WIN: A signed copy of The Ritz London The Cookbook by executive chef John Williams

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th September 2018

COMPETITION NOW CLOSED.

The Ritz London is legendary and so is its executive chef John Williams MBE.

From humble beginnings in the north east town of South Shields to controlling one of the most iconic kitchens in the world, who better than John to tell the story of the food and service of this opulent hotel?

The Ritz London The Cookbook launched today and The Staff Canteen editor, Cara Houchen, spoke to the Michelin-starred chef about showcasing the service not just the food at The Ritz, preserving haute cuisine and hopefully creating a new Escoffier for this generation of chefs.

WIN: A signed copy of The Ritz London The Cookbook by executive chef John Williams

The Ritz Cookbook cover low res

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“It was moment of pride,” said John Williams when I asked him how it felt to hold the first copy of The Ritz London The Cookbook in his hands. “It was very important to get the right tone – I wanted it to be professional and a book that a lot of people could read.

“Is it cheffy? Yes, it is cheffy in places but there are also very deliberate simple recipes in there for the home cook to tackle as well.”

The book is beautifully nostalgic and no more so than the opening line which refers to a young John in 1985 looking in the window of The Ritz and thinking he would like to work there one day. Would he have believed then, he would be the chef to publish The Ritz cookbook?

“Never, it is quite incredible. Heading up Claridges before The Ritz means that for the past 24 years I’ve been in charge of the two best London hotels there are as far as food and beverage is concerned. So, I’ve been very fortunate, and I’ve stayed with them which tells you a lot…. and Claridges is just a good second-best hotel now,” he laughed.

john williams quote

What John really wanted to do by publishing the book was to reveal what it takes to cook the dishes in The Ritz and to highlight how these dishes showcase the service element.

He said: “That was very important to me and I think that comes across.

“I think there have been a lot of misinterpretations of the fundamental classics and I’m glad to be able to write them down in the book and educate people, so they can do more of them because they are dishes which are absolutely fantastic.”

He added: “There are some laborious recipes, there’s no doubt about that but with a little bit of organisation and a little bit of planning, they can still be done. The reality of it is you do have to remember that there is a brigade of chefs here at The Ritz, putting things together and it’s done in a very specific fashion.

RITZ GullEggs 7750 low res

Soft boiled gull eggs features

in The Ritz Cookbook

“I’ve always pushed tableside service here, it’s something which is dying but not here. And it’s making us unique which is adding a string to our bow.

“The service is something which is very important to me. The dishes showcase the service and that’s what makes them so special.”

He joined the hotel as executive chef in 2004 and he admits he has a very singular vision for the restaurant which is executed by the whole hotel team. He wanted contributions to the book to be from every area in the Ritz from the bar to the room service to afternoon tea.

“I wanted a Ritz book and I wanted The Ritz to show off,” said John. “The Ritz is not about one man and I tell everyone that everything starts in the restaurant. Everything else follows on from the style of the restaurant. The moment you try and supersede that it slaps you in the face.

“It’s all well and good the cook jumping up and down and saying you’ve got a little bit of my soul but the reality is the service staff will always create the atmosphere, the finishing touch and make the guest say ‘wow, that was spectacular’.

“Chefs don’t pay homage enough to the service staff, the book is about getting our style out there and letting everybody know it’s not just about John Williams, there is a massive team of people helping to make this work.”

Obviously, Escoffier is cited regularly through the book, a consultant chef in the early days of The Ritz and admired by John as ‘the most forward-thinking chef of all time’.” Can, The Ritz Cookbook by John Williams MBE, be the next Escoffier Le Guide Culinaire?

“If anyone was to put a fingerprint on this book for something like that, that would be the highest thing that I could actually wish for,” said John. “People often say you can tell the age of a chef by the quality and the style of the sauces because not enough people are doing them now. It’s something we have got to be careful not to lose. But you must remember there is an evolutionary practise from Escoffier, he was a very forward-thinking man and a lot of his recipes are still used in a slightly changed way but they all come from Escoffier.

tomato elixir low res

Tomato Elixir

The Ritz Cookbook

“Food will always evolve; my food has evolved but the principles of his cooking and the style of some of the stocks and sauces obviously lay foundation of what that cooking is about. That is something which stays at The Ritz and what we have to do is make the food relevant for the modern-day diner.

“But without doubt there has to be that little bit of legacy to make sure haute cuisine does stay alive in the modern kitchen.”

John explained that he has hundreds of recipes from his time at The Ritz and he chose to include ‘his favourites’.

“As a Ritz cookbook I was very much aware that I had to show off different areas of the hotel,” he explained. “So, there are one or two dishes from breakfast, afternoon tea, room service, the bar, private dining but the big majority of recipes are from the restaurant.”

He added: “Everyone said it’s a lot of hard work to write a book, but I found it a breeze. You have to remember I have a big team here, who wanted to get involved, it’s not a one man show and it’s quite important to get that across.”

The book is a cover to cover showcase of decadent food and service, an insight into a hotel which is an institution. And although there is a glimpse of the chef behind it, it is obvious John has a lot more stories to tell… so will there be a volume two?

“There’s definitely another book in me and if people like this style of book there will be one. You can’t be so bold as to say, ‘yes I’ll definitely write another one’, people need to want you to write one first,” he laughed.

 

 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 6th September 2018

WIN: A signed copy of The Ritz London The Cookbook by executive chef John Williams