A SLENDER young woman called Frances Lang waited in reception with a box of colour Xeroxes. She was nervous, but came straight to the point. She was a photography student at Newport School of Art and Design in Gwent who had intermittently supported herself by waitressing. Would I look at her work?
Out came a series of beautiful colour portaits of women chefs in London, a project she had been working on for some time. Each one was remarkable, but together they told a bigger story. The presiding genius in today's interesting and innovative restaurants is not necessarily a man.
Not only are women invading restaurant kitchens, they are hiring more women. Every woman featured on these pages has worked for, or with, another. Yet this is no old girl network. Rather, regardless of the sex of the cook, when it comes to trusting the person next to you with expensive fish, boiling oil and screaming deadlines, smart chefs ring one another before an agency.
Moreover, a man has been nurturing these women chefs. One restaurant crops up again and again in their CVs: 192 in west London. The owner, Tony Mackintosh, is possibly the canniest employer in catering. All but one of the women featured here have passed through his kitchens. The one who hasn't, Amanda Pritchett, worked with one of his veterans.
Frances Lang's work is still in progress. There are women cooking wonderfully across the country, quite outside the London circuit, whom she wants to photograph. She aims to take in two distinct generations. The first is smaller: it embraces women chefs who have already blazed trails to the top of their profession, such as Joyce Molyneux of the Carved Angel in Devon and Sally Clarke with her eponymous London restaurant and bakery. The second group is the large flock of newcomers, some scarcely out of school.
A key figure of the old guard was missing from Lang's collection: Sue Miles. I felt convinced that no profile of British women chefs, particularly London chefs, would be complete without Miles, so I asked Lang to photo
graph her too.
This was a dirty trick to play on a student. Privately I didn't fancy her chances. Miles is obscure for a reason. With rare exceptions, she has scoffed at publicity, usually with a wisecrack and scratchy nicotine cackle. But Miles is no bully. She consented to the photograph, and reported that she was touched by Lang's youthful seriousness. In turn, Lang came back saying of Miles: 'She's amazing.'
One look at Miles and you can see she has lived, and lived fast. Her childhood in the Fifties was spent in New York City, where her father was posted by the Daily Mirror newspaper. She returned to Britain as a teenager and took a degree in Fine Art, which she describes sarcastically as 'tremendously useful. I'm always getting it out and looking at it.' Then she hit the streets of London in the Sixties.
'I worked on the underground press, IT and Oz, and other such unsuitable things. I did in fact run a restaurant at the Arts Lab, but started at Food for Thought in Neal Street, about 20 years ago.' The string of (mostly London) restaurants that followed, which Miles either founded or worked at is impressive: King's Road Cafe in Habitat, Didier's in Maida Vale (with partner Pagan Gregory); Zanzibar Club, L'Escargot, the Soho Brasserie, the Crown Hotel at Southwold, and Underground Cafe.
Miles is playful. In the early days of the London listings magazine Time Out, she worked as its food editor. 'I reviewed myself. I thought: 'I can hardly miss this opportunity.' I did admit I was the chef at the end.' A story still doing the rounds tells of the time Tony Mackintosh's partner, wine merchant John Armit, appeared in Didier's, one of her early restaurants, with his own wine. His excuse was that her food was great but the wine . . . Miles promptly threatened to bring her own dinner to his club.
His club was the Zanzibar, where Miles would, indeed, eat her own food. She became its outside caterer. This is when she hooked up with an unknown: Alastair Little. 'Alastair found me,' she says. 'I used to hide from him. I thought he was dreadful. He was very persistent. Then I decided he was really rather a nice man.'
When Nick Lander, now restaurant reviewer for the Financial Times, re-opened L'Escargot in 1980, he hired Miles to set up the kitchens from scratch. Little joined her there. Those were golden days. 'Nick Lander was a good boss,' she says. 'He knew what he knew and knew what he didn't know.'
