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Quite simply, Clare Smyth's credentials are unparalleled. As the first and only female holder of three Michelin stars in the UK, she also boasts five AA rosettes, 10 out of 10 in The Good Food Guide, an MBE… and now the Chef Award.
Her quiet but meteoric rise to chef-patron at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay is one of the most impressive career stories of our time, but her dedication to her craft and scrupulous work-ethic goes some way to explain why she has become such an culinary sensation.
Born in Northern Ireland, Smyth grew up on a farm in County Antrim and moved to England at 16. On completing her chef qualifications, her insatiable thirst for knowledge drove her to work and stage under many influential chefs around the world.
In 2002, Smyth joined Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea and, over a three-year period, worked her way up the ranks to become senior sous chef. In 2005, she went to work in the legendary kitchen of Alain Ducasse's Louis XV in Monte Carlo and, despite being offered a role at the great French chef's Dorchester outpost, in 2007 she returned to Restaurant Gordon Ramsay as head chef, aged just 29. In 2012, she became chef-patron.
The Good Food Guide awarded Smyth Chef of the Year in 2013 and she and her team achieved a perfect 10/10 score in 2014, one of just three restaurants in Britain to receive such acclaim.
To reach the highest level, Smyth believes, the learning process is growing ever more demanding. She told The Caterer last year: "You have to invest in your own education. It takes years of experience. Doing the same thing hundreds of times: turning an artichoke or filleting a fish gives you the tools to become a really good chef. Mastering the skills, mastering the trade, isn't something that happens in five minutes."
Turning experience into a level of craftsmanship is one thing, but developing a unique personal style is different. "I thought I was expressing myself, but I wasn't. I was just cooking food I'd learned from other chefs. Over time though, you start to evolve your own personal identity. You have an idea and you have the tools to execute it."
Using the armoury of kitchen equipment is a necessity, but understanding what happens during the cooking processes is more so. When she worked for Alain Ducasse, the kitchen had water baths, but they never talked about them. "What mattered was knowing how to cook properly without them," she says.
Wherever it is, Smyth's main objective will be as it has always been - to ensure that her customers have a great time. "I'm first and foremost a chef, happiest when I'm in the kitchen, knowing that I'm making guests happy too. That's something real, that's tangible."
What the judges said
"Clare is an absolutely worthy winner of the most prestigious award given to chefs. She is a true asset to the UK gastronomic scene."
"A chef whose creativity, consistency and mastery of flavours make her one of the finest the UK has produced."
"Thank goodness for Clare Smyth: strong, talented, and a role model for a younger generation of women chefs."
- Claude Bosi Hibiscus, London
- Tom Kerridge The Hand & Flowers, Marlow
- Nathan Outlaw Restaurant Nathan Outlaw, Port Isaac, Cornwall
- Clare Smyth Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, London
Sat Bains Chef-patron, Restaurant Sat Bains with Rooms
John Campbell Director/chef, John Campbell Restaurants
Elizabeth Carter Consultant editor, The Good Food Guide
Andrew Fairlie Chef-patron, Andrew Fairlie
Richard Vines Chief food critic, Bloomberg
Marcus Wareing Owner, Marcus Wareing Restaurants
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