The journey to Abalone

Alan Willliams was born in the heart of the traditional music area that is Doolin/Lisdoonvarna in County Clare. He is one of five children and grew up on a farm. One of his early influences was his grandmother, who regularly cooked his favourite meal of bacon and cabbage. They had five gardens, they killed their own pigs, and were self sufficient in many respects. This seems to be a common thread with good chefs, honest home grown food from an early age.

From the age of 12 Williams started working summer holidays in the local hotel, scrubbing pots and preparing vegetables. While there he knew that he would always be a chef. When he left secondary school he did a three months cookery course in Portumna and found that he was being taught all the things he had learned back in those summer holidays in the hotel kitchen in Lisdoonvarna. After his stint in Portumna he worked in Park House Restaurant and a place I well remember called The European Table in Middle Street. Williams reckoned he had missed out on formal cookery school so was delighted when he was accepted into a two year professional cookery course in GMIT. This lasted about 12 months as he was working at the same time and did not like any of those parts of the course that did not involve actual cooking. The practicalities of cooking is what appeals to Williams, not all the paperwork and study.

Williams worked after that in Jameson’s in Salthill, The Malt House, Garibaldis, and Kirwan’s Lane. After a while he hit the high road and went to work in Boston. He must have been doing something pretty special while working in Trio in Boston as he was selected to be included in the International Who’s Who of Chefs and to have his dish of shrimp, lobster, and scallop roulade with seaweed salad included in the current edition. This is the dish he cooked for the then little known singer Britney Spears.

Williams’ top tip for visitors to Boston is to book a table in Clio Restaurant, run by Ken Oringer, it has a sashimi bar that he reckons is the best. Williams’ recent samplings of how other chefs present their food includes a gastronomic few days in London where he had the tasting menus with accompanying wines at Restaurant Ramsay, at Michel Roux’s La Gavroche, and finally the much televised and written about 10 course dinner at Heston Blumenthal’s The Fat Duck. He reckons that Restaurant Ramsay was the best of the three but they were all amazing in terms of service, quality, and presentation.

If you want to book The Fat Duck, apparently you have to ring between 9am and 10am and then they will take bookings for a date two months away. The next day, it is the same story, phone lines only open from 9am to 10am and bookings for two months plus one day out. The night Williams was there, his seating time was 9pm and the place was jammed. All the famous dishes were served: Symphony of the sea with iPod in a conch shell to serenade you with the sound of crashing waves, salmon in liquorice gel, etc. I asked if he had been inspired to create any new dishes and the answer was yes. So I look forward to some interesting new items on the menu.

Williams has gathered quite an enviable reputation for really first class classic food in a relatively short space of time and now there is a new five course special menu for €29, which is excellent value for dining at this level. A sample of what you could have for this price is: Chef’s pre-starter, fillet of beef spring rolls, sorbet course, half a roast duck with champ and roast veg, followed by a choice of desserts. To book call (091 ) 534895.


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