The inaugural event in Arena’s ‘An Audience with…’ series took place on the evening of Wednesday 8 February at The Ritz. And, there couldn’t have been a more stunning and fitting venue for the exclusive, sell-out event. The well-known and respected culinary force headlining the evening was The Ritz’s executive chef, John Williams MBE.
Take a look at the attendee list for this event.
The inaugural event in Arena’s ‘An Audience with…’ series took place on the evening of Wednesday 8 February at The Ritz. And, there couldn’t have been a more stunning and fitting venue for the exclusive, sell-out event.
The well-known and respected culinary force headlining the evening was The Ritz’s executive chef, John Williams MBE.
The first-class mix of venue and speaker ensured that tickets to the event sold out very quickly. Over 60 hospitality professionals gathered to connect with industry colleagues, entertain customers and special guests, and hear what John had to share about his illustrious 40-year career and industry experiences.
Attendees also had the pleasure of experiencing the exceptional hospitality and impeccable service given by the team at The Ritz.
The event and speaker attracted a number of esteemed and celebrated chefs, including Brian Turner CBE, the president of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, Mark Flannagan MVO, the royal chef and assistant master, catering – master of the household’s department at Buckingham Palace, Simon Young, the executive chef of the Jumeirah Carlton Tower, and Nick Vadis, Compass Group’s culinary director.
On arrival, guests were welcomed into a drinks reception in the Marie Antoinette Suite, where they interacted over a glass of fine Bottega Prosecco, courtesy of Matthew Clark. They also enjoyed their first taste of John’s culinary flair and talent as canapés that were both delicious to the taste buds and the eyes were served.
Dinner was served in The Music Room, a spectacular private dining room with high gilded ceiling and an imposing fireplace. Nick Bromhead, The Ritz’s food and beverage manager, gave a brief history of the room to give a feel of the splendour of the surroundings. Sitting within William Kent House (the house next door to The Ritz that was bought in 2004) and dating back to 1744, it was used for choral practice due to its great acoustics.
John Williams and his brigade demonstrated beyond doubt that they deserve their great culinary reputation and Michelin star as they treated guests’ palates to an exquisite three-course meal. The atmosphere was uplifting as they tucked into Zephyr of sole tout Paris and Cutlet and fillet of lamb with aubergine, artichoke, olive and basil jus, followed by Amadei chocolate mousse coconut and mint. The food was complemented by excellent wine, expertly paired to each course by Matthew Clark, and the attentive service of The Ritz team.
Following dinner, John Williams, dressed in his chef whites, took a break from the kitchen to share his incredible career story.
Delivered with his infectious North-East charm, John took his audience on an entertaining and enlightening tour of how his career brought him to The Ritz. His story, which is one of talent, determination, motivation and an obvious love of the industry, inspired laughter and respect in his audience.
Guests heard of the son of a fisherman who was introduced to food at a young age, helping his mum when his dad was away at sea. The food he enjoyed as a young boy, including jersey royals and seasonal strawberries that have never hit the fridge, are still the flavours he loves today. At age 14, in an era when men didn’t really cook, he began a course at South Shields Technical College, and inspired by his lecturer and the Galloping Gourmet he went on to take an apprenticeship at a small hotel, where his first job was plucking grouse.
The ambition and verve of the confident young man took him to London and the Royal Garden hotel, where he made a real impression and his career took off. His hotel career took a break when he ran a restaurant and honed his skills of running a kitchen and a business. However, deciding his future was in hotels, he became executive sous chef at Claridges, rising to head chef over nine years.
In the 80/90s, Claridges was the place to be and, stood in The Ritz, John declared it: ‘Without doubt, the second-best hotel…’ He shared incredible stories of the excessive demands and requests of the extremely wealthy guests, particularly during the American social season, and spoke fondly of his time at Claridges, describing it as a most joyous time of life, where he delighted in serving the quality that he had always dreamed of.
Since first seeing The Ritz, aged 19, he had always been fond of it, and this is exactly where his career took him. He joined the fine establishment with a remit to control costs to make money and to cook the best quality food possible to make customers happy and return – something he does exceptionally well. John is a great fit for The Ritz. He believes in the building and understands how it works, and he ensures it maintains its classical style, whilst making it relevant for the modern diner and person who loves hospitality.
Of all the career highlights that John shared, two stood out. Firstly, cooking for Margaret Thatcher’s 70th birthday party at Claridges (an event that the Queen uncharacteristically stayed 45 minutes over her normal time at) and seeing her some time later, in her final years, when she not only remembered that John had cooked for her but clearly recalled the chicken dish that she had enjoyed. ‘You measure things in hospitality by little things like that.’ And secondly, the absolute joy of receiving the Michelin star – a day he described as: ‘The best Monday ever!’
John has a strong personality and, as his career demonstrates, knows what’s right and wrong with food and money, and is not afraid to say so. To him, a kitchen must be structured and disciplined, and there must be a determination to create great food. Food cost is also a fundamental, and John knows how to ensure longevity of a business.
Although he hates the word ‘passionate’ because, as he said (to applause from the audience), ‘the people who are passionate, never talk about passion, they do it', it’s fair to say that with his energy and commitment to chefs and the industry, he is the very embodiment of the word.
The generosity of guests on the evening raised over £1250 for Springboard and Hospitality Action.