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Mostly Food & Travel Journal

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Chef Julian Ward

His restaurant is at JW Steakhouse at The Grosvenor House Hotel. I posed the logical question: It’s ‘JW Steakhouse’ – is that ‘JW’ you, or is it JW Marriott, or did you get the job because you have the right initials? Chef Julian Ward laughs. ’I think it’s just a coincidence – but maybe it was destiny!’

London restaurant review JW Steakhouse is an authentic American steakhouse. It’s not themed with swathes of red, white and blue flags, there are no Davy Crockett hats ahangin’ and one can’t find Southern State car number plates anywhere. No, this is just, simply, the style of steakhouse that one can truly find in, say, Manhattan. Julian looks every inch the appropriate chef for such an establishment.

Chef Julian Ward gives an overview: ‘We have about 130 covers, and 170 with the outside terrace, which is poplar in the summer. It’s informal, there is a buzz, it’s relaxed, there is a concept of sharing. We do a special every day, a main, side and dessert, we ring the changes and this helps to maintain the interest of the staff. I will ask the junior chefs to come up with ideas for specials or sides. The English asparagus season is just getting going, and we will be doing specials with that, perhaps with a hollandaise or prosciutto or with beef Carpaccio.’

I asked Julian who was the most influential in his young life with regard to food and eating. Were any of his family involved in catering? ‘My grandmothers on both sides were great cooks. My grandmother in Trinidad used to have a bakery in Baltimore, and then brought it back to Trinidad. My father also cooks, so the family were all involved, especially when catering for weddings and functions. I had always loved cooking, and I can see the same thing in my sons now: my youngest son Jaden, aged 6, comes into the kitchen now. I remember at that age cutting up tomatoes, peeling potatoes, having fun expressing myself on the plate, and Jaden was the same last night, making dinner, putting cocktail sticks in the burgers. That kind of finesse in understanding food is in the blood. That’s the enjoyment of food, and when my two youngest sons are in the kitchen it’s a beautiful thing to see that they are driven to food in the same way I am.’

Were there any particular dishes that impressed Julian? ‘My grandmother’s Macaroni Pie was probably the most memorable dish from my childhood. She’s passed away now, but my Mum makes it in the same way, and now my children love her macaroni pie. Mum makes home-made ice-cream, too, so when the kids want ice-cream they will make it together, just as I used to with my grandmother. It was never about just going to the ice-cream van when it came around – it was “You want ice-cream? OK, we’ll make ice-cream”, and we’d spend two hours churning it in the pail!’

Was it Julian’s ambition to be a chef? ‘At school I always wanted to be a chef  and if not that, then something in sports, but I had a great opportunity having a great teacher in Home Economics and I was lucky, I had that drive to see it through and finished with an ‘A’ in the subject. Then I had to decide where I went from there, and my Head of Year teacher was great, he gave me a list of people to apply to. I wrote to everyone – the Army, all the hotels in London, small cafés, Claridges, the Dorchester, Simpsons – and eventually I had an acceptance from the Savoy, so that was the decision made!

London restaurant review ‘So I went straight from school to the Savoy, and Anton Edelmann was head chef there. He is still a great mentor to me, and I remember his first words to me were, “Well, life is over now, you will always be a chef! Do you want to be like me?” At such a young age you look up to someone like Anton and you think: “Wow, 70 chefs under you, all saying ‘Yes, Chef!’ to you, all having that respect!”, and you say, “Yes, this is where I want to be!”

‘So really this is where life began for me, giving me an understanding of different cultures and foods – so much more than the cooking shows on TV. It’s only when you have been in the industry for a few years that you begin to appreciate what you are involved in. Only after I left the hotel did I realise what a grounding I had, what an important stepping-stone. Even today Anton continues to be a mentor to me – I speak to him at least twice a week, and he had a great influence on my coming here to Grosvenor House, as his first head-chef position had been here. I look on him as a culinary father-figure. Anton has always been looking over my shoulder, wherever I am in the world. He seems always to have known where I was, what I was doing, and kept his eye on me. I have phoned him for advice about job moves and when I talked about coming here he said, “Go for it!” This is a place where I can grow – there’s so much more I can do and learn, and working with Nigel Boschetti, the Executive Chef, gives me a balance.

‘I spent four years at the Savoy, and then I went to Germany for a year, cooking Bavarian food, Thai and Japanese, and worked at the Mangostin in Munich. It was a great experience to be working away from home at that age, and I decided that I wanted to go to America, but knew that at only 20 years old there was no point, as there would be few opportunities. I had the chance to work for Marco Pierre White at Quo Vadis, and spent a year there. It was a tough time, and there was a lot of pressure to retain the Michelin star, which, along with all his other restaurant interests, took its toll on Marco and the rest of us.

‘I went to several London establishments, opened Sketch, DMD, Plateau, Pierre Garnier, a boutique hotel outside London, came back to London and had a great opportunity to open the restaurant at the Royal Institution. In the meantime I had been to the USA and spent three years there. I had an idea what to expect, having visited the States on holiday, but I realised that they are very lucky not to have the same seasonality as here – produce is available all year round because of the diversity of climates around the continent. Although when I went to Aspen, I really felt the difference, because it’s like being in a box. When supplies came in, that’s what you had, and when it was gone, that was it!

‘I learnt a lot in the US, and I still take note of developments and new openings whenever I visit family there. I bring that experience to JW Steakhouse, and so much thought and understanding of what a true steakhouse is about has gone into the design of JW.

London restaurant review ‘Most of the menu had been tested and trialled by Nigel before I arrived, and we don’t change the core items, like the steaks and the cheesecake dessert. We use great USDA beef as well as British, and we do a ‘Steak of the Month’ where I bring my own influences to bear, plus we do have daily specials and seasonal changes, of course, such as for Christmas. For our lunchtime menu we are just bringing on a BLT and a Reubens Sandwich, and a Mississippi Mud Pie served with a Bourbon ice-cream – maybe not as big as the cheesecake, but a nice slice!’ Julian laughs again, as that legendary cheesecake is enough to defeat any but the most dedicated diner and is quite a generous helping for a couple.

‘I enjoy using my food experiences to enhance the dishes. For the Kentucky Derby we added a few twists to the Sunday Roast like the Grits and Bacon, and Collard Greens, to make our American guests feel like we’re celebrating the Kentucky Derby. It was nice to be able to show our younger chefs these products for the first time. I think our guests, of whatever nationality, come here for that ‘American steakhouse’ experience, and are not intimidated by the style of the restaurant.’

Steak is the key ingredient at JW Steakhouse and they offer something for every carnivore. ‘The Tomahawk is our signature steak – it’s a bone-in rib-eye that we cut and prep and age for a further 15 days, in sizes from 900 to 1400 grams. The ‘wet-aging’ process ensures a very tender result – you can cut it with a fork. I came to work for the quality and authenticity that this restaurant offers, and that’s so important, and I’m learning about consistency as well as the different cuts of meat, always finding something new to experiment with.’

Does Julian cook when he goes home and what does he enjoy eating? ‘I have always loved my grandmother’s recipes: oxtail, curry goat. My grandmother’s from Barbados, my dad from Trinidad, so meals were very Caribbean based ...but Sunday was for our Sunday Roast. It was the traditional English meal with all the family sitting down together. At home, cooking is fun, and I teach my wife and the kids things that they can cook quickly during the week. It’s about passing on the things that I have learnt. Some people get so anxious about cooking, but I think if you break it down into easy stages you can make it fun, as well as simple and healthy.’

Visit JW Steakhouse here

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