After L'Escargot she worked for the brewers Taylor Walker. 'I was taken out to an introductory lunch with managing directors. They were talking about ghastly places - sound and light places, places that make you go weak at the knees. So I said: 'I don't understand. You can get a licence, while independent restaurateurs have to fight for them. You've got the longest premises on Old Compton Street in Soho (it was the Helvetica pub then) and it's dead.' They said: 'Do you think it will be any use?' and I said: 'Yes]' '
It became the Soho Brasserie. Among the almost all-woman brigade Miles set up there were two young women who are now considered among the best young chefs in Britain: Juliet Peston and Angela Dwyer. At Miles's instigation, Peston went on to become Alastair Little's sous-chef as his Soho restaurant shot
to fame in the Eighties. Dwyer took over
the kitchens of 192 and is now chef at the
The Soho Brasserie was a sensation, but Miles left. 'I can't work with big companies, because you can't force them to do things they don't understand.'
She turned the same successful trick for the Underground Cafe in Camden, but declined to go in on the River Cafe in Richard Rogers's development in Hammersmith, west London. Run by her old friend Rose Gray and Rogers's wife, Ruthie, it became a runaway success. Miles admires Rose Gray, but she baulked at serving peasant Italian food to rich Londoners. 'I'm not very good with the rich and famous,' she says. 'I don't like them.' Instead she spent two years in Rome setting up salad bars for an imaginative franchise of McDonald's (a far superior operation to its British equivalent).
Today she runs the kitchens of the Mean Fiddler in Harlesden and the Jazz Cafe in Camden Town, north London. The group that owns them has just leased the Town & Country Club. 'I'm hoping they don't do food there, because I can't do three things at once,'
Miles offered two recipes for publication. 'I'll do something really simple,' she said. This is no condescension. Rather, it points to a home truth. If there is a difference in style between the cooking of men and women, it boils down to pragmatism: how to get the most pleasing results with the least bother.
Here, then, are Miles's two recipes, along with contributions from six more chefs from Frances Lang's collection.
WALNUT AND SAUSAGE
1lb spicy Italian sausages
1lb shelled walnuts
2 plump cloves garlic
2 tablespoons olive oil
10fl oz single cream
2 bay leaves
salt and freshly ground pepper
You need the rough-textured Italian sausages sold in many delis and large supermarkets. Remove them from their skins and crumble. Chop walnuts into quite small bits. Do not use a food processor - it will reduce them to a paste.
Use a wide-based heavy saucepan with tight-fitting lid. Slice the garlic and cook briefly in olive oil. Add the sausage mixture. Carefully fry until you get an even texture.
Add walnuts, mix and add four twists of black pepper from a mill, followed by the bay leaves and cream. The liquid should cover to about 1/4 inch. Add some water if necessary. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer. Cover and cook for 30 minutes, mixing regularly and ensuring that it does not dry out. Adjust seasoning.
This sauce can be made in advance and kept in an airtight container in the fridge for
up to two days. Reheat and bring to a boil before serving.
GRILLED AUBERGINE PUREE
Serves 6 as a snack
2 large aubergines
2 plump cloves of garlic
4fl oz extra virgin olive oil
juice of one lime
heaped handful of chopped fresh coriander
salt and freshly ground pepper
Place each aubergine on the gas burner of your stove. Using tongs, turn when the flame-side- down is really charred. Continue until the whole thing is charred and steam starts rising from the inside. Place in a covered dish; when cool, cut off tops and slip off skins. Put the flesh, plus all the other ingredients, except the olive oil, in a food processor. Puree. Taste, season and slowly add olive oil until you have a thickened sauce. Excellent as dip, or with toast.
Mean Fiddler, 24-28 High Street, London NW10 (081-965 2487). Average price pounds 15 per person incl. wine. Open dinner Thurs-Sat. Jazz Cafe, 5 Parkway, London NW1 (071-916 6000). Minimum charge pounds 10 per person, average price pounds 20- pounds 30. Restaurant open Tues-Sat dinner, brunch Sat-Sun.
THE FRENCH HOUSE
WHEN the 28-year-old New Zealander Margot Clayton married last month, it seemed that half of London's chefs and restaurateurs had a hangover the next morning. They were not only friends of the bride, but friends of the groom, Fergus Henderson, with whom she cooks at the French House Dining Room in Soho.
