Five minutes with Spencer Metzger

The Ritz London’s head chef and winner of 2022’s Great British Menu talks to Kerry Fowler about the realities of the competition, his desert island must-haves and life at one of London’s most prestigious hotels. Follow him on Instagram@spencermetzger.

Five minutes with Spencer Metzger
Portrait: Optomen Television Ltd

What’s your very first memory of food?
My grandma’s chicken soup. It was just the best ever. It was delicious but there was never that much chicken in it and my brother and I would always fight over who got the most bits.

What’s the first recipe you properly learned to cook?
I was about 11 and my brother reminded me recently that it was, apparently, terrible. It was roast chicken breast with linguine and creamy lemon sauce… we were all praying the chicken was cooked through.

What’s the one recipe that you can’t live without?
I don’t really use recipes but the dish I couldn’t live without is a Thai green curry. Whenever I cook it, I feel I’ve done a good job, and I love the aromatics, the coriander… it wakes me up.

Which food do you absolutely hate?
Blue cheese. I can tolerate it, but if it’s on a cheeseboard I will dodge it. I can do smelly cheeses but there is something about the blue that puts me off… no, it’s not for me!

What’s the one ingredient that you’d take to a desert island with you?
Not an ingredient as such: teabags. I couldn’t live without them. As long as it’s English Breakfast I don’t mind which make, but I am into Yorkshire Tea at the moment.

What’s the meal you’d miss the most whilst there?
A roast chicken dinner. It’s my go-to and the meal my mum is best at cooking.

You can have a one-off dinner party on your desert island… who would you invite and why?
I would invite my whole family. We never get to spend that much time together because we’re all always busy. It would be lovely for us all to be in one place – all the people I care about most.

Which cookbook would you take with you to the island?
I’m a big collector of cookbooks, but the one I would take with me is the book by Stockholm restaurant Frantzén. I’m really into it at the moment. It’s so different, so brilliant, and there are lots of stories to read so it would keep me occupied.

How would you describe your Great British Menu experience?
The truth is I had no idea what it would be like. It was preparing for the unpreparable. I knew the competition would be tough but there was a lot more work than I imagined. It was seven days a week, sleepless nights… I was just practising, practising. I wanted to make sure I came across well, so I didn’t leave a single thing to chance. You don’t know who you are going to be against, what the competition is, how you are going to work under pressure with the cameras on you. But the entire experience was so good, and I met lots of people and made new friends. It was surreal when they announced I’d won. I went in wanting to do well, so to walk away with it… well, I’m chuffed.

What’s it like to work at The Ritz London?
Back when I was 15, I did work experience at The Ritz, so to be working there now as head chef is really something. It’s a special place: people might come for a once-in-a-lifetime treat, or they may be regulars who come every week. It prides itself on excellence, on being as close to perfect as possible, and that is what drives me on – that’s my own belief, too. We are evolving our dishes all the time: what people want now is very different to when the hotel began. And it’s a stunning building. I’ve stayed there a couple of times and it was amazing!

What do you hope to achieve in your career?
I would never rule out having my own restaurant. It’s something I have always wanted. It’s about finding out who you are, what you want and where you want to be, and that comes with time. At the moment, The Ritz is fulfilling everything I need.

What’s your advice for budding chefs?
Young chefs can sometimes try to jump through the hoops too quickly and want to be a head chef by the time they are 25. But you need to spend a long time learning, whether that is staying in one place or trying lots of different places, working with different chefs. You need to be like a sponge: absorb all you can, learn your craft, cook everything well, make sauces perfectly. It’s the most important learning path and you never get that time again.

Follow Spencer on Instagram to keep up with his news.

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