The chef at Primrose Hill favourite Odette’s tells us about his love of Welsh ingredients, foraged plants and after-work nosh-ups in Chinatown.
Bryn Williams became known to many of us when he beat off the competition to prepare the fish course for the Queen’s 80th birthday as part of BBC’s Great British Menu series in 2006. But chefs like Marco Pierre White had him marked out as a great chef way before that. After three years working with White at the Criterion, he took on Odette’s in Primrose Hill, where he serves a seasonal menu with a distinctively Welsh flavour. We met the chef at his north London restaurant and asked him ten crucial questions.
Where do you eat out?
I eat out in two different ways: first, with my family; second, as a chef. I go to the new openings with other chefs. But as a family man with my girlfriend and our daughter, we go to places that specialise in the kind of food we know we want to eat. Say we want steak: we always end up at L’Entrecôte on Marylebone Lane. If we want sushi, we’ll end up at Roka; and for Indian we go to Roti Chai, who serve absolutely amazing food.
What’s your favourite cookbook and why?
One of the first cookbooks I had was Marco Pierre White’s White Heat. That is the one I always go back to and have as a reference point. If you look at trends in food now and go back to White Heat you’ll see he’s bang-on. I think every decent, aspiring chef needs to have that book. Sometimes we can get carried away with different techniques and gels and all those kind of things, but White Heat is like returning to the backbone of proper cooking. Any time I see it in a charity shop, I’ll buy it. I’ve got three hardback copies in the office here and a paperback at home. I keep it in my office downstairs because I don’t want it to get dirty or have anything spilled on it.
What ingredients do you always have to hand?
All the obvious ones – salt, lemon juice, black pepper, olive oil, butter. Those are the classic ingredients, and you can’t do without them. They’re the building blocks of what we do. We use umami salt, which has got seaweed in it, and in the summer we’ll use rapeseed oil more, because it’s seasonal.
We use a lot of Welsh ingredients, but I’ll only use them if they’re of a certain quality. There’s no point using something that’s Welsh because I’m Welsh if it’s rubbish. It’s got to enhance something on a plate. So about 40 per cent of our ingredients are Welsh: meat, game, cheese and butter. People say it’s a PR stunt, but if you go into an Italian restaurant, the ingredients are Italian. I believe in some of the things I saw around me when I was growing up and, first and foremost, we use them because they taste better than anything else.
What’s your favourite food shop?
On a weekend I love to walk to Marylebone to The Ginger Pig and La Fromagerie. They’re next door to one another but, from a chef’s point of view, it’s just one big shop where you’ve got bread, meat, cheese. All they need is a little door between the two of them! Everything’s there: seasonal fruit and veg and the meat’s fantastic.
What’s your favourite food destination?
After work, Chinatown is the best place to go. You’re tired but you’re hungry, and so when we’ve finished in the kitchen we’ll get a taxi and all go down to Chinatown. It’s the kind of food you all share and tuck into, and if you’re not sure if you like something, you can always pick at it. You’re spoilt for choice, from dim sum to classic Chinese to chicken feet soup. We love it.
Do you have a particular food obsession at the moment?
At the moment I’m using a lot of wild food. I don’t like the word “foraged”, but we’re using a lot of wild plants from a forager. I come from a farming background and collecting food from the land and storing and preserving it for the winter was normal. It’s nothing new, except it has this word foraging attached to it. We use wood sorrel, sea beets, different kinds of samphire, and pennywort on fish and shellfish. When you come from the countryside you understand that it’s important that we use what grows on the land, because, if we don’t, they’ll get left behind and forgotten about.
Are there any chefs you’re currently excited about?
I really like Phil Howard at The Square. His style is very close to the Marco Pierre White kind of cooking in ethos, but he has his own style. I love going to The Square, because it’s classic but modern at the same time. I like that honesty – when you read the menu you know what you’re going to get.
Is there anything you never cook?
I like liver, heart, all that kind of thing, but when it comes to tripe – do I have to? I’ve cooked it once and I’ll never cook it again. I didn’t like the texture of it and I didn’t like eating it either. Thanks but no thanks.
Can you give us a cooking tip?
Don’t put too many things on a plate. Don’t think that the more you do, the better it’s going to be. Try to concentrate on three or four things and do them really really well. If you’re going to do a roast chicken, get the best chicken you can, do roast potatoes and a bit of broccoli with it and a bit of sauce – that’s enough. Keep it simple and clean, cook it properly, and take your time. You’re only as good as the food you serve and letting the ingredients talk is most important, so the best thing you can do is source good ingredients. Chefs call it sourcing, you call it shopping. Whatever you call it, get the best ingredients you can.
Do you grow anything yourself?
Only grey hairs! We have a little garden at Odette’s to grow mint and thyme – the usual suspects – but I’m not green-fingered at all. I don’t have the time but, saying that, I would love the opportunity and time to do it. Maybe one day.
Read this article as it originally appeared on FlavourFirst