Ross Williams has found the perfect place to feed his culinary creativity - Herefordshire
“The first thing I remember cooking was a French onion soup for a bunch of friends when I was 17 or 18 years old,” recalls Ross Williams, head chef and general manager of The Kilpeck Inn, Herefordshire. “It felt great seeing how much they enjoyed eating something I’d created and one of them said (half jokingly) that I should become a chef.
“My family was never particularly into food, though,” continues Ross. “My mother used to cook but wasn’t terribly adventurous, and we never really used to eat out in restaurants. I think maybe my love of great food might have been a result of being denied it as a child!”
Whatever the reason, there’s certainly no shortage of fine food for Ross nowadays. The chef, who lives in the village of Kilpeck with his spaniel Ollie, is originally from Kent, but moved to the Borders after a decade as a public relations consultant in London.
“I became a chef almost by accident,” he tells us. “Having moved from London, I bought a pub in north Herefordshire with the intention of serving great food, but unfortunately none of the succession of chefs I hired was up to it. Then a friend of mine – also a chef as it happens – suggested I do it myself. I was sceptical at first, but I’d already been spending more and more time in the kitchen, so in the end I didn’t have anything to lose!”
Hard work and trial and error ensued – the self-taught cook learned from some top notch chefs and continued to hone his skills in the kitchen – but within two years he’d won a Pub Chef of the Year award, and his fate was sealed.
The north Herefordshire pub that Ross owned was The Wellington: “I took it from being a run-of-the-mill village boozer to winning Pub of the Year four years running in the Flavours of Herefordshire awards,” he tells us. The foodie sold The Wellington, and then spent about a year in a variety of chef jobs before leaping at the opportunity to run his own pub kitchen at The Kilpeck Inn. “In many ways pub food is now at the cutting edge of eating out, as we’re able to be creative and innovative without sticking purely to high-end, fine dining dishes.”
The Kilpeck Inn, a 250-year-old rural pub in the picturesque village of Kilpeck, amidst the south Herefordshire countryside, spent a number of years out of action before being refurbished and then reopened in 2010. Today the venue blends historic charm with modern touches. There’s a cosy bar, enhanced by log burner and leather sofas, whilst there’s a smarter edge to the dining room, and there are four luxurious en-suite bedrooms available for those who can’t bear to leave. But it’s in the kitchen that you’ll find Ross beavering away over pots and pans.
“My menus are always based on the best local and seasonal produce, and they have something to appeal to everyone,” enthuses the cook. “There are sandwiches at lunchtime, and homemade burgers, or restaurant-style dishes for those who want a special night out. I’d describe it as contemporary British, taking classic dishes and flavour combinations and bringing them up to date with a special twist. I love cooking with game and I’m also a keen butcher so I enjoy using the whole animal when I’m cooking meat, pairing up premium cuts with unusual and rarely used ones. I’ll eat anything though – usually when I go out for dinner I’ll order the most technically challenging dish just to see how the chef approaches it. Having someone else cook for me is a real treat, though, whatever it is.”
Although not born and bred in Herefordshire, Ross has found the region to be the perfect landing spot for an enthusiastic foodie. “We’re literally surrounded by some of the best produce and food suppliers in the country. Our chips are made from the potatoes that grow in the field next to the inn; we buy smoked fish from the next door village; and all our meat comes from Herefordshire farmers. The abundance of great food makes being a chef here really exciting. I love taking basic ingredients like just-picked vegetables and potatoes, or a lamb or venison carcass, and making something wonderful out of them. I love to see the joy on people’s faces when they eat something delicious, knowing that I created it.”
The Kilpeck Inn, Kilpeck, Herefordshire HR2 9DN. Tel: 01981 570464. www.kilpeckinn.com
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