John Williams After Hours

The executive chef of The Ritz talks to Imogen Lepere about his love of French cooking, his extensive library and the groundswell of love he felt on winning his first Michelin star

John Williams Photo

Where did you last go on holiday? What was the food like?

I last went to the South of France. In my mind a holiday hasn’t started until I’ve sat down in the sun with a bottle of rosé. At La Chèvre d’Or I had a beautiful tasting menu, but the thing that really stood out was a glass of Château d’Yquem dessert wine, which is the best in the world. At Mirazur, outside Monaco, the menu is full of floral flavour. The standout dish was scallop carpaccio.

What sort of food did you eat growing up in Tyneside?

My dad was a fisherman and he’d bring home bags of ‘fry’ – mixed fish that were too small to sell. Sometimes he’d bring langoustine claws, which we’d crack with our teeth and suck. Mum made lots of pies. Every time I taste blackberries it reminds me of them.

Which hidden gems do you take your brigade to eat?

Unfortunately the rents in Mayfair are too high for many small restaurants to survive, although a place called Indian Accent has just opened, which is good. I love the American Bar at The Stafford, which has a hidden courtyard where you can soak up some spring sun, and for food you can’t beat Alyn Williams at The Westbury.

What’s your favourite ingredient and how do you use it?

I love lemon verbena. Around 20 years ago you couldn’t buy it, so I’ve always had a bush my garden. It’s great with lobster.

What has been the proudest moment of your career?

It has to be when I won my first Michelin star last year. I’d been trying for 12 years and been so close for so long. When I went up at the ceremony, the room went ballistic because my fellow chefs knew how much it means to me and how long I’ve worked for it.

Who’s the most exciting chef in the UK right now?

Adam Smith, executive chef at Coworth Park. He worked with me for nine years. He has the capacity to take over The Ritz one day.

Which restaurants are on your hit list to visit?

I must get to Le Restaurant de l’Hôtel de Ville in Switzerland because many people whose opinions I respect tell me the food there is the best in the world. Flocons de Sel in Megève is also high on my list.

Which local suppliers do you particularly rate?

I love Goodwood Farm for pork and lamb. They also have herds of Jersey cows, and their cream and milk is stunning.

Where do you get your inspiration?

France. I still think the French are the greatest cooks. The Ritz is beautiful and has such an aura it also has a huge influence on my menus. I have a kitchen library which I consult when researching a new dish. On my desk I have works by Yannick Alléno, Peter Gilmore and Éric Fréchon.

We’re dining at The Ritz. What should we order?

Langoustine with lemon verbena sauce followed by roasted venison loin flavoured with grated nutmeg, ground clove and a little juniper. I’d have to finish with a Mont Blanc. This is a very classic dessert, but we change it every year. The only thing that is consistent is the style of the chestnuts. They’re puréed with rum, which is a flavour pairing I’ve had a love affair with for more than 30 years.

John Williams Photo

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