Paul Williams, Sous Chef Pastry, Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons Oxford

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 2nd December 2010

Paul Williams is senior sous pastry chef at Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons, Oxford which holds two stars in the Michelin Guide UK and five rosettes in the AA Restaurant Guide.

In order to further his career and develop his skills, Paul leftLe Manoir and spent two years working in France. Upon his return he worked at the three Michelin star restaurant, The Waterside Inn, Bray, under Michel and Alain Roux.

>>> Alain Roux, The Waterside Inn, Bray

Paul returned to Le Manoir three years ago as my senior sous chef and has since contributed to the success of our unique operation. Here at Le Manoir we work at a high level of excellence and are always trying to exceed our guests expectations. Paul is crucial in setting and maintaining those extremely high standards, leading by example and ensuring that we meet them all across the pastry department. Paul is also helping to motivate and develop the pastry team. He works with Raymond Blanc and myself on menu and recipe development. Paul is developing into a manager's role and a strong professional.

>>> Read more from Benoit Blin here...

Today he talked to The Staff Canteen about his day-to-day role at Raymond Blanc's prestigious establishment. 

Paul, thank you very much for your time today.  I know it is always very busy here at Le Manoir and to get 15 minutes of your time is great.  Paul, can you start by talking us through your daily role, how long have you been here.

I am the senior sous chef in the pastry, there are two sous chefs under me; with a team of 12.

Paul Williams, sous chef pastry, Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons Oxford
Paul Williams

That is a bigger team than some kitchens!

It is.  It is a very generous department.  I have been with the company around eight years over two different stints. I joined in 1998 and spent four years in Le Manoir, always in pastry.

Where are you from originally, Paul?

North Wales. I started in a hotel there, and on my first day I was put in the pastry corner - nobody else wanted to do it but I got hooked.

Nobody else wants to do pastry?

That's right, it was a case of "Paul you're doing it".  Anyway, I rather liked it so I thought "When I leave that job I'm going to go somewhere good for Pastry." So then I found myself at Le Manoir.  Then after four years of being here I wanted to improve on my knowledge and my skills, so I decided to go to France.

Where abouts did you go in France?

I was in Orléans, in the centre of France and I did a stint near Limoges.  

So how did that job come about?  Was it because you had worked at Le Manoir?  Or was it something you found on your own?

I found it on my own, through taking the Relais & Chateaux book and just saying "Well, that looks like a nice hotel, I'll send my CV to them."

Paul Williams, sous chef pastry at two Michelin starred Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons, Oxford
Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons

But I guess having Le Manoir on your CV helps?

Absolutely.  Especially the French influence - the French training helped me a lot when I was over there.

What are your responsibilities in your current role?

My responsibilities are the day to day running of the section, especially when Benoit is not there. He often has other engagements that take him off and out of the kitchen, so I have to ensure that the standards are there every day on the pass. My main role is on the pass dressing the plates everyday for lunch and dinner.  Of course, I have lots of other responsibilities like health and safety and training.

How do you feel that you have improved as a person and a manager since you came to Le Manoir under Benoit and also under Raymond?

Paul Williams, sous chef pastry at two Michelin starred Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons, Oxford

Belmond Le Manoir

Aux Quat Saisons

In many ways and in many areas,  Le Manoir has given me a lot of managerial training; a MAP.  I don't know if you are familiar with that?

No, what is that?

A MAP is Management Assessment Plan - Personal Assessment. You are invited to give feedback and everyone is invited to give feedback of how you perform and how you manage people and with that feedback you create a plan of action. It was two years ago Le Manoir did that for all its managerial roles, and that has helped a lot in building strong management within the hotel.

And has that helped you in your role?

Yes, absolutely.  It has helped me identify the areas where I was weaker and then helped me improve on those. Le Manoir has given me a lot of skills through training too.  And the confidence you take from that is fantastic.

What has been your hardest single professional challenge since you have been at Le Manoir?  And how have you overcome that?

Well, there has been more than one challenge! (Laughter) Back in February 2010 I decided to enter Hotelympia. Le Manoir had sent me over for an artistic sugar piece training course over four days and from there I decided to do the Hotelympia competition.  It took me a month to do the sugar piece and I ended up achieving a Gold medal. I was very proud of myself for achieving that.

Paul Williams, sous chef pastry at two Michelin starred Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons, Oxford
Paul Williams

It is very detailed work sugaring, isn't it?  It's not something that everyone can do?  Was there other people here that could help you?

Yes, Benoit gave me a lot of help and guidance while I was doing it.  He, himself, is a Master of Sugar and Chocolate and the whole team supported me while I was doing it.

>>> There's lots of sugaring tips and tricks in our Pastry Chef features!

How much importance do you place on training in the development of yourself and your team?

It is very important. Putting aside the statutory training which happens every six months, we have appraisals every six months; and one to ones which focus partly on training as well.  After a member of the pastry has been here for two years (and every year after that), Le Manoir will send them to a school in France to teach them a new skill, whether it be sugar, like I did or a plated dessert course or a bread or cake course.

Do you think that some chefs are still guilty of saying "I don't want all the courses - I just want to cook!"  But there must be a real advantage because if you have got 12 people in the team - having 12 strong trained people in the team must be an advantage to your role?

Yes, absolutely.  What you will find is that because we have such a large team; because our staff retention is very good. We've got quite a lot of old timers - they have been around and have quite a lot of experience they will roll down the training to the young guys.

Does that help with consistency?

Yes and you get that continual training on the job. And what I am very keen on is pushing people, myself, to understanding not just how to cook everyday but it's the understanding that goes on behind, so that is why I encourage people to read books and understand what they are reading.  Harold McGee, Science of Cooking because anyone can follow a recipe.

Paul Williams, sous chef pastry at two Michelin starred Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons, Oxford
Belmond Le Manoir Aux Quat Saisons

What are you looking to gain from your time at Le Manoir? What do you want from it as far as your own personal development is concerned?

I'm working towards a competition in two years time - a very big competition.  It's called the MCA. Which is the French equivalent to the MOF.

And where do you want to be in five years?

In five years I see myself as a pastry chef in a hotel.

>>>Read more of our Heroes of the Hotplate series here...

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 2nd December 2010

Paul Williams, Sous Chef Pastry, Belmond Le Manoir aux Quat Saisons Oxford