Meet the chef: Talking food with Daniel Kent of Wiltons
Chef Daniel Kent grew up enjoying the produce and home-cooked dishes from his native Yorkshire. Little did he know, he would soon be drawn towards the complex but exciting London culinary world and cook at institutions such as The Wolseley and Skylon. Since 2011 he has been heading up the kitchen at Jermyn Street favourite Wiltons. Food writer Ina Yulo sits down with Chef Kent to learn about how he tackles game season and the time he cooked grouse for Sir Terence Conran.
When did you realise you wanted to get into the hospitality industry?
I was working as a porter in a local restaurant in Beverley, East Yorkshire, and the Head Chef one day said that I was a quick learner and wanted me in the kitchen! I gave it a go and I caught the bug; the next thing I know I’m running the kitchen and taking up Catering at College and then a Hospitality degree at University as I always wanted to do higher education. I didn’t think I would walk out of university being a chef, but I just thought that maybe I could run kitchens a little differently from the shouty chefs that I grew up with. Here I am now, in charge of Wiltons with a young brigade of apprentices and young chefs learning the ropes.
How did you begin your relationship with the team at Wiltons?
A friend asked if I knew anyone who was looking for a head chef position here and as it happens I was looking for a new opportunity so I put myself forward and had to do a few interviews and a cook off and got the job. I was very unsure of Wiltons at first as it is a bastion of British hospitality and the people it has as its guests are quite special and I was daunted by that at first. I steadily got comfortable with this and found my niche here and started to develop links with suppliers and producers.
What do you enjoy most about coming in to work every day?
I’m incredibly proud of the young team we have and how we have taken on apprentices and they have flourished into great chefs and wonderful people, so working with them everyday is a real joy and sometimes a little struggle!? But when you see them smile about a job they’ve done or brought a new dish to you it’s very rewarding. I love the fact that I am now part of London’s dining fabric and I have the ability to ring suppliers and get products that are not easily available due to prices and be able to cook with them freely and know that we have guests that keep coming back for what we all do here.
How would you describe your cooking style?
I would say I have a very strong French influence and have used it to show off the best of British products.
What is your favourite game dish to cook?
Either pheasant, because I grew up with it, or hare.
How do you inspire your team to stay motivated and healthy?
I like going running in Hyde Park and encourage my team to join me. Times have changed and you’re no longer a manager, you’re a leader. You need to show by example. I like getting the whole team involved when it comes to trying out new things on the menu. I’m proud to say we don’t have a high staff turnover.
Reducing plastic waste is often seen as a real challenge. How have you empowered your team at Wiltons to take this on?
This is a real slow process as we have to look at everything we do and how we can change it. We started with our jackets as it was an easy decision, jackets made from plastic bottles in the North Sea our supply of fish; why would we not to start there! Trying to make the team responsible is a part of the way we have to run kitchens these days, it’s not about shouting at them but teaching and leading them so we go through what we are doing and why. Be this when they are doing a job and in a morning briefing we have to impart knowledge and help our colleagues buy into or feel they are responsible for what the Kitchen produces or in this case cares about.
What is your favourite meal to make for your family?
I make a delicious Polish soup for my wife and myself for our lunches on a weekly basis and its made with dried Polish mushrooms called ‘borowik’ which I or my father-in-law has picked, so it’s quite special. Otherwise I love to make a cep risotto or call the friends round and have Sunday roast.
Who is the guest you have been the most proud to cook for?
I think it must be when we were invited to cook for Sir Terence Conran’s 80th Birthday party at his home for about 200 guests, a bit of a who’s who guest list and we had to cook grouse!
Address: 55 Jermyn St, St. James’s, London SW1Y 6LX
Phone: 020 7629 9955