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Angela Hartnett on the need for a minister for hospitality, women in kitchens and her chefs to watch

17 February 2021 by

Lockdown has left the chef busier than ever, with a burgeoning takeaway business and a campaign for the minister for hospitality to shout about. She talks to Katherine Price.

Do you think the industry has got behind the minister for hospitality campaign?

I think it has. There are still more people in the industry who could put their voice to it who are very influential, but I think we've got a very good range of people. Now it's a case of galvanising the younger generation as well, which I think we are doing with the Seat at the Table campaign.

We are an industry with three million employees, so there are still lots of people that could and should sign. Maybe people think it only affects restaurants or hotels, but actually it's not, it's for every producer, every coffee shop owner, it's all-encompassing, so I think it's a huge thing and everyone should sign.

What would you tell those who may be sceptical about its importance?

It's not about Covid – there's a bigger picture here. There's an obligation for owners, hoteliers and restaurateurs to look out for the next generation, as Gordon [Ramsay] did for me. It's about your future, so you have a voice. It's all very well to moan about things, but this is your chance to influence the situation and try and push the government.

We're the third-biggest industry in the country, we employ over three million people, from producers to suppliers to the people that make the tables in your restaurant – they're all part of hospitality. We should have a much bigger say in government.

And we need someone who's going to link it all together. What Covid did was illustrate that the different government departments weren't talking, because anyone in our industry with any common sense would not have locked down restaurants with 24 hours' notice. Boris [Johnson] talks about waste and the climate, yet he was happy to close restaurants and see people waste thousands upon thousands of pounds of produce. Where's the logic?

This is your chance to influence the situation and try and push the government

Where does it go next? What are you hoping for?

The point now is to keep the pressure on. I get it: if I were Boris, I'd be thinking, "they've had furlough, we've done this, they've got that – what more do they want?" I'd like him to concentrate on rolling the vaccine out and getting the country back open. But get it open properly. Don't give us another lockdown and don't give us more restrictions, because he may as well just close us down – it's equally as dreadful. We need to open properly, as fully functioning restaurants, hotels and pubs.

It's also about the future training of the industry. If I ask a young cook what they learned in college and they say, "we didn't have the funds, so we watched someone fillet a fish" – that's not training.

If we really care about this industry we need to be putting everything behind it. Make the industry something that people want to be proud of – which I think we have. I think the hospitality sector in the last 10-15 years has turned around phenomenally. It's no longer for people who don't know what to do with their lives; people are proud to be part of it. I remember seeing in The Caterer years ago someone saying that they trained as a chef because the building course was full up. I think we've got over that.

Do you think it's galvanised the support of the public? Have people realised the importance of restaurants to communities?

One thing that has changed since I started working in this industry 30 years ago is that everywhere in London now has its own neighbourhood. I live in east London and I don't need to leave my doorstep to get great Japanese, great Indian, great fish and chips. Restaurants have become very local; people go to their local restaurant.

Pubs are equally as important and I think pubs are going to suffer far more than restaurants after lockdown because pubs generally were on their way down. Companies like Wetherspoon have destroyed that community – the lovely pub on the corner – and I think they really will suffer.

My local is the Golden Heart, run by Sandra Esquilant. It's the place I go when I've forgotten my keys and I wait for someone to come home. It's the place where, if I'm out, I say, "Sandra, can you take a delivery?" When I was doing my book, she took in about five crates of stuff for my book. This is a woman who's in her seventies, bless her, and she's the heart of the community.

When Neil [Borthwick, Angela's husband] had an accident years ago, she'd go to a local restaurant, say, "Right, I need a pie to take to Angela. She's in the hospital looking after Neil so she can't cook". And every night for about two weeks, someone would come and bring food from a local restaurant. If there's a night when I don't want to be at home, I'll pop my head in the pub, see who's in, and if there's a neighbour or a mate, I'll go in and have a chat. That, for some people is a real godsend, especially if they live by themselves and don't have family close by. It's the heart and hub of the local community. It's a massive thing that the government really needs to think about.

It was great to see two female chef-run restaurants, Hélène Darroze at the Connaught and Core by Clare Smyth, awarded three Michelin stars last month…

I called Clare up that night and she was laughing. She had been on the phone to Gordon – he beat me to it. I think it's just fantastic.

I know both Hélène and Clare, and they're chefs above everything else. It's not about being male or female, but if it does inspire a young girl to suddenly go "you know what? I want to do that", why not? I think that's a great thing.

What more can we be doing as an industry to support female talent?

I don't think that just because women don't enter the Roux Scholarship that it means there are no women who would be able to. I just think that maybe we don't give two hoots about competitions as much as blokes do. I don't know, it's something I've never been interested in doing. I speak to a lot of women about it, and they say, "no, I don't want to do it". There's no rhyme or reason why.

I think we have to look at some of the things that are being done. Look at what [jobs board] Counter Talk is doing; look at Lisa Goodwin-Allen, Sally Clarke, Rosie Birkett, Ruth Rogers and Rose Gray – the River Café's been there for 30 years. I don't think this is about women not being out there, it's just not always about being Michelin-starred. There's a huge number of women in our industry. Maybe our problem is that we don't sing and dance about it.

