Born in a small town in Dorsett, England, Chef Ashley Palmer-Watts began his culinary career like many others: working for a local restaurant at 13 years old. Today, he is considered Heston Blumenthal’s chief protégé, and perhaps his most successful one. Blumenthal said of his chef de cuisine, when opening Dinner: “I’m utterly confident of putting Ash out under my name. It was always going to be Ash. I simply wouldn’t have done this if it wasn’t for him.”
High praise, and well-earned. Palmer-Watts has been with Blumenthal since the early days, joining The Fat Duck in 1999 after eating there with a friend. He chose to work at a nearby farm, picking watercress until a line cook job finally opened up. When Palmer-Watts joined (right after the restaurant received its first Michelin star), there were a handful of cooks in the kitchen; today there are roughly 50. He was made sous chef in 2001, head chef two years after that, and now serves as executive chef for The Fat Duck Group. At Dinner, which opened in late 2010, Palmer-Watts helped craft a historically-based menu with such dishes as the illusive Meat Fruit, in which cooked meat is made to appear as a mandarin orange. Many of the restaurant’s other dishes have their origins in the 13th to 18th centuries of British cuisine.
Today, the calm, well-spoken chef is in charge of a large staff at Dinner and forming his own style, though Palmer-Watts has said he’s adapted some of his mentor’s obsessive-compulsive attention to detail. His goal, he says, is to create a modern, simple, produce-driven menu in a relaxed yet trendy environment.