As someone who has worked with food for over 40 years, Executive Chef at The Ritz, John Williams knows a thing or two about a decent meal.
Throughout his illustrious career, Williams has plated up delicacies for some of the biggest names, with everyone from the Royal Family to Joan Collins having tasted one of his dishes.
But what is it really like behind closed doors at arguably the world’s most glamourous hotel? What is Prince Charles’ meal of choice and how does Bill Clinton prefer his vegetables cooked? FEMAIL chews the fat with the renowned chef in a behind-the-scenes, no-holds-barred dive into the exclusive world of the finest dining.
Top chef: John Williams has been Head Chef at The Ritz for the past eleven years – he has been a chef for 40
Celeb spot: He has cooked for the Queen, Joan Collins, Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge
Glamourous location: The Ritz’s spectacular exterior is lit up and on display
‘The best person I’ve ever cooked for is without a doubt the Queen,’ Williams – the son of a fisherman from England’s Tyneside – says.
‘I made a four-course meal centred around lamb for her 80th birthday at The Ritz and it was possibly the most stressful experience of my life,’ he says.
‘People might say celebrities are stressful to cook for, but no one comes with as much pressure as the Queen. You need perfection – on that sort of occasion, we have to make sure everything will go to plan so we rehearse the whole event several times.’
Best guest: Williams says the best person he has ever cooked for is the Queen at her 80th birthday meal
Full-on experience: Williams describes it as the most full-on and stressful experience of his entire life
Nutty goodness: This hazelnut semi-freddo with chocolate and vanilla is one of the treats on the menu
I love cooking for the Prince of Wales. He has a fantastic palate, did you know?
In addition to Queen Elizabeth, Williams has cooked for Prince Charles, Prince Harry, Prince Williams and the Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton.
‘I love cooking for the Prince of Wales,’ he says.
‘He’s been in to The Ritz many times. He has a fantastic palate, did you know?
‘I once cooked something for him and he was able to break down the entire sauce and understand it structurally – naming the ingredients in the sauce exactly. Lots of chefs couldn’t do that!’.
Seafood sampling: This salad features native lobster, beetroot and pickled cucumber
Full rehearsal: Williams says for the occasion he made a four-course lamb menu, and practised it all before
Previous clients: Prince William and Kate Middleton have dined at The Ritz previously – in a private room
Fine dining: The Ritz has an impeccable dining room complete with tables and perfect cutlery
As for William and Kate – who are notoriously private people – Williams says the couple regularly pass on dining at the restaurant’s most iconic tables preferring to eat away from the spotlight.
Cooking for the Queen was the most stressful experience of my life.
‘Kate’s tastebuds are very simple,’ he says.
‘What I have noticed is that people are increasingly health conscious these days.
‘When Bill Clinton came in to dine, it was all steamed veggies and simplistic food.
‘That’s not to say that some people don’t like something a little more extravagant.’
Williams also lifted the side on The Ritz’s ultra-exclusive ‘surprise menu’, which he offers to certain A-list guests willing to take on something a little out of the ordinary.
Refined palate: According to Williams, Prince Charles has an incredibly refined palate – more so than chefs
Popular tables: The best tables at the restaurant are tables one and nine as they give the best views
Health conscious: Williams has noticed people have become increasingly health conscious, including Clinton
Another favourite for the chef is his restaurant’s incredible truffle menu, with the delicacy being one of his most-adored ingredients.
When Bill Clinton came to dine it was all steamed veggies and simplistic food.
‘One of my great passions is truffles,’ he says.
‘For someone who wants something seriously decadent, I do this whole truffle with goose liver mousse baked in brioche.
‘It costs a fortune to make but gives the diner one of the best dining experiences they’ll ever have. I don’t give it to anyone, but if someone starts talking about truffle in the restaurant I’ll usually know what they’re on about.’
Serving some 85 for lunch, 95 for dinner and breakfast every day, The Ritz is certainly a busy operation.
Golden hall: An amazing picture shows off just a taste of the luxury on display at The Ritz
Surprise menus: Williams mentions that there is both a ‘surprise menu’ and a secret ‘truffle menu’
Williams says that on special days such as Mother’s Day, afternoon teas and lunches are booked up to nine months in advance.
However, his favourite time of year is May through July.
‘I love the beginning of the social season,’ he says.
‘From the Flower show through Royal Ascot and Henley, I love seeing all of the ladies come in in their hats and finery. It’s such a special time of year.’
Game dinner: Another delicious item on the menu is the grouse with a celeriac, walnuts and salted grapes salad
Royal company: Prince Harry has also dined at the restaurant in the past
Another of the chef’s personal favourite moments is when well-known diners venture down to the kitchen to speak with him.
‘Rod Stewart and Penny Lancaster love to come down and see me,’ he says.
‘And it’s always nice to be personally complimented. Rod always enjoys a bit of caviar when he comes to The Ritz,’ he says.
‘He also likes seafood, and I think the last time he was in he has some fillet steak.’
Favourite table: Williams says Lady Thatcher had a favourite table there – table one
Kitchen regulars: Williams says Rod Stewart and Penny Lancaster are regulars in the kitchen
With regards to the VIP treatment, Williams and the restaurant will roll out in general upon the arrival of someone famous or of note.
He will then assign the person table one or table nine – the best tables; according to Williams, which were frequented by Margaret Thatcher, and cooks them something bespoke and unique.
‘The top dish is the lobster with spiced curd puree and lemon verbena,’ Williams said.
Exclusive chat: FEMAIL meets Williams for a behind-the-scenes, no-holds-barred chat about The Ritz
Nothing fishy here: The Ritz offers this mouth-watering salmon fillet with avocado and grapefruit
‘I do it with pureed carrots and baby carrots alongside. The sweetness of the lobster goes perfectly with the puree and I’ve had loads of compliments afterwards.
However, despite having seemingly catered to every celebrity that has stepped foot in west London, Williams says there is one famous couple he would love to cook for.
Luckily for him, they may have some spare time on their hands in the next year.
‘I’m lucky because I’ve got great job satisfaction, the famed chef says.
‘Having said that, I’d love to cook for Barack and Michelle Obama.’
Top dish: Williams says the top dish is the lobster with spiced curd puree and lemon verbena
Dream guests: Williams would love to cook for Barack and Michelle Obama one day