What are you looking forward to most when cooking at the Goodwood festivals this summer?
I’ve worked with the Compass Group before, which does the catering for the racecourse. So when they asked me, I said yes instantly. Being a massive petrol-head as well, it was a no-brainer.
It will be a bit of a shop window for me. I will have two other chefs from Odette’s with me each day, so I’m going to try and bring a taste of the restaurant to the festivals – as I’m sure there’ll be plenty of people there who haven’t been to the restaurant.
The menus will each be seasonal, so the menu in June will be a little different to the menu people will get in September. However, in each case we’ll be serving breakfast, a three-course lunch, and an afternoon tea.
Main course dishes at the Festival of Speed, for example, will include monkfish with asparagus, gem lettuce and salted grapes, and a treacle-marinated beef fillet with fondant potato, mushroom and red wine shallots.
Cheese and pudding will include local artisan cheeses, vanilla yoghurt panna cotta with raspberries, and lemon curd or a savarin with Chantilly cream, pineapple and rum.
Ultimately, the aim is to make it a better event than it otherwise would be.
Work on your new restaurant, Bryn Williams at Porth Eirias, has been continually put back over the past couple of years. When is the opening likely to happen? And what kind of food offer can we expect?
It’s been a long time coming for numerous reasons. But as we stand, we are hoping to open sometime in June. The kitchen currently in the process of being completed, so things are happening.
The restaurant [part of a £3.7m waterfront development] is in a fantastic location right on the seafront.
We’ll be using seasonal ingredients, local to north Wales, and local beers. Because we are right by the sea, there will be more of a focus on seafood than meat. You can’t have a restaurant overlooking the sea and not serve good quality seasonal fish. We’ll have oysters from the Menai Strait, mussels from Conwy, and fishes on the main course will include things like whole turbots.
In other words, we’ll be using the sea as our friend and trying to showcase what north Wales has to offer, because that’s where I’m originally from. Eighteen years after leaving, I’m going back to my homeland to cook.
How is business at Odette’s?
Business has been good. But like anything, you’ve got to work really hard to stay at the top of your game – you never take it for granted. It’s constantly about trying to improve, trying to adjust to what the customers want. We are always talking to our customers, to see if we need to change and develop.
As a business, if you’re not trying to improve, you’re going backwards. It’s also about keeping the team moral high, and that’s down to a very good team in Jamie Randall, my head chef, and general manager Ryan Bonner.
When the Porth Erias restaurant opens, I’ll be dividing my time between the two sites.
Which chefs and venues are exciting you at the moment?
There are always new places constantly popping up in London. But I like the places that have real identity, like Le Gavroche and the Square [both in Mayfair]. These restaurants have been around for 20-odd years, but they just keep on getting better and better.
And that’s what we try and strive to be at Odette’s and what we’ll aim for at the new restaurant in Wales. We won’t be going with fashions, we’ll be going with good quality ingredients cooked well, and served well. Our ethos is very much about keeping on improving.
What food trends have caught your eye recently?
There have been a lot of restaurants popping up lately that just do one thing, and one thing well.
I quite like that, because when I go out to eat, I generally know what I want. If I want a steak, I’ll go to a certain restaurant, if I want sushi, I’ll go somewhere else. I like that idea that if you fancy a certain kind of food, you go to that particular restaurant.
So it’s all about really concentrating on one or two things, and maximising the flavours from that. It’s also a great way to keep costs down, because there is less stock sitting in fridges.
Another trend is the growth of barbecue food – open fire cooking really seems to be popular at the moment.
What the main challenges restaurateurs are facing in 2015?
Trying to keep costs down is always a challenge, so you can never take anything for granted.
The price of your menu will always be secondary to whether you are offering customers good value though, and that’s the hardest thing to maintain. Too many people think good value is about being cheap, but it’s not. Good value is about customers being happy about what they are given for the price they paid.
Much has been made of how difficult it is to recruit good chefs these days. How has your experience been?
I’ve been in London for 18 years, and to be honest, every year it gets a lot more difficult. Firstly, there doesn’t seem to be enough chefs to go around for the amount of restaurants we have in London. And then, more harrowingly, it’s the skill level. You get people claiming to be chef de parties, but they then struggle to take a fillet of salmon off the bone.
That’s why we now always take on one apprentice every year at Odette’s. We’ve had four apprentices in the last four years, and I’m happy to say they’ve all passed with flying colours – and they’ve all stayed on for at least 12 months before moving on.
Is the problem down to the quality of chef college courses?
I honestly don’t know. I do know, however, that I was very lucky in that I went to a very good college, Llandrillo, in north Wales. From there, I was sent to a Michelin-star restaurant for work experience in the Netherlands, so I had a very good experience.
Things might have changed now, but I think too many people are too quick to point fingers. There’s a lot of restaurateurs that will blame others, but at Odette’s, Jamie and I decided to take things in-house by training kids up ourselves.
I always try to look at the positive side of things. If I can’t control something, I don’t let it wind me up. If it’s true that the colleges are not doing their job, there’s not much we can’t do about it.
Finally, do you have any other plans in the pipeline?
I am just about to film the fifth series of a Welsh language TV cookery series, which I’m very proud about. But, apart from the Goodwood events, it’s all about concentrating on the food businesses.
The restaurant in north Wales has been on the burner for near-enough two years, so I’m looking forward to getting that up and running. Odette’s is my pride and joy though, and will always be a focal point for me.