john williams | chef at the ritz
John Williams MBE is Executive Chef at the legendary Ritz Hotel in London, where he oversees the Michelin-starred restaurant. One of the nicest chefs around, John has also just published the first ever Ritz cookbook, The Ritz London: The Cookbook full of the restaurant’s signature recipes.
Where do you live in London and what do you love about the area?
Well I technically live just outside London (but still within the M25!) in the village of Aldenham. I turn left out of my house and I hit the golf course, the village, and two fields which are over a kilometre long. It’s the most calming thing driving through the fields to my home, I feel as if I’m in the middle of the countryside. On weekends, I like pick figs, blackberries, apples, pears… anything in season, with my daughter and her dog, who is a real gourmet!
Photo: Ben Wright Photography
You’ve had a long career as a chef – where did your love of food come from and how did you get into cooking?
I’ve loved food for as long as I can remember. When I was at school, I remember refusing to go to school dinners as the food was lousy. I was one of six children and I used to go home at lunch as I hated the school food. I think that shows you my determination for what I liked from a very young age. Apparently, when I was about 3 years old I used to steal the rusks from my twin baby brother and sister and hide under the bed eating them!
My passion for food started at a really young age by helping my mam at home in the kitchen where I discovered the enjoyment of flavour. I have always been interested in trying new foods and tasting different flavours, and my love of food has been an evolution which began here. When I was 14 years old and at South Shields College, I put my hand up to do cooking classes and be taught by a chef. 5 other boys joined me. This was quite unique in those days. I then applied for a job at the Percy Arms Hotel in Otterburn, which was my first job as a cook and started my career. I then decided that I needed to move to London as I wanted to cook with luxurious and expensive ingredients and while I was qualifying as a Chef at Westminster College in London, I started work at the Royal Garden Hotel in Kensington.
You’re currently at The Ritz and recently won a Michelin star. Was that a career highlight and what’s it like to work at one of the most famous hotels in the world?
It’s certainly a career highlight. I am very proud of the fact that we’ve got the star. Michelin is still the rubber stamp of approval and it’s a very special feeling. I always say that walking down the Long Gallery makes me feel like a millionaire (it’s the only time though!). You have to have pride.
What advice would you give young to chefs just starting out today?
Do an apprenticeship.
Work in the very best establishments under the very best Chefs.
Be brave. And be humble.
What would you do on your perfect day in London?
I think my perfect day in London would be a hot summer’s day in late August, and I would enjoy a very long lunch on The Terrace of The Ritz Restaurant with my future wife! I’ve only dined in The Restaurant 3 or 4 times since I’ve been the Chef here. My menu would be dishes from The Ritz London: The Cookbook – I’d start with Langoustine à la nage; followed by Fillet of Turbot with baby leeks and morels; Roasted Grouse with blackberries, ceps and juniper; Hazelnut Semifreddo and finally Soufflé Grand Marnier. For me there is nothing better than sharing good food in good company.