Meet the Chef

Liam Dillon, The Boat Inn, Lichfield

 Liam Dillon Chef Patron The Boat Inn Lichfield

Liam Dillon’s culinary career has taken him from Marcus Wareing at The Berkley, to Noma in Copenhagen and La Bacasse in Ludlow. After a decade of building this impressive pedigree Liam came back to his home town Lichfield as Chef Patron of The Boat Inn this year.

The Boat Inn crab dish

And what a year it has been, with an entry in the Michelin Good Food Guide who say that his “eye-catching dishes are modern, refined and allow local ingredients to shine” and collaborations with the Sauce Supper Club which are putting this fine dining pub firmly on the map of destination restaurants in the West Midlands.

He kindly took time out from menu development for a seven course tasting dinner he is holding next week to answer a few questions for Midlands Gourmet Girl readers:

Have you always wanted to be a chef?

From leaving school I actually wanted to join the Marines or the Royal Air Force. After visiting a couple of shows and demo etc  I was really interested in taking it further. As you can imagine the family weren’t too keen on the idea, so I took a rain check and decided to look into other careers before getting stuck in.

I went to an open day at the University College of Food in Birmingham and was shown a peanut butter recipe, which is still a guilty pleasure of mine. After that  I enrolled and haven’t looked back.

Who taught you to cook?

I can remember making cakes with my Nana and asking questions about stews and, as I like to call them, one pot wonders. I don’t feel this was the start of me becoming a cook but I think it aided my choice to start learning. From part time jobs in Birmingham I think I learnt a lot from David Colcombe (at the time of Opus). Even thought I  was not there for very long and I was only there part time, it really opened my eye to what I was getting myself into and shaped me to take on London.

Which chef has been the biggest inspiration for you?

I have been lucky to have worked for amazing cooks and very talented individuals. A chef that I have worked for that have moulded me into the cook I am and take in the bigger picture would be Will Holland. From my time at La Becasse in Ludlow, Will made me aware of things that happen behind the scenes that when you have your own business it is not just cooking anymore.

A chef that has inspired me that I haven’t worked for is Heston, he took a small pub cooking for the people and built his empire from that. In many ways I have the same battle on my hands.

Where have you eaten your best ever meal?

I took holiday from a restaurant I was working in and went to New York for job trials at; Eleven Madison Park, Daniel & Gilt Restaurant. While I was there I ate at Momofuku Ko. 14 covers, all seated at a bar style counter and served directly by the chefs. Whether it was because I was traveling and working alone I don’t know, but it was something special and I will never forget it.

Do you use any local suppliers at The Boat Inn?

Yes, I am working very hard to work with small independent suppliers to support local businesses in the area.

Pub

What can diners expect from you at The Boat Inn?

We want our guests to feel at home. The cooking of course I want to be a step above the rest, but also we want to create a great atmosphere and welcoming environment in the pub first of all. We cook with local ingredients, we change our menus seasonally to make the most of what the season has to offer but also and a little bit different with some serving styles. I would be lying if I said I wasn’t aiming to create a Michelin Starred pub.

The Boat Inn Walsall Road, Lichfield WS14 0BU  01543 361692

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James Sherwin, Wild Shropshire

 James Sherwin

James Sherwin describes himself as an experimental chef and keen forager. As the chef behind jamesinaspace pop-up restaurant nights and Wild Shropshire concepts, you may recognise him from his appearances on the Channel 4 show The Taste and Masterchef.

The 38-year-old father of four from Whitchurch was previously a paediatric nurse before following his passion for cooking and he has evolved from a home cook to a professional chef who is not afraid to push the boundaries.

As he prepares for his next tasting dinners, at Alderford Lake on Friday 6th and Saturday 28th October, I got to ask him a few questions for this month’s Meet the Chef feature.

Have you always wanted to be a chef?

I didn’t want to be a chef until I hit my 30’s, I think it was a midlife crisis 😉

Who taught you to cook?

James Sherwin hare fillet

This is a difficult one, ultimately I think I’ve taught myself, there were certainly people that helped along the way (my first head chef etc). However in terms of my style and what I do, a lot of it has been self-discovery. I’ve always had a very clear idea of what I’d like my food to be, so I’ve always pushed my learning in that direction.

Which chef has been the biggest inspiration for you?

