Chef Justin Llewellyn’s career has seen him take the helm at some of the most prestigious hotels in South Wales including Resort Head Chef at the Celtic Manor, Head Chef at St David’s Hotel and Executive Chef at The Vale Hotel. He has been Head Chef at The Park Plaza in Cardiff city centre for 18 months.
1. Give us 5 words that describe your food.
Modern, British, Local, Quality Ingredients. You can mask cheap ingredients but I’d rather give a smaller amount and let the best ingredients speak for themselves. For example we buy chicken from Madgett’s Farm which has a completely different texture and taste, it’s really meaty and there’s no comparison to a supermarket chicken. We also buy a lot of heritage vegetables, old fashioned really, carrots and beetroot.
2. Apart from your knives, what one piece of kitchen equipment would you never be without?
Thermomix probably is our pride and joy, it makes velvet purees. You can get domestic ones and you can just make anything in them. We don’t really use water baths, we’re more about traditional cooking. A lot of places use them but I think it’s just a lazy way of cooking. I’m not a dinosaur, I will try these gadgets and they are precise but for us it’s all about slow cooking.
3. Which book should be in every kitchen and why?
Daniel Bourdain is probably the latest one, my sister bought it for me, for Christmas. Thomas Keller, Under Pressure is a good one, that’s all about sous vide. I’ve got too many books, I’m on Amazon buying cookbooks all the time to be honest. Larousse I would recommend to young chefs. My sister-in-law has a pub and a couple of her regulars know I’m a chef and they bring back books when they go to auctions so I end up with all these 200 year old books. In Season is one of my favourites and I use that all the time.
4. If you could give the 18 year old you one bit of advice, what would it be?
I’d still be a chef, I wouldn’t change it. A lot of people are unhappy in their jobs, I work 16, 17 hours a day so I can’t be unhappy! My parents had a guesthouse and I used to cook the breakfasts when I was 10 years old. I just like the hotel environment, I like the challenge of a 24 hour business. The only thing is that I’d probably go and work abroad, travel more.
5. People photographing their food - yes or no?
I think it’s a compliment to be honest. You see it all the time, especially with our afternoon teas. I’ve got no issue with it. Trip Advisor is really good, it has it’s downside but it’s another avenue for feedback. People take photographs and they put them on there. As a consumer that’s where I go first!
6. What makes for a great food experience?
It depends whether I’m taking my wife or children but really you just want really good service and quality food. I’m not the type of person to complain unless it’s really bad but really I think you look at what you pay for. I want good quality and to for the food to match what’s described on the menu. Decent portions too! I enjoy the experience of Michelin restaurants but I wouldn’t want to do it every day.
7. Tell us about an ingredient that is underrated and what to do with it.
I think the flavour of Kohlrabi is amazing and we shred it and put it in salads or do a gratin, slice it with potato and press it like a terrine. We’ve been using quinoa for about 15 years now but it’s only in the last year you’ve been able to get it in supermarkets. We have potted rabbit on the menu now and we add chicken to it to encourage people to eat it.
8. What dish reappears on your menu regularly?
The pork belly. We buy whole woodland pigs, we take the belly and cook it really slowly at 90 degrees in duck fat for 24 hours. Once it’s done we roll it then cut it in to portions and pan fry it ready for the table. What we put with it depends what’s in season, maybe cauliflower puree or butternut squash. Sometimes we put scallops with it, pork and fish go really well together.
9. What do you see as the latest food trends?
I’m seeing a lot of Asian influence in food, we’ve got an Oriental duck salad on the menu which is lovely. People are also wanting to eat more healthily but it still has to taste amazing. Our owners are very healthy but they eat out all the time and they encourage us to look at this or that restaurant. Fish is so popular at the moment, we try to keep away from using fish like cod and use pollock or ling but when ingredients are trendy it pushes the price up. We are also using more raw food to keep the flavour and the goodness in.
10. What’s next for Justin Llywellyn and The Park Plaza?
We’re changing the menus all the time, the competition is so fierce in Cardiff so we’re just looking at our own quality and not getting too hung up about what anyone else is doing. We’re busy which is good and I’m trying to get as much feedback as possible, I want to do things right. One thing we're looking at launching is a gentleman's afternoon tea with a shot of beer, maybe a cigar on the terrace or steak sandwiches.