Young chef gets Michelin star experience in UK
Ricai Williams has returned to his “home kitchen” with Michelin star experience under his belt.
At Fourways tomorrow night the junior sous chef will show off some of what he learnt while working at celebrity chef Glynn Purnell’s Birmingham eatery, Purnell’s Restaurant.
The 29-year-old made it his goal to work at a Michelin restaurant when he left Bermuda for England three years ago with his wife Dayshalae, a forensic accountant who’d been seconded there with KPMG.
“I attended university in Birmingham. I finished my associate’s degree in culinary arts management back in 2016 and during that time I was also working out there so I knew the opportunities were there,” Mr Williams said.
“There’s actually a shortage of chefs across the entire UK. But I find that wherever you go you can find opportunity if you put your best foot forward and if I want something I’ll work for it; I’ll work hard for it.”
The three Michelin restaurants he first met with in the Birmingham area weren’t hiring.
Although disappointed he “kept pushing”. Mr Williams worked at a handful of places before he decided to give Purnell’s a try.
The restaurant was awarded its Michelin star in 2009, two years after opening. Head chef Glynn Purnell, who trained with Gordon Ramsay and Gary Rhodes, owns it and a second Birmingham eatery, Purnell’s Bistro and Ginger’s Bar.
According to the restaurant’s website, the celebrity chef became “a household name” after taking part in the BBC series, Great British Menu. He has also been featured on The Great British Food Revival, The Secret Chef and other television programmes, most notably Saturday Kitchen, “as a guest chef and host”.
“Glynn Purnell is a well known celebrity chef across the West Midlands,” Mr Williams said. “I took the opportunity and went for a trial there. They really enjoyed how I worked with the team and how I worked as a person and they gave me the job as chef de partie. I took the opportunity and haven’t looked back since.”
Once her secondment was completed in August, he and his wife decided to return to Bermuda where restaurants were once again operational and there was far less risk of getting exposed to Covid-19.
“It was an opportunity to go out there, get experience [but] I would rather be here during Covid than out there,” Mr Williams said.
He will always be grateful for the experience and that he was able to rise to the challenge.
“I would say it did put more pressure on me working in a Michelin star restaurant because you don’t just work to get [the star] but you also have to work hard to keep it. If something doesn’t taste right they just won’t serve it. You have to get it right every single time.
“You have to keep your skill and quality; the standard has to be maintained the entire time regardless of what’s going on. Even if there’s a shortage of commodities out there you still have to maintain your same standard of food, same standard of service. It does put a lot of pressure on the staff in the front of house as well as the back of house.”
Back in Bermuda he was eager to share what he learnt in the kitchen with Tommy Poh, the executive chef at Fourways Restaurant.
“I knew how much they appreciated and valued my skills and Fourways has always been, I would say it’s my home kitchen,” Mr Williams said.
“Everyone has the place where they started out and Tommy, he’s been a mentor for me from Day 1 practically. Even when I was working in the UK I would always send him a message asking him for advice or whatnot.”
At tomorrow night’s four-course dinner the junior chef is excited about using lobster to create a savoury version of the typically sweet mille-feuille; offering a flaming sorbet that holds its form; presenting sous vide beef so tender “you can cut it with a butter knife”. For anyone who is interested, there is also a vegetarian option.
“And then for the dessert it’s going to be my classic cheesecake,” he said. “A few years ago I put on a fundraising dinner to go back to university which was very successful. I had a cheesecake on the menu and everybody has been asking where they can get [it ever since]. So it’s back by popular demand with a different design and using different techniques.
“Each dish has a different gastronomic concept – from the starter right down to the dessert. In a sense, I am playing with food; all these techniques I’ve learned while I was over there in the UK.”
Especially for people who loved his food, the idea is to let them know he is once again here.
“Basically it is to say look I’m back at Fourways, I’m back on the island so come and try my art and see what I have been doing in a sense.”
His goal, in the next five to seven years, is to have his own fine-dining restaurant where he can “incorporate all these different gastronomic techniques” but in “a playful sense”.
His advice to anyone who wants to follow in his footsteps is to take advantage of everything on offer.
“Any young inspiring chef should just go for it, put your best foot forward. You never know what opportunities will arise whether that’s here or internationally. Don’t let anything hold you back. Travel and work all over the world wherever you can.
“We do need more local, qualified chefs with international experience as I have, so go for it. If you have nothing holding you back, work around the world – wherever you can.”
Ricai Williams’s tasting menus are $95 per person plus gratuities. Wine pairings are available. For reservations: 236-6517; email@example.com