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British chef Angela Hartnett had a baptism of fire as a young chef. One of her first jobs was at Gordon Ramsay’s Aubergine in London, where she helped him win a Michelin star. With Ramsay’s seal of approval, she travelled to Dubai, where she was instrumental in launching his Verre restaurant. She returned to London in 2004 and won her first Michelin star at The Connaught. She was awarded an MBE for services to the hospitality industry, and she now has her own one-star restaurant, Murano.
As a child she garnered a keen appreciation of good, wholesome food. Her Italian grandmother taught her the importance of the family meal, which in later years would inspire her first cookbook Cucina: Three Generations of Italian Family Cooking. She has made regular appearances on hit TV shows such as Hell’s Kitchen and the Great British Menu, and is a household name in the UK.
She makes her debut as mentor to the UK and Ireland finalist at S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2018, and Fine Dining Lovers caught up with her ahead of the competition.
How has family life influenced your approach to cooking?
I like sharing meals together and enjoying the whole experience.
You spent time working overseas, notably in Dubai: how did those experiences of other food cultures shape your food?
I would not say Dubai has a food culture, hence all the chefs are from abroad and thousands of restaurants have opened up. The Middle East certainly has its food culture and great Middle Eastern cuisine is so delicious. Very much like the Italian way of eating and all sharing together.
What was it like having Gordon Ramsay as a mentor, and what did you learn from that experience about mentoring young chefs?
Brilliant. I would not be where I am today if it was not for Gordon.
How long did it take to develop your own style of cooking, and what advice would you offer to young chefs looking to develop theirs?
I’d advise them to decide what they like cooking and stick with it. Give themselves time to train. The year in cooking is a seasonal year. You have to see everything, not just six or three months at a time.
You have become famous for your work in the UK – how easy has it been to deal with that fame, and how would you advise others to deal with it?
I get spotted occasionally but I am not on the level of Jamie Oliver and Gordon, and would never want to be.
What new things are you working on at the moment, and what’s new for the future?
I’ll continue what I am doing maybe do another book. I love my job, so its all good.
Can you remember the moment you decided to become a chef – what inspired you and what obstacles did you overcome to achieve your dream?
I didn’t necessarily wake up one day and want to be a chef. I always liked the idea of owning a restaurant and being my own boss. When I started, the hours were long so you lost out a bit on a social life, but I don't really feel I had to sacrifice any part of my life to become a chef.
What was your biggest triumph as a young chef, and is there anything you would consider your biggest failure?
Biggest triumph as a young chef? It depends what you call young, but to get a Michelin star in my first restaurant was brilliant. Failure is a hard word. I can think of many day-to-day disasters when in a kitchen. The key is to never let them leave the kitchen.
As a mentor, what do you expect from your young chef, and what do you think you can offer him / her?
I would like them to be themselves rather than a copy of someone else, so they have their own style that they believe in. My influence would come with the balance of the dish and over all expense from a guest viewpoint. What and my fellow mentors can offer is experience. We have seen a lot of competitions and you get to know what will work under those pressures and what will not. I would like to think I can offer them some of my years of experience. I do believe less is more, and you only learn that over time and with experience.
What would victory in the S.Pellegrino Young Chef competition mean for a young chef?
It would certainly fast-track their career, as they will be winning a huge competition on the world stage. But with cooking you are constantly learning and seeing new things. What’s brilliant about it is meeting new contacts from all over the world.