I think the answer to this is two fold, ultimately (and I’ll sound very uncool saying this) but Jamie Oliver inspired me to cook, without his tv shows then i doubt that I’d have started at all. From a professional point of view and what I’m doing now then it would be Magnus Nillson of Faviken. His whole approach just spoke to me, the first time i read his book it was like a switch had been turned on in me. The hard part is taking that inspiration but turning it into your own thing. Other than that then I’d say Simon Rogan of L’enclume or Christian Puglisi of Relae.

Where have you eaten your best ever meal?

I know the cool answer would be some obscure street food stall (I hate street food, completely bored of it!) however it would be a toss up between L’enclume or Relae. L’enclume was brilliant across all 19 courses and I got engaged there, however Relae was like nothing else, the plates were so minimal in design that the amount of flavour they contained was shocking……I’ll never forget the carrot dish I had there!

What are your favourite ingredients to cook with?

I started an allotment this year so that I could be sure of the quality and freshness of what I use (if you’re food is minimal then the ingredients have to be banging). So it’s not one ingredient but basically anything that I can pick myself. It does mean though that I’m doing a lot less cooking now, I’m enjoying the ingredients in their natural raw state as they have so much flavour.

How would you describe your style of cooking?

James Sherwin plating up

This is hard without sounding like every other chef, ultimately it’s modern British food. As I came into this older I missed the Marco Pierre White/Gordon Ramsey heyday so I’ve come in and been influenced my Magnus of Faviken, James of Biota or Christain of Relae, so very natural, vegetable based cuisine delivered in a minimal way.

I hate that people feel the need to fill a plate with things that aren’t needed for the sake of making my the dish look bigger.  Everything is hyper seasonal  – we don’t have seasons anymore in the UK  and hyper local.

What can diners expect from your Wild Shropshire events?

James Sherwin dish

My guests will get a multi course surprise menu. It’s a surprise firstly so that I can come up with it at the very last moment based completely on what is perfect at that time and also to bypass any pre-conceived ideas anyone may have about any of the courses.

I feel that people can quite often decide whether they like a dish before they’ve even put it in their mouth based on previous experiences with ingredients. By having a secret menu that is revealed at the end of the evening, guests can eat each course without past experiences colouring their opinion of what is in front of them.

Find out more about James at https://www.jamesinaspace.com

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William Dimartino, The Ryder Grill, The Belfry Hotel Sutton Coldfield

William Dimartino, Ryder Grill Restaurant, The Belfry Hotel

William Dimartino will celebrate his first anniversary as Head Chef at The Ryder Grill in a few months, so as he launches a new seven-course Spring tasting menu I grilled the chef for his inspiration.

Have you always wanted to be a chef?

When I was at school I wanted to be an accountant, but I always loved food as a child so when I started cooking in a pub on my weekends it naturally progressed from there.

Who taught you to cook?

My nan was probably the first one who introduced me to cooking, all be it a Sunday Roast.

Which chef has been the biggest inspiration for you?

My old boss and close friend Russell Ford, I worked with him from a commis chef and he was the one who gave me my first head chef job, he is a great chef and took me under his wing and really taught me a lot over the years I worked with him.

Where have you eaten your best ever meal?

The best meal I had was very recent and it was at The Frog by Adam Handling, the whole experience was great.

What are your favourite ingredients to cook with?

Game, butter, truffle and nuts

How would you describe your style of cooking?

I would say it’s clean and simple, we use great produce so we try and treat it with great respect and get the best out of it without messing with it too much.

What can diners expect at The Ryder Grill?

Diners can expect great produce cooked beautifully, with a relaxed atmosphere and top quality service.

Ryder Grill spring tasting menu The Belfry Hotel

To showcase the very best seasonal produce, William and his team have launched a new seven course taster menu. Available for £40 per person, with the option of adding paired wines for £25. The menu includes:

Amuse bouche

Asparagus with duck egg mayo, brioche crumb, burnt onion powder and edible flowers

Whipped chicken liver parfait, savoury granola, pineapple and vanilla gel

Sea trout with almond puree, charred spring onion, chorizo and purple sprouting broccoli

Spring lamb, charred baby gem, artichoke hummus, red pepper and broad bean

Vanilla crème brulee and poached strawberries

Passion fruit tart, mango, bitter chocolate and coconut.

The Ryder Grill, The Belfry Hotel , Lichfield Road, Wishaw, Sutton Coldfield B76 9PR

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