Chef Colin Westal started his career with a 3 year apprenticeship with the Roux Brothers where he learned the finest classical techniques. He then moved to Kensington Place Restaurant under Roux Protégé Rowley Leigh where he quickly progressed up the kitchen brigade.
After 8 successful years at Kensington Place, Chef Colin’s love for fish lead him to manage a fishmongers where he would go to Billingsgate market daily to find the best available fish. From 2008, his career also saw him heading the kitchen of 160-seat restaurant: Le Café Anglais and opening neighbourhood restaurant: Soif.
Chef Colin joined Le Cordon Bleu’s team of cuisine teaching chefs in 2014.
What made you want to become a chef and then a teaching chef and when did you realise?
From around the age of 12-13 I found my passion for cooking. At school I had the opportunity to take up home economics which I loved! The flair to become a teaching chef followed after passing on my knowledge to the kitchen brigade throughout my career – so it really was a natural progression to teaching students.
What are you most passionate about in the food world?
Fish in general is my most favourite ingredient to work with. I began working with it by mistake really! during my time at Kensington Place I was asked to look after the fishmongers and fish shop for three months. Two months into the placement I asked if I could continue in the position permanently. I loved taking trips to Billingsgate Market and setting up the shop, but what I loved most was giving tips to customers on how to prepare their fish. I then took three years out to be a full time fishmonger.
Why did you choose Le Cordon Bleu and what makes it so unique to you?
Well that’s simple, because it’s the best! At my first interview for my position I was taken on a tour of the school and I was blown away by the facilities and the equipment which lined the kitchens. The chefs and students have everything they need and more.
When you’re starting out you’ll need to be dedicated, committed and taste as much as you can.
What is your earliest food memory?
It would be my mum’s curry. When she lived in Kenya, East Africa she learnt lots of delicious spicy recipes.
Who is your food hero?
Elizabeth David, because her research is second to none! She was a British cookery writer who in the mid 20th century strongly influenced the revitalisation of the art of home cookery with some excellent books and articles about European cuisines and traditional British dishes. More from my era there was the Roux brothers and Simon Hopkinson.
You started your career with a three year apprenticeship with the Roux brothers, what advice would you give people who are just starting out in their culinary career?
Well apprenticeships can be hard to find now, but when you’re starting out you’ll need to be dedicated, committed and taste as much as you can.
What did you enjoy most about working in the Kensington Place kitchen?
Kensington Place opened in 1987. It was the biggest opening in London at the time, the architecture was out of this world and the opening overran slightly so it was on everyone’s lips! When we opened the doors it was so busy! We had a seasonal menu and the place just evolved, it grew and grew. The restaurant expanded six years after opening and a private dining room was added a few years later. During the 90’s it was the place to be seen, people used to drive past very slowly to look through the window to see which celebrities they could spot. We were once very famous for our omelettes and a lady once requested an egg whites omelette and we all thought she was mad, but it actually turned out to be quite a popular dish. The opening was challenging – we normally served 270 covers on Friday and Saturday nights, but the whole brigade were loyal and committed which create a strong bond between us all.
What has been your most recent meal out?
I was in Portugal recently with Le Cordon Bleu doing some demonstrations for the school and we ate in a fish restaurant in Porto, on the northwest coast. There were the biggest trays of fish, and when you saw one you wanted you called over the waiter and then they barbequed the fish for you. It was delicious and full of locals drinking wine, so the atmosphere was great! It was just fish, fish, fish! What heaven!
Do you have a favourite kitchen gadget?
My spice grinder, I use it for all sorts.
If you had £10 only to spend on food, what would you buy and where would you buy it from?
300g of freshly handpicked white crab meat.