Chef Jos Wellman (aka Tallyrand)
Born in the UK and initially raised in my father’s hometown in Wales, I consider myself a Welshman through and through. Although, with my father in both the Royal and Merchant Navies and later in the Police force we travelled quite a lot as a child, which seems to have given me itchy feet for the rest of my life and a passion for travel as you will see. I guess you could say I am now a displaced Welshman, an adopted Kiwi and a citizen of the world.
I actually started my initial chef training in my mother’s hometown of Plymouth, nestled on Devon’s South West coast and home of the Pilgrim Father’s, Sir Francis Drake and Chichester and while I was there a great open air fish market on the quay, long since gone I am sorry to say. I attended the College of Further Education there, attending full-time for two years: 1975 – 1977 and under the watchful eyes of Chefs Wilmer Hirsch, Wilfred Martin, Harry Cunningham and David Hopkins. Chef Hopkins still teaches there and I am always mindful to visit my mentors when I am back in the UK. During these two years I gained my London City & Guilds qualifications with credits and distinctions. I credit all these chefs with my 'successes' over the years, with particular mention to Chefs Hirsch and Hopkins. Who influenced me greatly and taught me never to accept anything that was not my best, always research things and not to just accept just one view point. So it was here that I was to learn my love, my passion for food and the culinary arts.
Under the direction of Chef Hirsch, I then headed (as a raw 17 year old) to Germany to 'complete' my apprenticeship, not that one ever really does as a chef; one should always be continually learning. My first position there was as Commis de Gardemanger with the Steigenberger Hotel chain in Bad Neunahr; under Chef Otto. It was my introduction to the cold section of the kitchen and buffet work. Purposely sent there, as very few people spoke English, I became fluent in German very quickly. It made for a very eye opening, hard working and enjoyable first year in the trade; both personally and professionally. It also gave me my first taste of cooking for 'the rich and famous'; half way through the year along with the Sous Chef and a Chef de Partie we were whisked up to the German capital of Koln (Cologne) to help prepare meals for a political conference, where amongst other dignitaries we cooked for was Mr Brehznev, the then powerful USSR leader. This was to prove to be just one of the many 'celebrities' I was to cook for, be chef for, or get to know over the years.
After a year, I transferred to Frankfurt and worked at the prestigious Hotel Frankfurter Hof, under Chef Herrn Stumpf. The Hotel was a lot larger and a lot busier an establishment, that mainly catered for business people and the rich and famous. I drew the short straw once to complete a week of graveyard shifts; 11pm – 7am, to be in attendance just in case Sammy Davies Jnr should want food after his shows. Who as it turned out he would come to the kitchen himself at the wee hours and chatter as he ate on a workbench. Being here for a year, taught me so much about cooking for large amounts and high quality, fine dining. It was a long hard year but so rewarding; working shifts of up to 12 hours straight and in some cases when we changed shifts only having 6 hours to get home, relax, sleep and get back to work. But it did reinforce many techniques I was learning and how simple, high quality foods can be: freshly cured meats, good bacon and sausages, fresh eggs, speciality in season foods like asparagus and the abundance of different European breads.
Being in such a prestigious establishment, taught me so very much about the importance of the quality and freshness of food; we were working for the most part with the best of everything. We often held specialised weeks; French, Icelandic are two I remember fondly: when chefs from the respective countries were flown in to supervise the preparation and cooking of the menu specialities. For the French menu I recall fresh truffles (white and black Perigord) being flown in, along with mushrooms of all shapes and sizes; ceps, morelles and chanterelles and the piece de resistance; foie gras or fresh goose liver, that after worming my way in with one of the French chefs, I was taught and allowed to peel and prepare, not to mention lightly sauté and eventually taste for the first time!
Travelling and the world famous
From here I moved on to explore more of Europe; France, Switzerland, Austria, Italy, Spain, Portugal and also couple of trips to Tenerife! To explore their foods, their wines, vineyards and everything culinary. I also had a hankering to travel further, to not only study food and culinary techniques but to go beyond the realms of Europe and study life and the people also. The Caribbean was beckoning . . . So with a four year apprenticeship under my belt, it was time to travel the world: Bermuda, Jamaica and the USA being my first stops. It was here that I learnt the art of ice carving and margarine sculptures.
