Hot Dinners talks to Odette's Bryn Williams

Hot Dinners talks to Odette's Bryn WilliamsBryn Williams might be the closest thing to a culinary contradiction in today’s industry. On one hand, he’s taken on the mantle of celebrity chef – heading up The Great British Menu and appearing regularly on Saturday Kitchen; on the other, he’s quietly building up neighbourhood restaurant Odette’s into the kind of inventive venue that might just make Michelin sit up and pay attention.

We caught up with Bryn recently to discuss game-hunting, Michelin stars and more.

What are some of the major changes you’ve focused on since taking over Odette’s two years ago?

One of the first priorities was to bring prices down and offer a set 3-course menu for £22. We’re a local restaurant and people are our bread and butter. Odette’s is set in a village atmosphere, and it’s always been important to us to be part of that village.

What prompted you to take over Odette’s - what drew you to the restaurant?

About two years ago, I’d just finished The Great British Menu and the opportunity came up. I was thrilled at the idea of putting Odette’s back on the map. I used to live in Camden and ate at Odette’s about 6 or 7 years ago. I was impressed with the location and saw a perfect opportunity to put my own stamp on the place. The first two years were all about listening and working to someone else’s schedule – then I got the chance to go it alone.

Did you watch Michel Roux’s Service (Michel is Bryn’s former mentor at Le Gavroche)? What do you think?

Of course! Everyone has been asking me if the Michel on screen is really true to life, and I can say that it’s absolutely true to life. Michel plays to your strengths and finds the positive in you first – working with him is a positive and uplifting experience, and I think that came across in the show.

When I worked at Le Gavroche, I really learned first-hand what restaurants are all about. At the heart of it, you’re creating an oasis for your guests. I’ve tried to carry that over to Odette’s. It’s a family-run business – my dad even shoots all the game we serve – so when you come in, you’re really coming in to my home.

You’ve been building some extra elements into the menu, like a full vegetarian tasting menu. How do you decide what makes the final cut?

No-one really teaches you business skills as a chef. I left the restaurant one Sunday night, and by Monday morning I was the owner. The restaurant is really serving the community and by not catering to vegetarians and different tastes, we’d be missing a trick. Many non-vegetarians order the menu and enjoy it. As a chef, a vegetarian menu makes you think harder. Without the starting point of meat, you have to work out where to begin.

Are you building up a niche in game?

My dad shoots all the game for the restaurant, so we need to think quickly depending on what we get in. We’ve definitely cornered something – every bird we get in the building sells – so we’ll continue building up our game dishes.

What’s on the menu for the next couple of weeks?

I’ve just put together a dish of sardines with Bloody Mary Worcestershire sauce, which I’m excited to add to the menu. It’s based on what I’ve always thought – people want to relate to the ingredients in their meal, and it’s up to us to create new combinations to keep things fresh.

What’s the theme of ‘Bryn’s Kitchen’ (new recipe book available from March 2)?

I always found myself flipping between different books when I was cooking, looking for variations on an ingredient, and I wanted to combine different alternatives in one book. Each ingredient has 5 recipes – one simple, three medium, and one ‘cheffy’-level hard. It allows you to experiment and build up confidence with ingredients. It’s a family-based book, spanning dishes from my childhood to my chef career.

What other projects are you passionate about at the moment?

I’m advising Holme House, which is a small, boutique hotel in Penarth. I’m really helping them to develop and move forward – spending time away from my own business can be really helpful for new ideas and inspiration. It gives me more time to think and check out other chefs’ work.

Do you have your eye on a Michelin star?

Honestly, we’d all love a star, but I’m realistic. Business comes first: if Odette’s doesn’t work, I’ve lost more than my chance at a Michelin nod – I lose my flat, my money and my business.  Several people have said they were surprised we weren’t awarded, and I think there were a few more on the list – like L’Anima – that were overlooked, but my priority is in building up the business.

Where do you eat to relax?

I love Marcus Wareing at The Berkeley and Trinity in Clapham. The problem is when I go out the chefs tend to be generous and send out a lot of food – and my girlfriend complains. These days if she knows we’re going out to eat that evening, she won’t eat all day!

Read about our recent visit to Odette's.

You can buy Bryn's new book on Amazon