“I love a fishfinger sarnie and always put customers first” - meet Norfolk’s best chef

PUBLISHED: 14:06 12 November 2018 | UPDATED: 14:06 12 November 2018

Daniel Smith and Charlie Wilson (right) at The Wildebeest  Picture: Paul John Bayfield

Daniel Smith and Charlie Wilson (right) at The Wildebeest Picture: Paul John Bayfield

We meet the Eat Norfolk Food and Drink Awards Chef of the Year winner Charlie Wilson.

The Wildebeest Arms. New dishes - 2018 - Paul John BayfieldThe Wildebeest Arms. New dishes - 2018 - Paul John Bayfield

Charlie Wilson, head chef of The Wildebeest in Stoke Holy Cross, beat off stiff competition to take home the Chef of the Year prize at the Eat Norfolk Food and Drink Awards this autumn.

In our latest insight into our winners, we find out more about the ambitious young chef.

Q: How did it feel when your name was called out?

The Wildebeest Arms. New dishes - 2018 - Paul John BayfieldThe Wildebeest Arms. New dishes - 2018 - Paul John Bayfield

A: Winning Chef of the Year felt amazing and overwhelming as everyone at the cook-off was extremely talented. Overall I was proper chuffed!

Q: Tell us a bit more about your background

A: I first stepped foot in a kitchen, working at the sink in my local pub at 17 years old. I completely fell into cheffing but I loved every bit of it. Then I completed a level two cookery apprenticeship. I moved to St Benedicts restaurant and learned some classic French food and techniques at one Rosette level from Nigel Raffles before moving to another of his restaurants, The Library, where I learnt how to cook great fresh food - cooking for more than 180 covers a night. After two years I moved to a three Rosette hotel kitchen in Northampton and had my first proper experience of fine dining. I also went for work experience at the two Michelin starred Le Manour aux Quat’Saisons before having the chance to come back to Norwich and work for Dan Smith, climbing the ranks from junior sous to head chef.

Q: There’s a bit of a crisis in industry locally, what would you say to young people thinking about a career in cheffing?

A: We need them to carry on cooking and make them feel how rewarding it can be. Yes, the hours are bad, but if you enjoy it then it’s worth sticking it out and learning as much as possible.

Q: What’s been your best job so far?

A: Probably Rushton Hall HOtel in Northhampton.

Q: And your worst?

A: I don’t have a cheffing job I haven’t enjoyed so it would be working for a book compnay packing in the warehouse - I only lasted a month or so.

Q: Your perfect sandwich filling?

A: It’s crispy battered cod and tartare sauce - or a fishfinger sandwich to you and me.

Q: What do you think’s the best dish on your menu at the moment?

A: It’s the Norfolk venison loin with rosemary infused mash potato, salt baked swede, cavelo nero, buttered salsify, red wine jus and a touch of dark chocolate.

Q: If you could work any section of the kitchen, where would it be?

A: My favourite is the mains section stove-cooking all the meat, sauces and garnishes for the main courses.

Q: How do you spend your time off?

A: I like to go fishing in Norfolk when I have the time.

Q: Where’s your favourite place to eat locally?

A: My favourite spot in Norfolk is Sunday lunch at the Temple Bar after a busy week at work.

Q: Any guilty pleasures?

A: It’s got to be Grosvenor fish and chip bar in the Norwich Lanes.

Q: Which ingredients can’t you be without in your fridge?

A: I can’t live without thyme, onions and butter.

Q: Any top tips for us?

A: One tip for every reader is to taste everything you cook at every stage.

Q: Do you have a favourite local supplier?

A: Yes it’s Garry Howard for all our fish, shellfish and game needs. You can’t beat his expertise. His knowledge has been passed down the generations. He really knows his stuff.

Q: What makes the food at The Wildebeest stand out?

A: We are always trying to do more for the customer experience and try to be different where we can, but we can also hit the brief for anyone coming in to eat with us. Our number one rule is to cook for the customer. We always try out and consider different peoples’ thoughts on food and offer the best possible option for them.

Q: Any kitchen disasters over the years?

A: I’ve had many but the worst for me has to be cleaning down after a busy service and picking up a full 80C bain marie to clean underneath. I slipped and poured the contents over myself and spent the next couple of hours on a chair in the walk-in fridge. I was red all over like a lobster.

Q: Where in the world would you most like to eat?

A: If I could eat anywhere it would be David Munoz’s restaurant Diver XO in Madrid which holds three Michelin stars. It’s like nowhere else you can eat.

Q: What would your dream last meal be?

A: My final supper could consist of a slow-roast lamb shoulder, smooth potato puree, Parisian peas and a rich reduction.

Q: What’s the worst thing you’ve ever eaten?

A: It was in Spain on an olive farm - I decided to try one right off the tree and it was horrific and bitter.

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