10 Minutes with: Ben Murphy, The Woodford

The Staff Canteen

Winner of the Young National Chef of the Year in 2012, Ben Murphy has returned from France to open The Woodford. He is known as a Pierre Koffmann protégé and has now become head chef at just 25 years of age. We talked to Ben about his journey so far, the new restaurant and what he has in store for diners.

Ben started out at Westminster Kingsway College, leaving school at 16 to study catering. Here Ben's relationship with French cookery first began, he learnt the basics of the style and has not looked back since. "Every chef I have worked under has been French," said Ben. Leaving college he went straight into the kitchen of Pierre Koffmann, who would have a great influence on his career, adopting Ben as somewhat of a protégé. "It's all been directed by Pierre really," explained Ben. While rising through the ranks in Koffmann's kitchen, Ben entered, competed and won the 2012 Young National Chef of the Year competition, he said: "You get feedback that your food is as good as some of the guys at the senior level...it makes you wonder why we weren't competing against them."

Despite winning one of the most prestigious awards a junior chef could hope to win in the UK, Ben did not rest on his laurels. "I did three years at Pierre Koffman's restaurant, then he sent me to the South of France" said Ben. Ben moved to the Michelin-starred restaurant of Michel Guerard, where Ben admits: "I got bullied a bit...just because I didn't understand the language." Ben characterised the food at Guerard's as classical perfection, he felt a need to try more modern cuisine and moved to Paris after nine months. Having moved to Eric Frechon's triple Michelin Star Epicure, Ben felt he was really cooking at the top level. He said: "The cleaning and organisation is taken to another level, to the point where its obsessive... even if you know a spot is clean, you'd clean it again."

Spending two years exactly at Epicure, Ben described his time in France as a period of 'hibernation', saying: "I was going to spend some time there, learn the French classics, then return to London - and bam!" Given Paris's generous working day rules, Ben found himself with more time on his hands than he knew what to do with, eventually appearing on BBC2's Chefs on Trial. Reaching the final of the TV competition, Ben described the experience: "It was a completely different pressure, in a three Michelin star kitchen you have about 45 chefs...but on Chefs on Trial it was just me, alone." After moving back to London permanently, Ben began working for his fourth and (for now) final French chef, Arnod Bignon, at the Greenhouse in Mayfair. Ready to take the next big step in his career, Ben prepared for a move to America, receiving numerous offers to work in New York. However, it was then in October last year he was first approached by the Woodford. "They had an idea of what they wanted to do already, but I only wanted to do it if I could do my own food," said Ben.

Ben is now the head chef of the gourmet restaurant at just 25 and is learning his new responsibilities on the job. "I got thrown in the deep end, which is what I like," Ben explained. "I'm now learning everything that happens behind the scenes... I'm seeing all the ordering, how much dishes cost and what the margins are." Ben's style of food is modern, but based on the classic French techniques he has spent years mastering.

Now able to fully express himself creatively, Ben considers the Woodford's 'pork three ways' a signature dish. "We cook the pork belly for 36 hours, we have a loin and then we make pork crisps - which is a very Koffmann technique," said Ben. While Ben is excited to express his own style at the Woodford, he readily admits that the influence of the chefs he has worked under is plain to see."I have also taken inspiration on a soufflé, I remember Koffmann's pistachio soufflé, here we do a pineapple soufflé with sambuca and passion fruit" said Ben. Ben has had a busy few months with the opening of the Woodford, but we asked him what the future might have in store for him, he said: "I'd like to achieve a Michelin star this year or the following year... [but] I do want my own restaurant when the time is right".

In the near future, Ben is returning to the National Chef of the Year, this year hoping to get his hands on the senior trophy. He said:  "I finished the forms just now in fact, I hope that goes as well as the one I did before!" By Charlie Calderwood

>>>Related: Koffman chef Ben Murphy to open first restaurant in March

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Editor 25th March 2016

10 Minutes with: Ben Murphy, The Woodford