Cateys 2017: Special Award, John Williams

06 July 2017 by
Cateys 2017: Special Award, John Williams

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John Williams has been working at the pinnacle of the industry for over 40 years. During that period, the industry legend has become known for his support of the young as much as for his exquisite creations.

Williams began his career as a commis chef at the Percy Arms hotel in 1974 in Otterburn in Newcastle upon Tyne. At the age of 16, he left his beloved South Shields to move to London, and while this must have been a daunting prospect, it turned out to be a career-defining moment for this ambitious young man.

He spent his formative years at the Royal Garden hotel while studying for his City and Guilds at Westminster Kingsway College, before moving to the Savoy Group, then owners of Claridge's and the Berkeley. By the age of 27, he had become premier sous chef at Claridge's; he later became its maitre chef des cuisines.

Then, in 2004, he took on two roles of such magnitude, one wonders when he found time to sleep. As executive chairman of the Royal Academy of Culinary Arts, he plays a critical role in the body's desire to train and develop the next generation of culinary experts and front of house professionals. As executive chef of the Ritz, he presides over one of the most famous dining rooms in the world.

Also, as a trustee of the academy's Adopt a School charity, which has delivered food tastings and cookery lessons to over 21,000 children in the UK, he is playing a huge part in ensuring that, from cradle to grave, people are educated about the sourcing, the health benefits and the sheer pleasure of food.

This desire to inspire extends to international competitions, too. Since representing Great Britain in the Bocuse d'Or competition against 21 chefs from across the globe in 2001, where he finished ninth, Williams continues to support the English team.

Such passion for produce from gate to plate - or even water to waiter - should come as no surprise given his upbringing both on and around his father's crab and lobster-fishing boats. That the son of a Tyneside fisherman should go on to cook for former prime minister Margaret Thatcher's 70th birthday, with Her Majesty the Queen in attendance, is the thing of fairy tales.

In his role today, he oversees the development of 54 staff in his kitchen brigade. Under his watchful eye, the Ritz's banqueting and catering services became the first - and is the only - hotel to receive a Royal Warrant from His Royal Highness, the Prince of Wales. And in its 110th anniversary year last year, he secured the property's very first Michelin star.

Williams became the first British chef to receive a CMA from the French government for services to French cuisine, which he was awarded in 2005. This was followed three years later by an MBE for his services to hospitality. He was also a recipient of the Pierre Taittinger International Award, known as the 'Everest of Gastronomy', because of the extreme difficulty of the competition.

He has had previous success at the Hotel Cateys too, winning the Outstanding Contribution to the Industry Award in 2008, and more recently he was presented with Tatler's Lifetime Achievement Award in 2013.

This year's Special Award goes to someone who has achieved so much, not just in is own career as a hugely talented chef, but working for the greater good of the hospitality industry.

The judges
The senior team of The Caterer, with nominations from the Cateys judging panels

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