Since arriving in London four years ago, she has cooked at 192 (under Maddalena Bonino), the First Floor (an ill-fated first stab at head chef), the Quality Chop House and then at the Eagle on Farringdon Road, a raucous pub-restaurant, where she might have sent out 100 plates of food in an evening. Her career almost ended there when the cellar beer-flap came down on her head; she needed 17 stitches. Here she offers a rustic, extremely flavoursome stew. The amount of garlic might sound intimidating, but it has been tested, and it works.
RABBIT AND GARLIC STEW
2 medium rabbits,
cut into pieces and left on the bone
3 rounded tablespoons stemmed and chopped thyme
70 cloves garlic,
not peeled (about 8 ounces or 5 heads)
24 whole shallots (1lb), peeled
4oz smoked streaky bacon, chopped
5 bay leaves
heaped handful of chopped parsley
6oz dry sherry
1/2 - 3/4 bottle white wine
1 pt chicken stock
salt and freshly ground pepper
5-6 tablespoons olive oil
Preheat oven to 300F/150C/Gas 2. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a large frying pan. Brown rabbit pieces, adding oil as necessary, and reserve. Heat 2 tablespoons more oil in a heavy lidded pot, and gently fry bacon and shallots for about 10-15 minutes. Add rabbit, garlic, thyme, parsley, bay leaves; season. Mix well. Add sherry, white wine and stock until meat is just covered. Bring to boil, and cook uncovered for about 5-10 minutes. If too much liquid evaporates, top up with water. Cover pot and place in oven. Cook for 1 1/2 hours, or until meat is just falling off the bone. Serve with new potatoes. Sucking the garlic out of the skin is to be encouraged.
French House Dining Room, 49 Dean Street, London W1 (071-437 2477). Vegetarian meals. Open lunch and dinner Mon-Sat. Average price pounds 20- pounds 25.
THIRTY-year-old Londoner Caroline Brett left Sheffield University with an honours degree in Italian, French and Spanish. She worked briefly in computer graphics, but food and cooking caught her interest.
Following a year cooking with Maddalena Bonino at 192 from 1990-91, she took over the kitchens during lunch service at All Saints restaurant, a Notting Hill establishment so hip that waitresses seemed to think it somewhat uncool to serve food. Brett came out of it with a fierce loathing of slack service, and enormous respect for good front-of-house people.
It was at All Saints that she met Sam Russell (a she), who became not only her sous-chef, but her ambassador: what Brett might bellow at a waitress, Russell will put gently. Late last year, they moved as a pair into O'Keefe's, a cafe off Oxford Street, which does a brisk lunchtime trade. Tarts and pastries are baked freshly each day. There will be a fish, a braise, and any number of remarkable sandwiches, which seem to become a customer's 'regular' just as fast as they invent them. Focaccia sandwiches are a favourite.
14oz organic strong white flour,
such as Marriage's or Shipton Mill, plus more for kneading
good pinch salt
1/2 oz fresh yeast
10fl oz lukewarm water
1 teaspoon sugar
2fl oz extra virgin olive oil, plus 2 tablespoons
1 good pinch finely ground salt
1 handful sea salt flakes
Suggested flavour options:
2 good palmfuls sliced basil
5oz pitted and halved green olives
1 palmful whole sage leaves
1 red onion, peeled and sliced
3oz sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
Put yeast, sugar and water into a mixing bowl. Mix well and leave to froth in a warm place for 10-15 minutes. Add flavour of your choice, flour, good pinch (about 1/4 teaspoon) salt, 2 tablespoons olive oil and mix. Do not worry if the dough is a bit tacky. Tip on to a floured surface and knead until dough is supple. Place in a lightly oiled and floured bowl, covered with a damp towel, and allow to rise in a warm place, about 2 hours. It should double in size. Press out dough into corners of a pre-oiled 8 x 12in baking tray (at this stage, the bread should be very thin). Preheat oven to 400F/
200C/Gas 6. Leave dough to rise 30 minutes, then press down with fingertips to make little wells all over top. Bake until golden, about 20 minutes. Turn out and set on rack right side up while still hot. Immediately sprinkle liberally with olive oil, then a handful of sea-salt flakes. Leave to cool.
