Meet the award winning chefs at St Tudno Hotel and Restaurant
PUBLISHED: 00:00 18 April 2014 | UPDATED: 09:03 22 June 2017
A Llandudno hotel with a unique literary connection has written its own success story, with two young chefs winning major awards
Three years ago, Ben Jones’s cooking skills were, he says, ‘non-existent’.
‘Put it this way: I tried to make toast in the microwave,’ he adds.
Today Ben, chef de partie at St Tudno Hotel and Restaurant, is North Wales Junior Chef of the Year, while his colleague sous chef Jack Davison was North Wales winner in the Culinary Association of Wales’s National Chef of Wales competition, and recently took second place in the national final.
It’s a remarkable double success for a relatively small boutique establishment - 18 rooms and 65 covers - with a tight-knit kitchen staff of just three full-timers and three part-timers. The awards for the two 22-year-olds are also a testament to the guiding hand of head chef Andy Foster.
‘He’s not like Gordon Ramsay, he’s quite chilled,’ says Jack of his boss. ‘He won’t let anything go wrong, but he likes to see how far you’ll go before you realise you’ve made a mistake.’
Hotel owner Martin Bland says: ‘I’m very lucky that my head chefs have always been very helpful and passed on their knowledge to the youngsters who come in. They’ve been given the opportunity right from scratch, whereas in large hotels you get pushed to the corner and the head chef barely says a thing to you. They’re thrown in at the deep end here.
‘Ben is a perfect example of what can be achieved by giving them a chance right from the word go.’
Born in Llandudno, Ben left the town when he was eight, as his father Derek’s job as a headmaster of international schools took him to live in Chile, Kenya and Peru.
‘Rugby was what I lived for ever since I could run,’ says Ben. ‘I moved to Peru when I was 15 and I got put into a school which had rugby, and two weeks after I started playing for them, they wanted me for the Peruvian national team. I started off in the under-21s and did a few tournaments with them.
‘When I moved back here I played for Llandudno, but last summer I injured my back, which meant I can’t play again.’
Fortunately, Ben had already found another passion in life: food.
‘I love it here. It’s the adrenalin when it’s busy, the rush, keeping active. I tried an office job and I just couldn’t do it,’ he says. ‘ I had been jumping from job to job, waiting on and working behind bars, and then I saw an apprenticeship here. I knew Andy before I started working here, and I thought I’d give it a go. I didn’t have a clue about anything to do with cooking. Everything I’ve learned, I’ve learned here.’
Jack knew much earlier in life that he wanted to work with food.
‘My grandma was a big influence when I was younger. I remember peeling potatoes and rolling pastry and crying over onions,’ says Jack, who also hails from Llandudno. ‘I was about 13 when I started cooking roast dinners and cakes.’
Jack joined St Tudno as a 17-year-old apprentice and is now sous chef. He can see his own stamp on the menu in dishes like breast of Gressingham duck with potato cake, fricassee of celeriac, blackberries, watercress and honey roast pear, and the starter of pressing of chicken, sweet corn puree, crisp skin and popcorn.
The style of St Tudno is, says Jack, ‘modern British with a few French influences’.
Hungry for knowledge, both young chefs want to learn as much as they can, with an eye to one day being in charge of their own kitchens. In the meantime, there’s no rivalry between the two young award-winners.
‘We’re all supportive. We’re all like family, near enough,’ says Jack.