Award win­ners

Justin Kett, Chef of the Year in the Eat Suf­folk Food & Drink Awards 2018

EADT Suffolk - - INSIDE - PHOTO: Jayne Lindill

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

/ Alamy Stock Photo

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.

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