Alyn Williams is a tough chef, or so he’d have you think. Owner of one Michelin star and in his fourth year at Alyn Williams at The Westbury; Alyn isn't one to take any nonsense.
Alyn, however, has a softer side. He’s one of those chefs that once you’re in his brigade then you are one of his gang and he’ll stand right by you through thick and thin. I had experienced this a few months back when I staged in his kitchen, and having proved myself, was welcomed back into his kitchen to observe service and have a chat.
But you've got to look the part.
“I had this new guy come in for service one evening in red clown's trousers and he thought he looked the business," Alyn told me at the pass.
"I sent him straight home to get changed and he never came back. You can tell a lot about a chef from their appearance. He wanted to stand out from the rest of the team, and that’s not the way to be in my kitchen.”
But while Alyn keeps a tight ship, his loyalty to his brigade is obvious.
A good example of this was when one of his commis chefs, Alice, had ruined a batch of truffles just before service and had gone to his office in tears to him, but all he said was: “I thought you were going to tell me something awful had happened. They’re only Chinese truffles!”
Alyn Williams is great fun and I hadn't expected a Michelin starred chef to have been so approachable and down to earth when at work. I figured they were largely serious types with frowns and fire coming out of their ears – at least that’s what the TV image tries to get you to believe.
Alyn, all grins as dinner service started, told me another story about his son’s birthday party food, which he’d chosen to cook off in the kitchen using his then new Thermodyne slow cooker.
“I got mine (slow cooker) a few years back, and tested it for my son’s birthday party,” Alyn explained, “We cooked sausages, burgers and pizzas, and put them in the Thermodyne oven gradually to keep things at our pace.
“It keeps a perfect temperature, a little like how a radiator works. They’re amazing things, really. We accidently left some of the burgers in there for something like nine hours, and they were still perfect when we dived in to save them!”
Alyn is an advocate for technology in the kitchen, but only if it knows its place. His menu is modern French and European, but steaks are pan-fried and nowhere near the sous-vide machine. His bread is classic and made daily in a separate bakery upstairs. Chefs put there are not always pastry chefs and are taught the recipes from scratch.
I was handed a bacon sarnie made by one of the commis chefs for staff dinner, who looked thrilled to have been given the task. Alyn told me that he prefers his youngsters to gain experience and small successes in real kitchens rather than get through extended stints at college.
“I’d say two years max at college. You need to get in the kitchen. But it’s important not to overwork your trainees, as endless hours will lead to things becoming mundane. You have to keep the passion alive, and nurture it.”
And nurture is exactly what he does. Alyn’s door is always open, even when his beloved West Ham United are playing on the office TV. Just like the Thermodyne and Sous-Vide machine, it has a part to play in Alyn’s kitchen. Just as long as the food comes first, and flashy attire is left at home.