At O'Keefe's you might find a focaccia sandwich made as follows: cut bread into
six 4 x 4in squares. Halve each horizontally, grill inner sides. Butter bottom side, lather top one with mayonnaise. Layer with tomatoes, mozzarella, roasted peppers then season with freshly ground black pepper, then several rocket leaves.
O'Keefe's, 19 Dering Street, London W1 (071- 495 0878). Vegetarian meals. Open 8am-5pm Mon-Fri, 10am-5pm Sat. Minimum charge pounds 6 for table service. Lunch from pounds 8- pounds 15. Licensed.
THE GROUCHO CLUB
ANGELA DWYER is 31. She went to Westminster Catering College in 1979, at the age of 17. Since then, she has achieved more than almost all her contemporaries. Catering colleges are not known for producing good chefs, much less women ones. Nevertheless, Dwyer commends it: 'For me it was useful, because my background in food was very limited.'
She grew up in Woking, Surrey. 'We used to have shepherd's pie on Thursday, that kind of thing. My mum had six kids to bring up, so she couldn't play around with food too much.' Dwyer started cooking professionally at the age of 20, running the egg section at Joe Allen's in Covent Garden. When she arrived at the Soho Brasserie for an interview, Sue Miles nearly didn't hire her. 'She said very little, she just sat there,' says Miles.
Miles quickly realised Dwyer was not only talented, but serious, and sent her across to cook with Alastair Little, then chef at the west London restaurant 192. Dwyer worked at 192 for more than four years, as head chef for three of them. Following a brief apprenticeship with Alice Waters at the legendary California restaurant Chez Panisse, she returned to England and became head chef of a new west London restaurant, The Wilds. Last year Tony Mackintosh, her old employer at 192, offered her the head chef job at the Groucho Club in Soho.
If the Groucho has a reputation for being terminally trendy, it never suffered the stigma of having good food. Until now. Here Dwyer submits a recipe full of earthy flavours.
DUCK CONFIT WITH PLUM
CHUTNEY AND POTATO ROSTI
For the duck confit:
4 duck legs
2 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 small sprig fresh rosemary
crushed black pepper
2oz coarse sea salt
26oz goose fat or lard
For the plum chutney:
2 medium red onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon chopped ginger
salt and pepper
heaped handful of chopped fresh coriander
1 small red chilli, deseeded and thinly chopped
10oz red wine vinegar
10oz redcurrant jelly
For the potato rosti:
2 large potatoes (about 1lb)
salt and pepper
From the confit list, mix garlic, rosemary, salt and pepper and place half the mixture in a deep dish. Add duck legs and cover with the remaining half. Cover and leave in fridge for two days. Wash off salt, retain garlic and rosemary in a deep casserole. Add legs and pour in melted fat. Bring to boil and place in an oven preheated to 300F/150C/Gas 2. Cook for 1 1/2 hours. Cool and set aside. To prepare the chutney, halve and stone the plums. Set aside. Heat 1-2 tablespoons vegetable oil in a pan and, over a medium low heat, sweat garlic, onions, chilli, ginger for a few minutes. Season and add vinegar, which should cook off in about 10 mins. Add redcurrant jelly, stir, add plums and coriander and cook for 30 minutes over a low heat. Cool and set aside.
Peel potatoes. Grate coarsely. Rinse, dry with a cloth and season. Divide into four equal sized portions. Preheat omelette pan. Add clarified butter. Cook each portion by pressing potatoes down with a palette knife to form a cake. Reduce heat and cook until golden brown on both sides. Reserve in warm oven while cooking the remaining cakes.
To finish and assemble: remove duck from fat. Place skin-side-up on an oven tray. Bake at medium heat (350F/180C/Gas 4) for 10 minutes, or until the skin is crisp. Serve on rosti. Spoon on a little plum chutney and garnish with coriander leaves.
