Patrick Williams, owner and head chef, Soul Food

The Staff Canteen

Patrick Williams always wanted to be chef and has worked with the likes of Marco Pierre White and Richard Neat back in the 80's.

Patrick rose to prominence in the late 90's appearing on numerous television shows and became a celebrated author with his book, The Caribbean Cook. His first solo venture was with the Terrace in the centre of London in Lincoln Inn Fields before moving on to his latest venture, Soul Food, in London's Borough Market.

At Soul Food Patrick combines his love for modern British food but with a Caribbean twist enticing his customers to try dishes that are both incredibly versatile yet familiar.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Patrick to discuss his love for Caribbean cuisine, what it was like working with Marco Pierre White, why Caribbean food should be more mainstream and why no one in Britain quite knows what a yam is! Fish prawn wrap patrick williams low res

Working with Marco Pierre White

What was the atmosphere like in the kitchen working alongside Marco Pierre White?

An integral part of my learning was at the Canteen and the Criterion. It was intense, but when you walk into those kitchens you know what to expect. You go in and you push as hard as you can all day. You start at about seven and you don’t leave until about 12 or one until the kitchen is spotless. You’re stretched for the whole day worrying about stuff. When you’re in service invariably you’re in the shit and you’re under constant pressure meaning you get into more shit and more abuse which ultimately leads to more stress. You’re in a pressure cooker all the time. It can be a nightmare but you know what you’re getting in to and that’s what makes you who you are.

There’s two ways you can go about it, you can either fail or succeed and there’s no in-between. If you don’t want to do it you can always go and work at Garfunkels. It’s a military operation and for that level of cooking you’ve got so much going on, you’ve got to get your scallops out, the black ink risotto, and you're meant to be cooking all of these things at once and there’s obviously no help. Everyone’s watching you go down and whilst you’re going down you’re getting pinned for bringing the whole kitchen down because if your starter is slow coming out it has a knock on affect for the rest of the kitchen. It was a really good and an enjoyable time though.patrick quote

Becoming a chef and career to date

What made you want to be a chef?

Who knows, I did home economics at school and really liked it. It was a time when boys did cookery and needle work and the girls did metal work and wood work. I was rubbish at metal work and wood work by the way and I was also rubbish at needle work but I was really good at cooking. So by the time I was 14 that’s what I wanted to do.

Tell us more about SoulFood?

We trade at Borough Market and I’m trying to do a take on modern Biritish food but with a Caribbean twist. I’m trying to bring the two elements of me being a black Briton with a Caribbean heritage into the mix. Having been fed school dinners then going home to a Caribbean feast for dinner cooking for me growing up was kind of a combination of both of my heritages. So at the base of my cooking there is always going to be a bit of Caribbean soul in whatever I’m doing, whether that’s through a bit of seasoning or perhaps some spices. Invariably the classic French side of things will also be in there at the same time and I try mixing all of it together which is what we’re trying to do at Soul Food, we’re trying to put a bit of Caribbean, a bit of African and a bit of American loosely in there and that’s what I like in cooking.

Why did you choose to go down the street food route?

Because you can express yourself a hell of a lot better. Stuff like fried chicken is not always readily available in town at a good standard, hence why we do what we do but sometimes we may try some lobster or calamari or curry goat with rice and peas, it just depends on what we have. jerk chicken patrick williams low resWe try to be as seasonal as we possibly can but at the same time we need to focus on what the customer wants because sometimes you can be a bit too cheffy and people don’t actually like what you do with the food. We tend to stick to what people know and like which is good fresh food, locally sourced through the market.

Caribbean and African inspired food

Caribbean and African inspired food and dishes are definitely becoming more popular in British culture, why do you think this is?

I think now that other cultures have been here they’re starting to sit up and take notice but I think it should have happened a lot sooner than what it has. If you look at Indian food for instance, it’s gone through the roof and it’s been like that ever since I can remember. People always want to go to the pub and they always want to go for an Indian and I don’t see any difference between Caribbean and Indian food apart from what part of the world you’re from. It’s all peasant and box food, whether its potato or yam or rice based. Caribbean food should have been a lot further along the line than where it is and perhaps I could have even played a bigger role myself.

What’s different about your dishes to other Caribbean cuisine?

What I try to do is dispel the myth that all Caribbean food is spicy hot because you get different flavours depending on the island. I would say jerk chicken, curry goat and maybe oxtail are the most popular dishes people know and tend to go for. Things like the pickled pig trotter found in the south is absolutely gorgeous in the summer. I think what I try to do is make it more accessible, so people can understand it a bit better. We do a yam rosti with oxtail, for the oxtail we pick it off of the bone, put it into a ladle, mould it, wrap it in crepinette, roast it off and stick it on top of the yam rosti. No mainstream chefs are using yams in their kitchens, why? We used to make yam dauphinoise at the Terrace, we would bake it and press it and make whatever shape you cut it in and that’s it. That’s how I started to introduce it to people over the years, just very softly and not trying to scare people.

What is your favourite ingredient?Lobster ackee patrick williams low res

That’s a good question, I do like working with lobster and I do enjoy working with fish and shellfish in general. Also ginger and fresh turmeric, I think pimento seeds and allspice are completely under used. In pimento seeds you obviously have nutmeg, cinnamon and clove all in one which is fantastic! There are just so many things I could be here forever!

What is your favourite dish from your menu?

Curry goat, rice and peas - if you cook your rice and peas properly it can be absolutely legendary. You need to soak your peas and then for your rice you need to use a stock with some kidney beans and whilst they’re cooking you add in fresh coconut. We grate the fresh coconut and then we soak it and squeeze out all of the milk using that as our liquid to cook the coconut and to cook the peas in. So then you get a shed load of thyme, ginger, bay leaf, and scotch bonnet. The scotch bonnet goes in whole and you cook that for as long as it takes.

When you’re cooking your kidney beans obviously the liquid goes purple and then you add your basmati rice which you then cook with your peas. So you get a really good perfume of ginger, a little chilli going through there and some thyme, but the coconut is still the key ingredient that comes through. The curry should be slow cooked for a couple of days and I only really use the shoulder, whether its goat, lamb, whatever curry I'm doing, shoulder is my favourite cut.

Sourcing ingredients

So how easy is it for you to source the ingredients you use?

The majority of what we get comes from Borough Market but we also use other suppliers like Paul Wheelers, Grovers and green grocer supplier at Borough Market. We use Ginger Pig for a majority of our meat and we also use SussexFish. There’s a guy from Sussex Fish that uses his boats to go out and catch the fish which he then sells at Borough Market. So 90% of our produce is sourced at Borough Market. Patrick williams

Would you ever go back to having another restaurant?

I would definitely 100% like to do something else but under the Soul Food flag. Next time I want something a bit more bistro brassiere. I want people to come in and receive great service but within a less formal atmosphere. I want them to receive great service, great food (which is what you get whenever you come to me!) and some great sourced wine. I just want to have a bit more fun because sometimes we do get a little carried away with ourselves. I think that’s what a lot of places are losing, you lose sight of the actual customer because they’re just thinking about the money.      

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The Staff Canteen

Editor 12th January 2016

Patrick Williams, owner and head chef, Soul Food