How I got to where I am now:
I was always into food. My dad was a very good cook, he liked to grow his own vegetables and so we always had good food at home, so I liked the idea of being a chef, it was something I considered when I was at school but I didn’t get straight into it. I went to college in Walthamstow and from there I went to place called Les Alouettes in Claygate.
Les Alouettes was a really nice restaurant and the head chef had been the head chef at the Waterside Inn, so I received some great training. I then went on and worked at Le Champignon Sauvage for a bit. Like most young chefs, I did move around a bit, but those two places gave me a very good foundation, they were both technically very good and taught me a lot of what I know today.
My greatest achievement:
All of my achievements of the past year were great in their own way. The Michelin staris one of those things that chefs have in their sites as a benchmark and to achieve that is something really special because it’s obviously not easy to achieve.
Winning the National Chef of the Year competition at The Restaurant Showwas more of a personal goal of mine. It was my third attempt, I got through to the semi-finals a few years ago, and then I came second, and I just couldn’t settle for that.
I was never really into competitions and I don’t know if I’ll ever do one again. But I really enjoyed it, it was a great experience.
Coming 15th in Restaurant magazine’s National Restaurant Awardswas the most unexpected achievement, it never occurred to me that we would be that high up the list. I was glad to just be in the top 100 - that alone is a great achievement.
The NRAs were the day before the chef of the year competition, and we received three AA Rosettes a few weeks before, so that period was just full of great achievements!
The Michelin effect:
There are about 150 restaurants in the country with one Michelin star, out of a couple of hundred thousand or so establishments, so to be awarded a star lets you know that you’re at least on the right track.
The Michelin star’s impact at the Westbury was just huge, and it was literally overnight. Our bookings doubled in 24 hours - the very next day we had twice as many bookings for the month as we had the day before.
Throughout October, November and December, each week outdid the last, so we had a very good last quarter.
My biggest challenge:
Your entire career is filled with challenges; it’s a bit like running a hurdles race - none of them are 20ft high but you’ve got to put in some effort to get over all of them. I’ve had lots of hurdles along the way but they’re what you’d call calculated risks.
Over the last 15 years of my career, every decision I’ve made has been with a view to a goal. Early on, you just drift in and out of jobs and you’ll probably just go for jobs you like the look of. But at a certain point you start setting real goals and working out what you want to get out of it.
Working for Marcus Wareing (at the Berkeley) and Gordon Ramsay (at Royal Hospitality Road) was an incredible experience but I had a clear idea of what I wanted to get out of it. My goal was to become a sous chef and then from there head chef and from there opening my own restaurant – they were all mapped out fairly well in advance.
So the hurdles that I’ve overcome were hurdles I had been expecting.
What I love about restaurants:
Everything. I love food and I love hospitality. Almost every waking hour I’m thinking about what I do. It’s so consuming, it’s probably a bit like medicine in a funny way - we’re not saving lives but it’s vocational.
You’ve got to be 100 per cent dedicated to what you do. My bookshelves are filled with about four novels on and over 250 cookbooks which says a lot about what I do even when I’m not working - food is such a major part of my life.
What I don’t like:
I’m quite positive with my approach and I try not to dwell on things that are bad too often. But I never liked the over-aggressive nature of some chefs and some of the environments I’ve worked in have just been aggressive for the sake of it.
I’m not saying that I’m the best boss in the world but the environment that we work in here is more conducive to retaining staff and having happy staff – I take real pride in that.
Young people entering hospitality:
I was brought up in the '70s and it was far more dictatorial and discipline was harder then, which I think was a good thing. Without discipline you breed kids that don’t want to work so hard and all they see on the television are people who become celebrities for no other reason than the fact that the want to be called ‘celebrities’.
It’s a real shame because it doesn’t teach them that to succeed you have to put in hard work first. Success is 10 per cent talent and 90 per cent hard work. There’s a lot of hard work that goes in to becoming a head chef.
My advice for young chefs:
Never lose sight of what you want to do. We all hit walls and we all get frustrated but as long as you’ve got a clear enough focus on what you want to do then just don’t give up.
I’ve seen to many young chefs give young when the going gets tough but life’s like that. You’ve just got to face things head on.
Alyn Williams will be demonstrating at The Skillery during IFE13in March.