The head chef of the Oyster Shed in London and 2013 MasterChef champion speaks to Emma Lake about her whirlwind journey from competition victory to the banks of the Thames
How did your career in the industry develop following your MasterChef victory?
The MasterChef producer set me up with work experience everywhere I had really wanted to go. I went to the Hand & Flowers (Marlow), the Kitchin (Edinburgh) and L'Enclume (Cumbria), I also spent time with Marcus Wareing, I had so many opportunities.
Then I started working in restaurants and wrote three cookbooks. At one point I was working with the Arensky Chamber Orchestra, running immersive events. We did shows including Swan Lake and A Christmas Carol and the menus were incorporated into the performances.
I then worked with the set designers who had been working on those performances and helped them set up their restaurant Hello Darling [in London's Waterloo]. When I left there I went to Inception Group, then after the pandemic I looked for a change and ended up at the Oyster Shed.
What was it about the Oyster Shed that appealed to you?
I go fishing all the time and have always loved seafood, it just seemed right for me. When I came out of the interview, I could hear the waves crashing in on London Bridge and it was a bright sunny day and I just thought, ‘Oh I really hope I get this one'. General manager Mariya Ivanova started a few weeks before me and we work well together. She likes to do one-off events, which means I can do something a bit more high-end. She likes to push me further and enters me into competitions, which is great. It was amazing to win Best Pub Chef at the Great British Pub Awards 2022.
The pub was refurbished before I joined, and there's a restaurant upstairs and a beer garden, and it's very airy. It's all glass-fronted and we're above the river so on a summer's day when the windows are open and the hot air is breezing in it's the most amazing view in the city. The team is amazing too, everyone cares about their jobs. It's one big family.
Tell us about developing the food offering at the Oyster Shed.
We have to include a couple of Young's classics, but we pretty much have free reign, with the sign off of our executive chef Matt Sullivan, who's amazing and has given me a lot of support to develop my ideas. He's really pushed me forward and I've never worked with a company that's so supportive.
We focus a lot on British fish, buying from Daily Fish, and it's been really interesting seeing what's out there. It makes you realise how good British produce is, especially our shellfish.
Learning more about oysters has also been great, as I didn't realise how many types there are and how where they come from affects the flavour. I'm in Sydney at the moment and the oysters here have a completely different taste to the ones back home. They're a lot smaller and have a very sweet flavour.
What does the future hold?
When I took the job I promised I'd be there for three years. Eventually, I'd like to open my own gastropub. That's what the experience I've been building up all these years has been leading to. It will hopefully be a family-run pub, something small and intimate, where I can cook the food I really love. I would like to stay fish-focused – I've been thinking about moving to the seaside or the countryside to be close to nature. The head chef of the Oyster Shed in London and 2013 MasterChef champion speaks to Emma Lake about her whirlwind journey from competition victory to the banks of the Thames.
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