Clare Smyth: The head chef talks Michelin stars, crisp sandwiches and what it’s really like working under Gordon Ramsay

 

Are there any particular foods which remind you of childhood?

Growing up in Ireland, it would be things like stews. Shins of beef that would be cooked on the stove all night and we'd wake up in the morning and the house would smell beautiful. Bread, as well. Things like Irish wheaten bread, which I make at the restaurant now, my mum used to make that at home.

What do you cook at home?

I'd normally cook Asian food, because it's quite different to what I cook every day. At the weekend, I got lamb shoulder from the butcher and made a rogan josh and cooked it for four hours. It was absolutely incredible.

Who is the worst critic?

I'd probably say myself.

What was the last bad meal you ate?

Everywhere is relative to the price point. I have an Italian just around the corner that does half-price pastas on weekdays. It's £4.50 for a bowl of spaghetti bolognese and it's delicious. I'm not a food snob.

For you, what's the difference between two and three Michelin stars?

It's just the level to which you do it and the consistency with which you do it. It's not something you can put your finger on. I ate at the Fat Duck the day before it won its third star. It was phenomenal. I came back and told everyone it was amazing and the next day it got its third star and I was like, 'See, I was right!'.

Do you shout in the kitchen?

Yes and no. I have moments, every chef has moments. But I think anyone at the top of their game should be controlled in their environment. We should have calm, organised confidence in what we're doing. If you're screaming and shouting and banging, you've lost control and it's because something's gone wrong.

How does that reflect on Gordon Ramsay's style?

People have that image of Gordon because of TV. It was filmed and then they cut weeks down into half an hour. If you do that in anyone's life, you could probably find 30 minutes of anger.

So he wasn't a nightmare to work for?

Gordon was quite fierce in the kitchen: you never did anything twice, that's for sure. But it wasn't constant. We wouldn't have gained three stars if he hadn't been calm and organised. It was always about the food. We also used to laugh and joke a lot – and people don't see that on television.

It can be a famously boozy industry. How involved do you get in that side of things?

I've never done it. There's no way I could go out and then perform the next day. We have to treat ourselves like athletes in a way. We go out on the weekends, of course, but not on school nights.

What's your guilty food pleasure?

Salt and vinegar crisps. I love them. I love vinegar, I have it on everything.

Ever in a sandwich?

Sometimes. When I get home from work, there's something about that packet of crisps.

And what would be your last meal?

One of my favourite ingredients is black Périgord truffles and one of the best things I've ever had was a bowl of black truffle linguine. To drink with it was a bottle of Chateau Lafite '82. It was, as we say, un grand moment, where you just think, 'Wow, this is the best'.

Biography

Clare Smyth was the first female chef in the UK to be awarded three Michelin stars. After working at The French Laundry in California, Per Se in New York and Le Louis XV in Monaco, she was made head chef for Restaurant Gordon Ramsay aged just 29

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