Celebrating ten years at The Ritz: John Williams MBE

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th July 2014
In June John Williams MBE celebrated ten years as the executive chef of The Ritz. It has been ten years of careful and gradual modernisation whilst at the same time maintaining the hotel’s crucial link to the past. The Staff Canteen caught up with him to find out what he feels he has achieved and what more he wants to accomplish at one of the world’s great hotels. How does it feel to have been ten years at The Ritz?Chef Williams When they told me it was ten years, I couldn’t quite believe that time had passed so quickly. I don’t think there have been many Chefs at The Ritz to achieve this tenure so naturally I’m very proud of this. The Ritz fits with who I am and I feel very comfortable here within this environment. That being said I certainly don’t feel like my job is done here, so whilst I’m comfortable and proud, there’s still a bit of work to do and it will remain like that for as long as I am the Chef here. In ten years is it possible to pick out some of the stand out moments for you? It’s a difficult one, there are so many, but on a day to day basis, if a service has gone well, and the team have performed to the best of their ability, that alone is a great feeling. I’ve been fortunate enough to have cooked for numerous state functions - to cook for the Queen is an incredible experience. I am royalist at heart, and a great fan of the Prince of Wales; his understanding of food is excellent. I have watched him pick out dishes and really understand them. I was with him at the Mutton Renaissance and his palate and ability to detect flavours was excellent. Do you remember the feeling when you first arrived at The Ritz ten years ago? It felt extremely comfortable. As an establishment it is smaller than Claridges, where I was coming from, I just wanted to improve the quality of the product. It takes time but it was the right move for me, it felt like home immediately. What makes The Ritz so special? Every hotel has its strengths but I do think The Ritz is a very special British Palace Hotel.  We focus on being the Best of British in every way, cooking Haute Cuisine food: I much prefer that expression to ‘fine dining’, as ‘fine dining’ is used so loosely these days. I recall a time that I wanted my chefs to emulate the true beauty of the hotel within the food, the best possible way I could do this was to take the whole team up to the restaurant prior to service and remind them of the opulence of the room in which their food was received.  Instantly there was an understanding of how truly special this hotel is, and that they are part of that, it really inspired them. Salmon, avocado and grapefruit sabayonHow important has The Ritz been as a training centre for the cheffing talent of the future? We’re producing a lot of fantastic chefs and we have a lot of young cooks coming here, whether it’s through an apprenticeship scheme or whether they’re chef de parties or sous chefs; they come here and they get some excellent training. We are the only Palace five star Deluxe Hotel in London who actually cater for all outlets – all the others have outside chefs running their restaurants. I am fully supportive of my team entering cooking competitions, the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts’ Annual Awards of Excellence is a great one and each year we have people throughout the F&B outlets entering and succeeding. In short, I am just making sure that The Ritz produces some great cooks of the future. Can you tell us a bit about the new Ritz Academy? The Ritz Academy will be for young trainee managers; they will come to the hotel for a three-year Lamb Belle Epoqueperiod and train in each department throughout the hotel. It will be a very practical course allowing the managers to gain hands on experience. It will also allow us retain our own staff; if you’re training people  into the spirit of The Ritz and if a person has the values of The Ritz, trust me, everything else is so simple. We believe in ten years’ time the Ritz Academy will have produced some great managers of the future. Another ten years? Absolutely! I’ve certainly got no desire to move anywhere else. Do you want a Michelin star? Well, what chef doesn’t want a Michelin Star?  Right now we have excellent ingredients, a brilliant team of chefs, we’ve had some cracking feedback from critics and bloggers, and by the end of the summer we will have a great new kitchen too – we’re in a great place and I’m happy with that. As for Michelin, time will tell. Salad of QuailDo you see yourself ever retiring or do you think you’ll always work in the industry in some form or other? Well I’ve been doing it for 40 years, and if you look at my history I’m not a man that moves around too often when I know something is good.  This is the pinnacle of what I want to do in cooking, and it’s not finished yet! Watch our video with the man himself and see him in action at this prestigious London venue:

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 4th July 2014

Celebrating ten years at The Ritz: John Williams MBE