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Chef Award – Cateys 2009

10 July 2009
Chef Award – Cateys 2009

THE WINNER: Angela Hartnett
Sponsored by: Fairy Expert

Rumour has it that when Angela Hartnett accepted a career-defining job in Gordon Ramsay's Aubergine restaurant in 1994 the predominantly male brigade bet she wouldn't last a week. Now, 15 years on, Hartnett has become the first woman to win the Chef Award Catey. But it was her seemingly effortless representation of every good about hospitality, rather than her gender, that made the judging panel select her as the 26th recipient of the prestigious award.

"She has a natural, giving persona," said one judge. "It seems effortless. She epitomises hospitality in her approach to doing things and looking after her staff." Although that's not to say they, like the rest of the country, haven't been impressed by her rise through the ranks of a notoriously masculine profession.

And what a rise it has been. Born in Kent in 1968, Hartnett was taught to cook by her Italian grandmother, who hailed from Bardi in the Emilia Romagna region, before moving to live in Wales in the 1930s. After taking a history degree at Cambridge Polytechnic, Hartnett worked in a number of small family-run restaurants before joining Midsummer House in Cambridge as a waiter. Here she "blagged" her way into the kitchen, where she learnt her craft on the job.

In 1994 she returned from a spell in Barbados to undergo stages in restaurants across London - 10 in total. This included at stint at Aubergine that marked the start of Hartnett's long association with Ramsay, who picked up his first two Michelin stars at Aubergine (in 1995 and 1997) after launching the restaurant in 1993. Hartnett moved around the A-Z Restaurants stable, working with Giorgio Locatelli at Zafferano and joining another Ramsay protégé, Marcus Wareing, at L'Oranger.

Following Ramsay's split with A-Z in 1998 and the subsequent expansion of his restaurant empire under the Gordon Ramsay Holdings (GRH) banner, Hartnett has been at the helm of many of his openings. Initially, she worked alongside him at his now three-Michelin-starred restaurant in Royal Hospital Road and, as Wareing's "right-hand-man", helped to launch the two-Michelin-starred Pétrus.

2001 was a hectic year that saw Hartnett opening Amaryllis in Glasgow's One Devonshire Gardens hotel, winner of a Michelin star the following year, and overseeing the brasserie-style Glasshouse and fine-dining Verre restaurants at the Dubai Hilton Creek hotel, Ramsay's first overseas restaurant consultancy.

From 2002 to 2007 she was chef-patron of Angela Hartnett's Menu at the Connaught, which netted the chef her first Michelin star in 2004. However, GRH and the Connaught parted company in 2007, the same year in which Hartnett was appointed MBE for services to hospitality.

The next 12 months saw her oversee the launch of an eponymous restaurant at Miami's Boca Raton hotel before returning to London in 2008 with signature Italian restaurant Murano, which gained a Michelin star the following January, and the north London restaurant with rooms, York and Albany.

Throughout all of this time, Harnett has been ever-present around the industry, being particularly generous with her time and her seemingly inexhaustible patience. "I saw her a lot when she was in between restaurants, but now that she has two restaurants [in London] I see her just as much," said one judge. "She's not in it for herself; she's in it for the industry," said another. "Yet she has still triumphed professionally, and there's no doubt she deserves to win this award."

SHORTLISTED

  • Jason Atherton, executive chef, Maze
  • Angela Hartnett, chef-patron, Murano, London
  • John Williams, executive head chef, the Ritz hotel, London

THE JUDGES

  • Michael Caines, executive chef, Gidleigh Park
  • John Campbell, executive chef/head of food and beverage, the Vineyard at Stockcross
  • David Everitt-Matthias, chef-patron, Le Champignon Sauvage
  • Philip Howard, chef-patron, the Square
  • Peter Kay, chief executive officer, Sporting Chance Clinic
  • Bruce Poole, chef-proprietor, Chez Bruce
  • Marcus Wareing, chef-patron, Marcus Wareing at the Berkeley
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