Minute on the clock: Oli Williamson, head chef, the Fat Duck

29 June 2022 by
Minute on the clock: Oli Williamson, head chef, the Fat Duck

The head chef at the Fat Duck in Bray, Berkshire, speaks about leading the famous kitchen and enjoying his year as Roux Scholar

You won the Roux Scholarship in October 2021 and less than three months later were promoted to head chef of the Fat Duck, are you still reeling?

I've settled into the role now and I'm really enjoying building a team and getting my teeth into it.

What have you been working on since your promotion in January?

We're now into Volume IV, the penultimate volume of our anniversary series [celebrating 25 years of the Fat Duck], so that's an exciting time. A lot of work goes into it and there are a lot of different parts of the kitchen liaising together. It's hectic, but now we're up and running we're evolving the systems and we're getting everybody on the same page, adding the final tweaks.

I'm 31 and I'm managing more than 30 staff – there's a lot to to do, but I have a good support network

Has it been difficult to resurrect some of the dishes from previous years?

If something was invented 15 years ago it might be that we're not using the same supplier or product, so we have to tweak it, but the dishes are an honest homage to what they were. For me, it's an incredible time to work here because I get to see every Fat Duck dish and understand all the incredible dishes Heston and the team came up with.

Have you found that dishes from 15 or 20 years ago can retain their original impact?

It was so far ahead of its time then that the dishes are still relevant and modern now. We had triple-cooked chips on the last menu and Heston invented those in his garden in 1993 –now pretty much every restaurant does them. I do feel it's still relevant, but I also feel there's a new lease of life to come. We'll see what happens next year.

Does it sit heavy being a young head chef of a three-Michelin-starred restaurant?

For sure. If I sit down and contemplate it, I'm 31 and I'm managing more than 30 staff – there's a lot to to do, but I have a good support network. If you manage it, it's not overwhelming and I really enjoy doing it.

Have you been enjoying your year as Roux Scholar?

Yes, it's an incredible prize list and I've just come back from New York. We went with TRUEFoods on an all-expenses-paid trip for three nights eating out in the most amazing restaurants – it was almost surreal, it was a dream to go there. We saw a totally different dining scene. We went to Eleven Madison Park, which has gone vegan, and the food they're doing is incredible. They really changed my perception of what vegan can be and I think there's a huge place for that in our future. We had little asparagus dumplings with a chicken-like flavour – they were incredible. I left thinking that if that's how vegan food can taste there's a bigger market and a place for it… you just need to know how to do it.

Each Roux Scholar undertakes a three-month stage at any three-Michelin-starred restaurant in the world – have you chosen where to go?

I've chosen Zen in Singapore.

I think the dining experience there, where diners move between rooms, is really interesting. It's also an intriguing food scene because not a lot of produce is grown in the area. I'm going to immerse myself in the culture and visit hawker markets and maybe on my days off I can go to other countries as well.

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