Meet Suffolk’s chef of the year

Lavenham Swan chef Justin Kett has won Chef Of The Year in the Eat Suffolk Awards.
Picture: Nick Bu

Lavenham Swan chef Justin Kett has won Chef Of The Year in the Eat Suffolk Awards. Picture: Nick Butcher - Credit: Nick Butcher

Justin Kett, head chef at The Swan in Lavenham took home one of the top prizes at this year’s Eat Suffolk Food and Drink Awards. We caught up with him…

Q: How did you feel when your name was called out at the awards ceremony?

A: It was fantastic I felt very proud of what I’ve archived, and I was very grateful.Iit was a nice surprise as there were some great chefs there on the night.

Q: How long have you been at the Swan?

A: I’ve been here for seven years now and before that I was working at The Brudenell for nearly two years. That’s how I first came to the TA group. Before that I was at the Castle Hotel in Taunton and in Australia and New Zealand.

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Q; What do you love about being a Suffolk chef?

A: I love the produce. We’ve got so many untapped resources here from the onions through to pork and apples. Also, it’s good to be close to my family. I spent a lot of time living away and it was good to come back here. I’m from Wenhaston originally.

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Q: Do you have a signature dish?

A: Not really. I just like to cook stuff that’s good, seasonal and local if possible. I do love making Wellingtons with venison though.

Q: Your earliest food memory?

A: It’s not the first thing but one thing I looked forward to was crisp sandwiches with cheese and tomato ketchup. I remember thinking it was amazing – the really nice cheddar and the bread. It reminds me of Saturday mornings growing up. If you have a really nice loaf of bread, good butter, good cheese and ketchup, with crisps for texture, it works pretty well.

Q: Can you remember the first thing you ever cooked?

A: It was a chicken veloute and I completely messed it up at school. I was only about 10 or 12 and I didn’t follow the recipe. I chucked all the milk and butter in and launched the flour at it and it turned to this lumpy grey, horrible mess.

Q: Do you have any favourite places to eat in Suffolk?

A: For special occasions The Bildeston Crown is very good, or The Great House. I like Pea Porridge too but I also like Milsoms at Kesgrave for a club sandwich – it’s fantastic.

Q: Which dish are you loving on your menu at the moment?

A: The heritage tomato salad with gazpacho.

Q: What’s the best ingredient to come out of Suffolk?

A: I think the pork is really good and that the onions are completely underused. We grow lots and don’t make the most of them. I also love the game.

Q: What’s the one thing you think everyone should learn to cook?

A: A lot of chefs these days don’t know how to cook. They’re just trying to make things look stunning on the plate. If you put them in service doing 40-50 cover without a water bath it becomes an issue! One thing they should make is bread. It’s such a staple and a great thing to be able to do. You can do so much with it. Anything in the fridge can be chucked in to flavour it -ham, cheese, mustard.

Q: Who would you most like to have dinner with?

A: Arsene Wenger. I want to know why he didn’t change when he was Arsenal manager.

Q: What do you always have in your fridge at home?

A: We’re never without butter.

Q: Is there any food you hate or don’t like to eat?

A: Not really. I mean, there are things I don’t like but I think they have their place. I’m not a fan of olives but they work well with so many things. I do hate things not in season – like strawberries in the middle of January. They don’t taste of anything and it’s a waste of money.

Q: Your favourite holiday dish?

A: Grilled ribs in Estonia. My wife’s from there. They are fantastic. They marinate them in blueberries and a little chilli. Delicious.

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