Chef of the Week: William Best, Head Chef at Brooks’s Club in London

How long have you worked at your current restaurant?
Nearly 1 year at this exclusive private member’s club, my 8th job in 24 years of cooking.

Where did your passion for cooking come from and where did you learn your skills?
I enjoyed cooking at home and from quite an early age decided to be a chef. Catering offered an opportunity to escape school, which I didn’t enjoy. I wrote to all the local hotels and the chef at Ashdown Park Hotel is Sussex recommended an apprenticeship with RACA (Royal Academy of Culinary Arts).
At the time knowing very little about the industry this seemed like the best option (later found out it was by far the best apprenticeship at the time).  So, I left home at the age of 16 to start the RACA Specialised Chef Scholarship at Bournemouth & Poole College. During the apprenticeship I was mentored by my first head chef, John McManus who I still turn to for advice for now.
When the time was right, he helped me move to London and join The Square with Phil Howard – something I think we need to do more of now, helping our young chefs move on and grow in the right kitchens, so they can develop in to experienced leaders with a deep knowledge of cooking.
My passion came from those early years in the kitchen, I love the buzz of service and working at The Square the quality of the produce was amazing – I love taking great ingredients and cooking simply to allow the natural flavour to shine through.

What do you enjoy most about being a chef?
The satisfaction of going into the dining room and seeing everyone happy, especially if the service has been tough.

Name three ingredients you couldn’t cook without.
Love – you have to put your heart in the cooking! Potatoes and eggs.

Which piece of kitchen equipment couldn’t you live without?
My Mac knives.

What food trends are you spotting at the moment?
Old classics coming back, cooked with a more modern approach… No need to reinvent the wheel, dishes can always be evolved and improved.

What do you think is a common mistake that lets chefs down?
They cook the food they want to cook not food that the customer wants to eat – probably only the top 0.5% of chefs are in a position where they are a true destination restaurant and people go there and are happy to be told what to eat. Get your menu right for the local/target market, it may have dishes on there that don’t inspire you as a chef, but people will keep coming back and consequently you will have a successful and profitable business, which in turn will allow you to achieve the things that you want to. Once customers trust you, they will be prepared to be more adventurous and you can push the boundaries of the food, note this will take a long time.

What is your favourite time of year for food, and why?
January, when Yorkshire rhubarb and blood oranges come into season, a sign that spring is not so far away.

Which of your dishes are you most proud of?
It would be the dishes I cooked in the final of the RACA Master of Culinary Arts (MCA) which resulted in me getting the award, one of which was a whole stuffed turbot, a dish I had never done before this.

How do you come up with new dishes?
Generally, start with a key ingredient and pair other ingredients as you go along. There must be flavour combinations that link each part of the dish together.
Ideas can come from so many places, books, social media, google image search, I think the most rewarding is developing an idea from a member of my team, with them, so they contribute to the menu.

Who was your greatest influence?
It is difficult to say just one, Phil Howard, John Williams MBE and Andrew Turner, all influenced me in different ways, whether it be style of cooking; passion for great ingredients; how to manage people (so important); the importance of putting your heart in the food and ensuring maximum flavour! But I guess ultimately my first head chef, John McManus, he stuck up for his kitchen team and I have tried to follow his example and always look after my team, I cannot do it without them.

Tell us three chefs you admire.

What is your favourite cookbook?
Both volumes of The Square cookbooks. Practical Cookery and Good Housekeeping are a good place to look for basic recipes that always work.

Who do you think are the chefs to watch over the next few months?
Spencer Metzger and Amber Francis.

What’s been your favourite new restaurant opening of the last year?
I have not been yet but the food Patrick Powell is producing at The Midland Grand Dining Room looks right up my street, classical food tastefully reinvented.