Justin Kett, Chef of the Year in the Eat Suffolk Food & Drink Awards 2018
Chef of the Year Justin Kett
As a young man, growing up in Suffolk, Justin Kett’s ambition was to be a chef in the armed forces. “I lived for travelling,” he says, “so what better way to do it than get paid at the same time.” Unfortunately for Justin, Chef of the Year in the 2018 Eat Suffolk Food & Drink Awards, his asthma put an end to his army career intentions, so he enrolled on a catering course at college in Lowestoft.
Work experience took him to The Swan Hotel in Southwold where he impressed and was offered a job. “I bit their hand off,” he admits. After two years of one day a week at college, combined with full time working at The Swan, the 19-year-old fledgling chef took off and went travelling around the world, mainly Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, east coast Australia, Tasmania and New Zealand.
“It was fantastic experience,” he says, and not like any other gap experience. “When you go travelling as a chef, you work with the locals, get to see how they live and work. It’s completely different.” Travel was interspersed with working back in the UK for Richard Guest, then at the Michelin starred Castle Hotel in Taunton, including four hard years as senior sous chef.
“I realised I hadn’t seen my parents for more than about five weekends in that entire time,” he says, “so I thought it was time to come back to Suffolk.” A job as head chef at The Brudenell in Aldeburgh came up, followed by a move to the group’s property in Lavenham, The Swan at Lavenham Hotel & Spa, where he’s been in charge of the kitchen for seven years, quite a long time for a young chef, particularly a nomad like Justin. But Suffolk can do that to you. Anyway, he now has a wife, Kairi, who is hotel manager at The Brudenell, and life is far from static as they balance careers on either side of the county with the demands of caring for their baby daughter.
Justin’s style at The Swan is simple, good British food, made from high quality ingredients, seasonal and as local as possible. The Swan has a brasserie and a more formal restaurant, but Justin insists the approach is relaxed, and the kitchen responsive to diners’ wishes.
He’s thrilled to be Chef of the Year, although jokes that it’s not life-changing and will do nothing to ease the demands of running a busy kitchen in a favourite hotel in a very popular tourist destination.
“It was good to cook with the other chefs, to know that I can produce something good under pressure, and it was great to be recognised by someone like Richard Bainbridge (chef/patron at Benedicts, Norwich, who judged the award).”
Working overseas has taught Justin a lot, but the UK is, he says, a really good place for food with some exceptional chefs and great restaurants, quite a few of them in Suffolk. So he’s staying put . . . for now. N
COVER IMAGE: Southwold Lighthouse by Chris Herring / Loop Images Ltd
ABOVE: Justin Kett, Chef of the Year and head chef at The Swan at Lavenham Hotel & Spa.