A man of many talents, we spoke with Bryan Webb, Head Chef at Tyddyn Llan in Wales to find out more about what it takes to gain a Michelin star – and why he prefers simple food when it comes to creating superb dishes.
What inspired you to become a chef?
Although I had a very happy childhood, there was something inside me that wanted to move away and better myself. There was always the threat from my father that unless I did well at school I could get a job down the pit, which of course was the last thing I wanted.
My mum made loads of cakes for her charity work and we were allowed the rejects, which in a way was my entry into cooking. My cakes started to turn out better than my mum’s and eventually I decided to pursue an apprenticeship as a chef.
Tell us more about your culinary background…
I moved away, not too far, but to Whitebrook near Monmouth and a small restaurant with rooms called The Crown, run by a strong French lady called Sonia Blech and her accountant of a husband Neville. From that day, my life changed.
Sonia taught me the basics – how to respect food, work extremely hard – and what followed was my passion for food and the trade. She and Neville have been a great influence on my career; even now 40 years on we are great friends. Although I had no idea what a Michelin star was back then, here I was training from scratch in Wales’ only starred restaurant.
After three years, I moved on to Swansea where Colin Pressdee taught me everything there is to know about fish, and after winning the William Heptinstall award, I travelled working and eating my way through France at the tender age of 20. Four years later, I was asked to head up a kitchen in London and jumped at the chance, but I still had a huge amount to learn. Not having worked in a top-class establishment, I studied books and ate out even more.
Within three months the restaurant was rated 13/20 in the Good Food Guide and two years later I was asked to take over the stoves at Hilaire in Old Brompton Road, London after the much-acclaimed chef Simon Hopkinson left for Bibendum. It was here that I found the direction and style of food that we still serve today at Tyddyn Llan. It was the fourteen years that I worked and owned Hilaire that developed me into the chef I am today.
Describe your style of cooking?
My style is simple, honest food with bags of flavour; the kind of food you want to eat yourself. I would never serve something that I would not want to eat.
The finest ingredients are of utmost importance; it has to be the very best even down to the basics, which is why no matter how much I love to buy local, if it’s not good enough I look elsewhere.
Where does your inspiration come from?
Books, eating out and from an early age Franco Taruschio, – these days, it’s just good ingredients.
What’s your favourite dish on the current menu?
Label Anglais chicken with wild mushrooms and potato sarladaise – and I can’t forget Wild Bass with Lavabread.
Do you have any role models?
I have always admired both Alistair Little and Simon Hopkinson, Sally Clarke and Franco.
Any tips for aspiring chefs?
If you are not totally passionate about food, don’t bother. The hours are long but it can be a tremendously rewarding career.
Where’s your favourite restaurant?
I have a few but Chez Panisse in California is right up there with the best. Chez Bruce in London’s Wandsworth too.
What would you liked to have been if not a chef?
I’d quite like to have been a radio DJ. Johnnie Walker was a childhood hero of mine and he is now a friend and a regular at Tyddyn Llan.
Find out more the dishes at Tyddyn Llan here.