5 mn with… Ben Towill and Phil Winser

Profession: Partners of Silkstone


Who are you guys?

Ben Towill, 26: I started my career as a chef in the kitchen’s of Raymond Blanc (of Le Manoir Aux Quatre Saisons) at the age of 16, working daily side by side with him.  From there I went on to Rick Stein’s in Cornwall where I learnt everything possible about seafood, how to fish for it, prepare in and cook it! Gordon Ramsay’s empire was my next step, first in London then New York where I was picked to head up a team at his new restaurant and then personally accompany Gordon on his Nationwide TV tour for Gordon’s Kitchen Nightmares.  Once in New York I opened the popular restaurant – the Kingswood and a year later left to start Silkstone with Phil.

Phil Winser, 25:  I’m a Event Planner and Designer for Silkstone. I have trained in the hospitality industry since I was 14, with one of my first events being at the British Royal Palace I have experienced the highest echelon of service. Their attention to detail and unmistakable perfection inspired me to enter into the hospitality industry. I spent a considerable time with London’s finest event planners – Admiral Crichton Events and Catering – putting on huge production events all over the world.  I also worked at Party Ingredients where I learnt the highest level of planning, management and service through high profile events at locations such as the British Royal Palace.

How or why did you decide to work in the food industry?

Ben: I grew up in-between British Countryside and Coast, where I developed a real understanding of what it takes to produce and source ingredients that not only taste of the highest quality but are produced with integrity and passion.  My family have also been macrobiotic for years, which has been a great influence and inspiration in my cooking and approach to food.

Phil: Coming from a family who’s life (work and play) has been centered around looking into the worlds geography and ecology, I have always been passionate about building a sustainable future. I have also always loved food and in particular the fact that it brings together everyone and provides a great platform for great conversations and even better times.  I have always sourced my food locally (ideally growing it from home) so have realized and enjoyed the benefits of this using local or homegrown quality produce for cooking for a long time. Design is another major part of my life, having followed restaurant, hotel and bar design especially closely my whole life.

When was Silkstone born and what is the concept?

Silkstone officially started in October 2008, but we first thought of it together at school at the age of 16. Silkstone is committed to delivering creative, innovative and sustainable food, lifestyle and design concepts, focused on events, restaurants and developing brands through unique experiences. It is born from the notion that there are two essential ingredients to the service industry:  The stone represents the intensive labor, integrity and commitment, and the silk reflects the creativity, innovation and elegance in which this is presented.

Do you just do large events for private clients or companies or do you do small dinner parties too?

As a comprehensive event planning, design, production and company we look after every aspect to an event, including the catering but do also love being part of the intimate surroundings of a small dinner party too.

Ben, tell me a bit about Silkstone menus.

For our events and catering company we approach every event individually, continually looking for the most seasonal, fresh ingredients.  The journey of farm to plate and the integrity of the ingredients are key to us so we are consistently in touch with our suppliers to get an understanding on how their produce is that very week.  We listen to the clients ideas and try and expand it further, referencing it throughout the food, drink and cocktail offerings but always keeping it true to Silkstone offering balanced, light fresh, intensely flavorful bites. A typical Silkstone meal would be:

Start off party with a cocktail of elderflower, cucumber, and lemongrass vodka, along with a few light bites such as lobster ceviche with passion fruit curd and threads of crispy ginger.  

Then we would move on to the shared dishes passed around communal tables using seasonal ingredients. For example: crisp market vegetables with anchovy and chili dressing.   A salad of sugar snap peas, mint, balsamic caramelized spring onions, pea shoots and baby lettuces all sourced from the nearby Yuno’s farm. A beetroot and Swiss chard crumble that is a savory take on a classic with clothbound cheddar, oats and hazelnuts.  Also as whole grains are such an important part of our menus we would include bulgur wheat tabouleh with kale and blue foot mushrooms.

To finish, it would have to be a berry and pistachio Eton mess (meringue and fresh whipped cream) served in mason jars.

This industry is very challenging in a city like NY, there are so many great restaurants and chefs… what’s the key to success?

Personal service and attention to detail, hard-working happy staff and passionate owners. Simplicity and quality throughout – the food, the design, the service.

Where would you recommend to go food shopping in the city?

Great food shopping can be found all over the city but my one of the most easily accessible places for fresh and quality food can be found at Union square market first thing in the morning. Also the fish market in the Bronx is fantastic for the freshest, flavour-filled and cost-effective fish – but be prepared for a 2am start!  Finally the Essex street market always has some great local producers all year round.

What does a city like NY bring to you?

Ben:  For me, NY is a great place because it is so full of opportunity and life which is not only very beneficial for a start-up company but really inspiring and positive.

Phil: The energy, I feel that anything is possible here and there is always something fun to do.

What is your idea of a perfect day in NY?

Ben: My perfect day would consist of getting up early on a Sunday, its amazingly peaceful as no one in the city is awake! Take the world with the Sunday newspapers (and girly magazines!), maybe heading out for bike ride over to Brooklyn for a wander around the flea market to sample some local delights then as the sun comes down heading back to the city for some rooftop cocktails.

Phil: When I have a bit of a headache – I love to walk around downtown New York, visiting the Russian baths, then heading  to Souen or Japanese for some healthy, light and delicious dinner and then maybe rounding off with a night at the movies – in the summer ideally an open air rooftop cinema. But Its quite fun getting the headaches as well – as they are usually from my great friends bar Apotheke in China Town!

What is your favorite place in the city?

Ben: Visiting Roberta’s in Bushwick for some locally sourced, family style food.  I love the open fire pit outside too!

Phil: The Russian baths on 10th Street is my favorite place and I love hosting a dinner party.

What’s next? Any project?

We have several very fun and quirky weddings in Hamptons coming up which will be great as well as a series of events with a luxury brand (but just in negotiations so can’t reveal the name as yet!)

Also Silkstone have recently been appointed exclusive partners with one of New York’s premiere event spaces – Stephen Weiss studios. A great venue that has had everyone from Def Jam to the Dalai Lama come play & talk. The event space has been developed by Donna Karan whose core principles on design and sustainable, healthy eating marry seamlessly with ours, providing the perfect platform for some great events in 2010!

Lastly, but definitely not least we are building out our restaurant in the lower east side which is due to open in June!  It will be serving modern seasonal British cuisine, which is healthy but still innovative and creatively presented.

Silkstone offices are located 17 Orchard Street, 2nd floor. Tel: 1.646.861.1545. For more info check their Website
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3 Comments

Filed under 5 mn with..., Foodies, interview, Lifestyle

3 responses to “5 mn with… Ben Towill and Phil Winser

  1. Hannah

    Message for Phil Winser:
    Sorry i realise this is not about your company but noticed you had worked for ‘Party Ingredients’ in London and wanted to find out about your experience – any info you could offer would be great.
    Cheers

  2. RICHARD GEAR

    THE FOOD WAS AVERAGE

  3. A dynamic duo with a zest for sustainable life.. I’ve never visited your restaurant but I’m very enthused by what you do & specifically, the principles behind your cuisine. Good job! I hope to have my own venture, similar, though 100% vegetarian some day.

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