ELEVEN of the 12 chefs under Maddalena Bonino are men. The 34-year-old Italian likes a challenge and left the restaurant where she made her name, 192, for experience managing a large brigade in the Covent Garden kitchens of Bertorelli. She was suddenly a corporate chef, in charge of kitchens sending out 400 meals a day.
All the women who have worked over and under her will praise her skill and steel. One fondly referred to her as a 'brilliant battle- axe'. Strange, then, that this most ambitious chef came to London in 1979 to learn English and work as an au pair. She tripped into cooking by entering the 1987 Observer/Mouton Cadet cookery competition, which she won with a simple pasta dish. She was then taken on by Carla Tomasi, the marvellous Italian chef then at Frith's in Soho, before being taken on by Angela Dwyer at 192.
'My first shift, they let me play with salads,' Bonino says. 'Angela recognised I could do more almost immediately.' When Dwyer left for California, Bonino took over the kitchens. Here she offers a simple dish of poached brill. Any filleted white fish would work. The lemongrass can be found in most Oriental foodshops.
Poached brill with buttered cabbage
4 6oz brill fillets
1 stalk celery
1 small onion, peeled and sliced
1 stick lemongrass
4-5 black peppercorns
4-5 stalks from flat-leaved parsley
1 tablespoon finely chopped flat parsley leaves
2 pt water
1/2 small head savoy cabbage, finely sliced
1 pinch saffron threads
3oz unsalted butter, cubed
salt and freshly ground black pepper
4 teaspoons salmon caviare
or lumpfish roe (optional)
Bring a large pot of salted water to the boil and blanch the cabbage, cooking it for 3-4 minutes. Drain, rinse in cold water and reserve. Heat water in a shallow pan with celery, onion, lemongrass, peppercorns and parsley stalks. When it boils, reduce heat and add brill fillets. As the fish cooks (for 8-10 minutes), heat a frying pan and dry roast the saffron strands for a few seconds. Remove from heat and add about a ladle of the fish liquor. Return to heat and reduce by half. Add butter, cabbage and chopped parsley. Season with black pepper. Serve the cabbage and fish garnished with caviare.
Bertorelli's, 44a Floral Street, London WC2 (071-836 1868). Vegetarian meals. Average spend pounds 25- pounds 30, cheaper in the downstairs brasserie. Open lunch and dinner Mon-Sat.
RUTHIE ROGERS AND ROSE GRAY
THE RIVER CAFE
THE River Cafe was meant to be a staff canteen; although it serves some of the best Italian food in London, neither of the chefs is Italian. In fact, neither was a trained chef. They were Ruthie Rogers and Rose Gray.
Rose Gray is still more cook than chef, more avid amateur than hardened professional. Her cooking is shaped by her imagination, not restaurant economics. After four years in Italy, in 1985 friends invited her to set up a restaurant in their New York nightclub. Her kitchen staff were Chinese. 'There I was, an English person in America training Chinese to cook Italian food,' she says.
On her return to London, she worked very briefly at 192, before setting up the River Cafe. Their fish is day-fresh from Cornwall. Gray is an avid gardener, and her enthusiasm for vegetables shows clearly. She says humble restaurants in Italy will make this dish, known there as vignole, with pancetta instead of prosciutto.
GARDEN VEGETABLES AND
8 small globe artichokes with their stalks
3 1/3 lb peas in their pods
3 1/3 lb broad beans in their pods
2 medium red onions
8 thin slices prosciutto
1 thick slice prosciutto
8 slices of sourdough bread
extra virgin olive oil
2 cloves garlic
1 large bunch fresh mint
1/2 - 3/4 pint light chicken stock
Pod the peas and beans. If the pods are really small and tender, just top and tail them. Peel and finely chop onion. Stem mint leaves and chop half of them. Slice the thin prosciutto into ribbons, reserve the thick one. Blanch the whole artichokes for five minutes in boiling water, or until you can just pull off an outer leaf with a sharp tug. If artichokes are mature, cook longer. Remove and cool.
