What are your earliest memories of being interested in food?
From the age of nine we lived in a very rural area, everyone used to grow their own fruit and veg so good fresh food for us was a way of life. There was so much produce grown that my mum would come back with bundles of fresh broad beans, runner beans, fresh peas, apples, rhubarb, new potatoes, and onions amongst other things.
What would you say has inspired your cooking the most?
As I mentioned above, when I was growing up, everything we ate was fresh, seasonal, homemade and very tasty, so I grew up thinking that this was the way it should be. There is a real emphasis on fresh ingredients in my cooking. My grandmother was a great cook too, she worked for the Earl Fitzwilliam in Yorkshire and used to entertain us with her stories from the kitchens during her days of service. She definitely inspired me.
Describe your culinary style…
My food takes inspiration from classic French cuisine. I spent a little time travelling over there, gathering inspiration and identifying their passion for quality artisan ingredients, as well as the way they respect and keep their traditions alive. I combine everything I learnt there with the best in seasonal English produce. We have some of the finest ingredients here but they really know what to do with them in France.
Your restaurant Seven Park Place maintained its Michelin star status for the sixth year running last year, what did this mean to you when you heard the news?
Obviously it is a brilliant feeling. Not only for me, but it is a great sense of satisfaction for the whole team involved at Seven Park Place and throughout the hotel, everyone has their part to play. It makes us feel proud and it is a reward for all the hard work everyone has put in over that year.
What kind of experience do you aim to give guests when you cook for them?
We aim to provide our guests with everything they would expect from an intimate Michelin star restaurant, offering them a unique experience, with fresh and contemporary ingredients. We also take great pride in the presentation of our dishes. We want our customers to feel relaxed and to enjoy their visit with friendly and informed staff; we never want our guests to feel rushed.
What are your most indispensable ingredients?
Lobster, scallops and lune valley lamb. They are always on the menu in one form or other. I vary what I serve them with depending on the season. Poached Lobster tail with cauliflower puree and perigord truffle, or Carpaccio of hand dived scallops with Jerusalem artichokes and white truffle are particular favourites.
What would you say has been the most memorable moment in your culinary career so far?
It would be 1998. I was working in my first Head Chef job at Michael’s Nook, where I got my first Michelin star in the January of that year. Six months later, Ramsay famously walked out of the Aubergine with all of his team. The Aubergine owner had lunch at Michaels Nook’s and offered me the job there and then. I remember on the first day, it was just me in the kitchen and Pierre Baldelli, the Restaurant Manager. The next day the staff started to arrive and we began to build our teams. I stayed for over 10 years and retained the Michelin star from year one.
If you could go back in time, what advice would you give your younger self, starting out a career in the world of food?
I would tell myself that the world of food is not a ‘get rich quick’ business. You need to be prepared to stay in each role for a good length of time, to learn as much as you possibly can. I would also tell myself to keep my head down, listen and learn as much as possible and don’t rush to become a head chef too young, you need to take your time and learn to deal with the pressures.
What’s next for you/What projects do you have lined up?
I have recently launched a new Truffle and British Game Degustation Menu, which is a seasonal celebration of what I believe to be some of the finest ingredients and exciting combinations of these two decadent food types. I’m working with one of my all-time favourite suppliers for this: John Holdsworth of Cornvale, who I’ve known well for over 20 years and supplies me with some of the very best game and meat in the country.
I am constantly on the look out for new food trends, and am always up to date with seasonal produce. I like to keep the menu current and contemporary; there are always new things to learn with food and cooking.
What is your guilty pleasure?
This time of year, I like to put together some nice eggs which have been stored with white truffles, scrambled, finished with cream and served on a nice thick slice of hot well buttered toast for breakfast; not a bad way to start the day off!
What restaurant is currently at the top of your list to dine at?
When I get some time I would like to go to Fäviken in Sweden, the food is truly pure and seasonal.
Find out more about Willaim and Seven Park Place