The next twenty years were to see me travel and work in many exclusive establishments, be involved in TV and movie set work and work with many great, well respected chefs. Chefs from whom I was always eager to pick their brains, not that many of them would be known outside the industry; as the days of the 'celebrity' chef was yet to come.
I have been lucky enough to be chef for or cooked for many of the 'A' list of celebrities from the world of show-business, movies, music etc, from Sammy Davis Jnr and Frank Sinatra to Bon Jovi and Janet Jackson, from all but one of the James Bond actors to Lawrence Olivier and Peter Jackson.
I have also been the chef for and cooked for virtually every member of the British Royal family. I was chef in charge for Princess Diane's visit to New Zealand in 1983, which was one of both the personal and professional highlights of my life so far; she was such a great lady. This event even eclipsing the full Royal State visit of NZ in 1990. Which I might add my mother got all the recognition for; she was (un)fortunate to be stood next to the woman that threw a wet shirt at the Queen. So after all the months of constructing menus and recipes, preparing the kitchen staff, cooking flat out for 36 hours to feed 3000 people in one day….I did all the work and my mother through a quirk of fate ends up with her face all over the international press . . . ahhhh such is the life of the lowly chef!
Where I am now
Many, many miles travelled, many countries explored, many foods from many cultures sampled before finally settling here in New Zealand; my adopted country and I am still only forty! I still travel extensively, vacationing for six weeks each year out of the country plus trips abroad to conduct food festivals, cooking demonstrations or promoting New Zealand produce.
My main stay these days though and my passion is teaching. I am a tutor at a Polytechnic here in New Zealand, the country that the indigenous people call 'Aotearoa' (the land of the long white cloud). Every year I now have 11 trainee chefs come to me for training in the culinary arts. They are with me for a full year, where I can not only hopefully impart to them some of the techniques and recipes that were taught to me, but encourage them to find their own way, their own style in food and cooking. To not just respect the traditions of the kitchen, its long rich long history but also to find new pathways, to introduce themselves to new foods and flavour combinations. To understand and appreciate the flavours of simple, basic foods before they start to marry them to something else, to hold that summer ripened peach, to caress it, to suck in those wonderfully sweet aromas, to appreciate all its aspects before savouring its sweetness, its sun produced natural sugars and taste sensations!!
But this lifestyle of teaching, also affords me the ability to still travel, to indulge in my passion of food, of cooking and the culinary arts. It has also now given me the time to take on new ventures like this cooking column for example, I also regularly write for other international newspapers and magazines, such as a feature on Welsh cuisine in the July 2001 issue of National Geographic. I also consult for culinary websites and manage my own extensive culinary website: http://www.geocities.com/NapaValley/6454/ So if you are looking for answers to culinary questions, want to know learn more about culinary techniques…..then visit me online.
One of the many rewards of all this has also brought me is a nice mountain top house here in New Zealand, with a veranda, expansive sea views, where I can entertain and enjoy with friends long summer dinner parties, brunches or a chilled glass of Chardonnay or a cold beer with some bread and wonderful New Zealand cheeses. It is also a great place to come home to after a long day or after having been away and just sit, relax, drink in the ocean views and watch the sunset over the sea horizon….from where I will typing my columns to you. I do love life, "What would I do if I was 20 again" ? one of my trainees recently asked, "Be 40" I replied…….I do love this time of life! Well that’s a little about me, where I am, who I am and what I am about. You will no doubt discover more about me, my cooking, my culinary philosophies as time progresses.
What will the recipes be about each fortnight? As I write internationally, it makes it hard to target seasonal produce, therefore I normally I cover the most requested weekly recipe from my website or if there is a special day or national holiday happening I will cover relevant dishes: Christmas, Thanksgiving, St Patrick’s Day etc. So I hope you will join me here every fortnight starting from the next edition and enjoy my recipes and cooking tips.
In the meantime I wish you all a great week and bon appetite!