How Gordon Ramsay helped shape Norwich restaurant owner’s career
PUBLISHED: 15:23 18 February 2020 | UPDATED: 15:23 18 February 2020
Jamie Honeywood Archant Norwich Norfolk
Oliver Boon, owner of Benoli in Norwich, tells us why he was always destined to cook Italian food.
Where did your love of cooking, and Italian food in particular, come from?
Like for most people, my love of food started at home as a child. As a kid I was very lucky to travel a lot around Sicily, Italy and Malta. I can still remember very particular memories like a melon sorbet in Palermo, a brioche and gelato sandwich in Sicily, even things as simple as rocket and salted ricotta sandwiches made on the market in Syracuse, which for someone who was eight years old at the time must have made quite an impression on me. So, although I seem to have spent most of my career cooking French cuisine, I guess I was always destined to end up cooking Italian food one way or another.
Tell us about the route you took to becoming professional…
So I guess I started my career properly when I moved to London at the age of 18. My first job was at Maze by Gordon Ramsay, then I spent the next 10 years working for Bryn Williams at Odette's and Michel and Albert Roux at Roux at the Landau. I was very lucky to have great mentors and, to be honest, they made it easy for me to enjoy my career and my profession.
Are there any people who have had a particular influence on your cooking?
The main influence on my cooking was without doubt Bryn Williams at Odette's restaurant in Primrose Hill. Still to this day I would recommend any young chefs who are looking to get into the industry to go there for their training. It's an amazing restaurant with an incredible ethos for training and nurturing young chefs. It's also a fantastic restaurant to eat at. I really can't say enough good things about Bryn and the restaurant.
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Was your ambition always to open your own restaurant? And why did you decide on Norwich as a location?
I guess it was an ambition at many points but as we all know life goals and plans are ever-changing. There was definitely many a moment of uncertainty!
Norwich was an obvious choice for me simply because my family all live in the area now and it was a chance to spend more time together and also have they're much needed support - thank you!
Benoli has quickly become a popular fixture on the city's culinary scene - how have these first few months since opening gone?
I couldn't ask for more to be honest and that's all down to everyone who's part of the team at Benoli. It's been an incredible start and the best thing is we are still actively improving our offering from the front and back of house. We are nowhere near the finished article and try to make positive moves every day, even if they are tiny. That's not just driven by me but by the guys as well.
Are there any ingredients you are particularly enjoying at the moment?
Truffles are pretty good….
How would you spend your perfect day in Norwich and Norfolk?
I'm quite work focused to be honest, so don't get out and about that much, but I'm normally pretty happy If I get to go out for a coffee or breakfast with my brother or even just get some time to do a little exercise. Perfect can be pretty simple in Norfolk.