Using fresh water, blanch broad beans for two minutes. In a large thick-bottomed sauce pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil with a knob of butter and gently fry onion until golden brown. Add peas and pea pods only. Cook for a minute, stirring gently to coat with the oil and onion. Add enough stock just to cover the peas. Place the thick slice of prosciutto on top and very gently simmer, adding more stock every now and then, making sure the peas and prosciutto are just covered. Simmer for 20-40 minutes, until peas are soft.
When artichokes are cooled, peel off outer tough leaves, cut the stalk about 2in from the base. If the stalk seems stringy, scrape away the outer layer. Cut off the top tough part of the cone, then slice the artichoke lengthwise in half, then quarters, then eighths. If the artichoke is mature and has fur, trim this away.
In a separate pan, heat 2 tablespoons olive oil, add sliced artichokes and fry, stirring until they become gently brown. Add the whole mint leaves, salt and pepper and a ladle of stock. Continue to cook for several minutes.
Remove the whole slice of prosciutto from the peas, and discard it. Then add the artichokes, followed by the broad beans and the chopped mint. Cook together just to bring up the temperature of the broad beans. Remove from heat, stir in the prosciutto ribbons and a generous 4 fl oz of olive oil.
Toast slices of sourdough bread. Rub one side gently with a clove of garlic. Dribble with good olive oil and serve with the pea and prosciutto mixture. This dish keeps well for one day if stored in a cool place, but not the fridge.
River Cafe, Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, London W6 (071-381 8824). Vegetarian meals. Average spend pounds 35. Open lunch daily, dinner Mon-Sat.
No appearance of an unknown chef was more surprising, or more pleasing, than that of 30- year-old Amanda Pritchett at the Lansdowne pub in Regent's Park last year. Here was cooking that was imaginative, but classically informed. Best of all, it was served cheaply in a pub. Pritchett cooked in a small restaurant in Chablis, France, in the late Eighties, followed by short stints at a British seaside hotel, Very Simply Nico in Pimlico, and Sutherlands in Soho. The break with formality came when she cooked with Margot Clayton at the Eagle in Farringdon Road. This recipe includes a short brine-cure to give flavour and succulence to the meat. The endives can be braised while the pork rests from roasting.
ROAST LOIN OF PORK
WITH BRAISED ENDIVES
For the brine cure:
1/2 lb sea salt
1/2 lb brown sugar
2 star anise or
1 tablespoon fennel seed
5 juniper berries
1 sprig rosemary
2 bay leaves
strip orange zest
1 red chilli, split
6 whole peppercorns
1 tablespoon coriander seed
4lb piece of boned pork loin
For the braised endives:
8 large Belgian endives
1 carrot, roughly chopped
1 onion, peeled and roughly chopped
1 stick celery, roughly chopped
bunch of thyme, tied with string
salt and freshly ground pepper
Bring all the ingredients for the brine to the boil and leave to cool. Remove the skin from the pork, leaving a thickish layer of fat and tie for roasting (the butcher can do this bit). Immerse it in the brine and leave in a cool place for about 24 hours.
One and a half hours before you want to eat, take the pork out of the brine and blot dry. Sear the fat to a dark golden brown on top of the stove in a lightly oiled roasting tin or large frying pan. Roast in a hottish oven (400F/
200C/Gas 6) for an hour. Give it a little longer if it still feels a bit springy to the touch. Rest on top of stove for 20 minutes before serving.
To reduce the bitterness of the endives, remove part of the core by digging into the end of them with a little knife, and remove two or three of the outer leaves. Melt the butter in a large casserole dish and gently soften the chopped vegetables.
Turn the endives over in this buttery mixture and pack them as closely as possible into the dish. Barely cover with water, add the thyme and season the liquid with salt and pepper. Place a plate over the endives to stop them floating, cover with a lid and cook gently in a warm oven (300F/150C/Gas 2) for 20-30 minutes, or until they are tender.
De-string the pork, slice thickly and serve with the endives in their juices and maybe some roast potatoes.
The Lansdowne, 90 Gloucester Avenue, London NW1 (071-483 0409). Vegetarian meals. Average spend pounds 10- pounds 15. Open lunch Tues-Sun, dinner Mon-Sat.
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