu or else you then have to wait for the following year.
Do you have a signature dish?
It’s got to be the Devon ruby beef dish with grated raw turnips and beef croutons. It comes onto the menu from time to time with a number of seasonal variations. The Walnut Whip dessert is another one, it’s not on the menu at the moment but it’s still an old favourite.
Would you ever follow in your colleagues/mentors’ footsteps and pursue a career in TV?
There are TV opportunities that arise and as a chef you consider whether or not to take them dependent on the offer, but I would never set out to pursue a full-time career in TV. It can be good for business although a number of programmes these days are too contrived for my liking.
How has the popularity in cooking programmes and televised chef competitions affected the restaurant industry?
It’s had quite an impact on the industry but it’s a double edge sword. I think it’s one of the reasons so many kids start out the chef world thinking they can be TV superstars but without having to put in the hard work that’s required from the get go. On the other hand it does encourage people to work in the industry, which can never be a bad thing.
*To book a table for CHEFstock call the restaurant on 020 7183 6426 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. Tickets cost £150 to include a glass of Moet & Chandon champagne, canapés, water, coffee, petit fours and service charge.