While working there, his head chef, André Garrett, encouraged him to participate in the prestigious Roux Scholarship competition he had himself previously won; another educational experience Bryn Williams is incredibly enthusiastic about. He told us: 'It was a nationwide competition and the experience it gave me was fantastic. Any young chef, if they want to put themselves in a competition, the Roux Scholarship really is the competition. It sorts the men from the boys, or the girls from the big girls. It will either break you or inspire you. It is so intense – the professionalism is amazing, the intensity is phenomenal. So you either thrive in that environment or you crumble. And I liked that environment.' Bryn Williams came second in the year he competed.
After this, he followed Chris Galvin to his new project, Galvin at Windows, where he helped him to open the restaurant – an experience which stood him in good stead when opening his own restaurant. He says he learned from Galvin 'how to open up a big restaurant and make sure everything is in place. It was a good learning experience. As a chef people teach you to cook, but as you get further up the ladder towards management you’ve really got to absorb it when it’s put there in front of you. No one teaches you that stuff. You have to take your chances and run with them. You can’t shy away from it – you never know when the opportunity is going to come round again. I was given an opportunity and I took it with both hands.'
Bryn Williams entered the public eye when he appeared on the Great British Menu in 2006. Only a sous chef at the time, he beat well-established chefs to cook the fish course for the Queen’s 80th birthday – his pan-fried turbot with oxtail, cockles, samphire and red wine jus winning both the judges’ and the public’s vote.
Following this success, he was offered the head chef position at Odette’s in Primrose Hill, London – a respected neighbourhood restaurant, open since 1978. In 2008 he bought out the owner, becoming sole chef-proprietor. In 2014, the restaurant was greatly expanded, increasing the number of covers from 50 to 70 and adding a private dining area and chef’s table. Bryn Williams told us: 'The only thing we do at Odette’s is that we just try and improve and get better. Make sure there is better service, better food, good ingredients. It is never finished Odette’s, we are always striving for something else, on that constant wheel of trying to improve all the time, so that is what we’re doing now at Odette’s.'
Highly regarded, with three AA rosettes, Bryn Williams’ restaurant has gained a loyal following for his highly accomplished modern cooking – 'replete with bright ideas' as described in the Good Food Guide. Trained in traditional kitchens, Bryn Williams says of his food: 'We use classic flavours, so we don’t try and invent anything new but we put our own modern twist on things where it is a bit lighter … It will be something everybody recognises. They’ll know straight away whether they like it or not. When I say my food is quite classic, it is the combination of classic British and classic French.'
There are definite touches of nostalgia in Bryn Williams’ dishes, particularly in desserts such as Odette’s Jaffa cake with sable, sponge, chocolate mousse, marmalade, orange brûlée and orange jelly. He says of this: 'When we make desserts – I think Britain has some of the best desserts in the world – we modernize them and lighten them up. We do a cheesecake, we do an Arctic Roll, we do a baked Alaska, the Jaffa Cake and straight away people go ‘I want that’. We do try and pull on people’s heart strings a little bit in that way, but it needs to be a good dish rather than sounding like a good dish – and executed to perfection.'
Hailing from north Wales, Bryn Williams’ menus showcase the best of Welsh produce, sourced from farms and producers that he knows and loves: 'I know these people. It is all about having confidence in the supplier and I have this confidence.' Every year he shoots game with his family, sending the spoils down to Odette’s: 'pheasant, woodcock and snipe, it’s the way we were brought up as kids – it was never shot and left – we would work the land to our advantage. Customers now know when the game season is and they phone up and ask what is coming in. We always get what is shot, we don’t order it – it just turns up. Sometimes I think that is how the cycle should be.'
Bryn Williams’ second restaurant, a seafood bistro in Colwyn Bay, opened in summer 2015. Right on the seafront, the menu features 'lovely local fish, mussels and oysters – the kind of food you eat when you’re on holiday'. He also has three beautiful cookbooks, all of which feature highlights from dishes at Odette’s. Another real achievement for him, he says: 'If you asked any teacher when I was at school ‘do you think Bryn would write three books?’ they’d say ‘not a chance'!’