There's a huge number of women in our industry. Maybe our problem is that we don't sing and dance about it

However, I do think the balance is far better than it was. There are days at Murano when it's all women in the kitchen – it just happens because of the rota. I've probably got an equal female to male ratio of managers. My most senior team is more women than men, and among my head chefs and sous chefs it's probably half and half.

The one thing I would say about our industry is that we do pay equally. I pay my head chefs on their ability, not because they are male or female, which is something that needs to be spoken about a bit more. I think we're much more equal opportunities than a lot of people give us credit for.

Cafe Murano Bermondsey
Cafe Murano Bermondsey

I suppose the ultimate reason – although it shouldn't be – is the hours. In this business you do a hell of a lot of hours at the start of your career and maybe that's not conducive to families or relationships. But I do know a lot of chefs with kids and families and it doesn't dissuade them, so it shouldn't really be an issue.

What are working on now? Are you still providing meals for the NHS?

We did during the first lockdown and that was set up by my friend Lulu Dillon. When the second lockdown came, we spoke about it and she said the NHS seemed to be equipped, there was no reason to, and also we didn't want to take work away from the people in the NHS. It seemed to be much more organised.

I know some people still are – Otto's restaurant in Gray's Inn Road is still cooking every night for Guy's and St Thomas'. But Lulu had kept in touch with the intensive care unit staff we were cooking for and we felt we'd done what we needed to do.

We did do a bit of cooking for the Southwark Irish Pensioners Project, and Mr [Richard] Corrigan provided a lovely Irish soda bread.

Risotto Milanese with osso bucco
Risotto Milanese with osso bucco

This lockdown, lockdown three, we've been concentrating on keeping some money coming through the door, because at the end of the day it costs to close. We have to top up the staff, pay the pensions and National Insurance and all the rest of it. We're still paying rent on properties that have no income, so my focus has been trying to get money in by doing lots of takeaways.

Have landlords been open to discussions on rent payment?

Some have, some haven't. We are going to come out of this owing a lot of rent backpay. That is extraordinarily depressing, because it's going to feel like I'm working for the landlord. And what was a plan for five years from now has probably been delayed for another five years just because of Covid.

What were your plans for the business and where do you see it going now?

We always wanted to open up a few more cafés, but for the moment we need to just focus on keeping the businesses going. Cafe Murano St James's is on a short lease and we may have to move that site. Bermondsey has been really great and we'd like to do another Bermondsey type of restaurant in another area further out. Pre-Covid we'd probably be looking to open up another place now, but it's not going to happen for a good few months, because whatever was in the bank balance to do it – we try and do it without taking out loans – has gone to keeping the restaurants afloat.

Vincisgrassi and Amalfi lemon tart
Vincisgrassi and Amalfi lemon tart

Will you be changing anything about your operations?

We'll obviously be Covid-secure and we will continue the food boxes and takeaways that we started as a result of lockdown, as I think there is a market for it. It does sound like Covid's not going away and we need to be prepared to adapt. The fact that we can send these boxes nationwide, so people in Ayrshire can experience Cafe Murano, or eventually Murano, without travelling into London, is a great thing.

How many boxes are you doing per week?

At the moment we're doing about 1,000, which is absolutely killing me. They're ramping up. The more we do, the more they sell.

Where do you see the future of hospitality after this?

I like to think there will be a real appreciation for suppliers. Not that there isn't, but I think a lot of people have suddenly noticed their local butcher, markets or fishmonger where they would normally have gone to Waitrose. I think the fact that families are cooking and eating together is a wonderful thing.

Angela at the Great British Menu. Image: Ashleigh Brown/BBC
Angela at the Great British Menu. Image: Ashleigh Brown/BBC

I know I sound a bit old-fashioned, but there is something about sitting down and enjoying a meal together and communicating, and that gets lost a little bit these days. I like to think those sorts of things will carry on after lockdown.

I think there will be a real boost to staycations and people wanting to eat out locally, and it's our job to make sure people do and want to come back.

Where are you looking forward to going when venues reopen, apart from your local pub?

Kol – Santiago [Lastra]'s place, that's really good. I also want to go to the new Noble Rot [in Soho].

CV

Angela Hartnett is chef-patron of Michelin-starred Murano in London's Mayfair and co-owner of restaurant Hartnett Holder & Co, which she operates at the five-red-AA-star, 33-bedroom Lime Wood hotel in the New Forest alongside head chef Luke Holder.

She also operates three Cafe Murano restaurants (in St James's, Bermondsey and Covent Garden in the capital); and Pastificio, a modern pasta factory, deli-café and wine store in Covent Garden.

In further partnership with the Lime Wood Group, she runs Cucina Angelina at the Portetta hotel in the French Alps.

She holds an MBE for her services to the hospitality industry, has published two cookbooks and won the Cateys Chef Award in 2009. Hartnett is also a presenter of Best Home Cook and makes regular appearances on Saturday Kitchen and Great British Menu.

Angela's ‘chefs to watch'

  • Jonny Bone, head chef, Core by Clare Smyth
  • Sally Abé, head chef, the Harwood Arms
  • Calum Franklin, executive head chef, Holborn Dining Room

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