Honest food and empty plates: a morning with Bryn Williams
Odette’s in London’s Primrose Hill may have three Rosettes, but for chef patron Bryn Williams it’s all about honest food and keeping it simple.
Having recently opened Bryn Williams at Porth Eirias on the North Wales Coast – close to his hometown of Denbigh – Bryn tells us more about his love affair with veg, the British food scene and why seasonality is everything.
How has the British food scene changed in recent years?
“The focus has returned to ‘less is more’. Seven years ago, it was all about complex purees and foams, but now it’s more about honest cooking, with imagination and flavour. It’s about keeping it simple and highlighting the ingredients.
“It’s also – thankfully – more about seasonality now. 95% of what we use in the kitchen is British. While supermarkets have played an important role in bringing lots of good food to the public, they have gotten rid of seasonality. You can get any ingredient at any time of the year – it’s like having Christmas every day!
“Seasonality is what it’s about. When something comes into season, it’s exciting. We’ve come full circle to how our grandparents used to do it. We preserve seasonal foods, we pickle it and ferment it, so we won’t have to order out of season. Seasonality shouldn’t be a PR word; it’s just how life should be. When it’s growing, eat it. If it’s not in season, it’s not meant to be.”
What is your favourite British ingredient?
“It’s a tough choice between Welsh lamb and scallops, but I have to go scallops. It’s the most amazing and simple raw ingredient – I just love prepping them and cooking them. We get our scallops hand-dived from the Scottish West Coast. I love diving and I’ve even dived for them myself in North Wales once; I’ve learnt what to pick and to respect the ingredient.”
How do you like to serve scallops?
“They’re so versatile! While they are delicious raw in the shell, my favourite recipe is Seared Scallops with Braised Chicken Wings, Jerusalem Artichokes and Hazelnut Jus.”
What would you drink with it?
“A classic choice would be a good Chablis, like the Guillaume Vrignaud Fourchaume Chablis 1er Cru. Another interesting option will be something more aromatic, with a hint of sweetness – like the Markus Molitor Haus Klosterberg Riesling. Scallops is a simple ingredient with a lot of flavour, so goes really well with a more complex wine.”
You’ve written a book ‘For the love of veg’ – tell us more about this love affair
“I do love veg. People tend to think vegetables are there just to fill the plate – the old ‘meat and two veg’ adage. But vegetables can be the hero of the dish. It’s a lot to do with how you prepare them. Instead of cooking them in a lot of water, rather salt bake, roast or steam your veggies to get maximum flavour.
“We grow our own vegetables in Wales for the restaurants, which has really taught me to respect these ingredients. It’s very hard work and you have to treat raw vegetables with the same respect you would meat or fish.”
What are the best and worst things about being a chef?
“The worst? You sometimes have to miss out on family occasions – you just can’t always get away. But the best thing? You meet amazing people. Your customers and people you work with become your friends.
“I've known I wanted to be a chef since I was 10. At school we visited the local bakery to learn how to make bread. I loved it and got a job at that bakery when I was 12. It’s great to see how something goes full circle, from raw ingredients to final product, like when you make bread.
“Being a chef, all I really care about is making people happy – an empty plate and someone saying ‘that was nice!’ is all I need. Being a chef is not rocket science: you pick from the earth, you cook it with your hands and you serve it. Food is the best way of showing love, affection and friendship. All you need is family, friends, good food and good wine – it’s quite simple, that’s life.”