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The announcement was made in October 2015. After eight years at the Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, chef Clare Smyth has decided to go solo with the opening of her own restaurant, also located in London, scheduled for Autumn 2016 ("The site isn't confirmed yet" she says "But yes, we should respect the due date, fingers crossed").
At the age of just 37, the Irish chef – who acted as mentor to young Mark Moriarty in 2015, accompanying him on his way to win the title of S.Pellegrino Young Chef – is not only acclaimed as the only woman in the United Kingdom to have been awarded 3 Michelin stars, but also because of her remarkable career: a brilliant story that has evolved in the kitchens of Heston Blumenthal, the Roux Brothers, Thomas Keller and Alain Ducasse – and, above all, because of her extraordinary modesty.
A reserved and serious attitude also characterized her presence at the Mountain Gourmet Ski Experience, the four days of skiing and cooking organized by Blumenthal in Courmayeur last January, where we met her. We would like to take this opportunity to ask her a few questions.
Why have you decided to leave the restaurant and start your own venture?
It is just something I feel I have to do. That’s all I can say to simply express the way it is. In the past years, I have established a marvellous working relationship with Gordon, I loved my work and the extraordinary success we have achieved, but there was a little voice inside that was urging me to open a place of my own. I have achieved so much in my career, I have done everything within my reach: now it is time to move forward. Take the chance, take the risk.
What will your restaurant be like?
I want to set up something completely new, something that is all about me, my personality and the evolution of my career: everything about me being a chef. The menu will be based on things I like to eat, served in the type of atmosphere I feel relaxed in. A modern twist on fine dining without a dress code or concerns about using the right piece of cutlery, and things like that.
Had it become too tiresome keeping up with the standards of formality imposed by three Michelin stars?
I’m not saying that all top notch restaurants should be like this but, at the moment, this is the sort of place I want to have. A venue that maintains the same high quality and standards as the Gordon Ramsey, in terms of cuisine and service, but in a different manner: it's not about what you eat, it's about how you eat. For instance, we shall have no table cloths and all the tableware will be hand-crafted by ourselves, entirely artisanal.
What can we expect to find on the menu?
It will be focused on everything that is produced or grown locally, it will all be much greener. We chefs have a duty towards sustainability, also because that’s the way the world is going and it is also an intelligent move from a business point of view. I work a lot with farmers and I actually grew up on a farm: you won’t necessarily find British dishes on the menu but you will certainly find British products. I have a network of amazing producers and I’ll take them with me.
The dish with which Mark Moriarty won the S.Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 event last year was also very “green”. How was your experience as the winner’s mentor?
Cool. And real good fun, so exciting and well organized! It was interesting to see such a serious contest with so many talented young chefs competing with different food cultures from all over the world. Mark’s dish was a very intelligent and daring one to present, but above all, it was simple and modest. It took the jury by surprise. His victory shows that, in actual fact, young people are interested in issues such as sustainability and they are concerned about the future of food.
Now that chefs have become such media darlings, is there any sense in continuing to consider them as “people who cook”?
Personally, I believe it is very important to be in the kitchen and I rarely spend time away from the restaurant. To focus on a very top level and create, any 3-star chef needs to be in the kitchen full-time, practically non-stop. We owe it to our profession, which is now respected and taken very seriously. Until about fifteen years ago, no one looked on chefs as professional figures.
What was the situation like when you started?
When I said I wanted to become a chef people would reply "Really?" with a puzzled look. Nowadays, young people with similar ambitions are greeted with an enthusiastic and genuinely interested response of "Fantastic!" Personally, I have never had any doubts about what I wanted to do when I was a teenager. While still at school, all of my weekends and holidays were spent in the kitchen or actually working in restaurants. And I wasn’t interested in just cooking: I wanted to get to the top.