At Angela Hartnett's Michelin-starred London restaurant, head chef Pip Lacey's background in design is proving to be a really useful asset. Neil Gerrard went to visit
Back in 2008, it's unlikely that Pip Lacey could possibly have foreseen that she would end up as the head chef of a Michelin-starred restaurant.
That's because Lacey, who Murano's chef-patron Angela Hartnett appointed as successor to Diego Cardoso in May this year, only embarked on her career in the kitchen six years ago, at the relatively late age of 27.
That might sound like a gamble on Hartnett's part but Lacey has clocked up three years at Murano already, rising through the ranks, and has worked under some of the best chefs in the country. Prior to choosing a career in the kitchen, Lacey was a graphic designer and ran a successful business for a time before the credit crunch hit and she was forced to rethink. Since she had experience in her early 20s working front of house and managing restaurants, coupled with the fact that she rated herself as a pretty good home cook, she opted to become a chef.
But Lacey is clearly not one to do things by halves and despite a total lack of kitchen experience she applied straight for the top with a job as a commis chef with Gordon Ramsay Holdings. Despite some initial misgivings, the company tried her out at the York & Albany under Colin Buchan and Angela Hartnett.
"They said ‘OK, bring your whites and knives to this restaurant and see you tomorrow'. And I thought to myself: whites and knives? I don't have any of those!" she explains. "I was so naive about it all. I went and bought these horrible knives that everyone took the piss out of."
Nonetheless, her work ethic impressed Buchan and she stayed. "I think I have got a naturally good palate and that takes you a long way, along with common sense and hard work," she says.
Fast forward six years and while Hartnett still cooks regularly at Murano and creates the menu with her chefs, it is Lacey who in charge of the 13-strong brigade of chefs day-to-day and she feels that after a tough start where she had to adjust to the extra responsiblity, things are running smoothly.
The 70-cover restaurant has recently introduced its autumn menu and Lacey is confident of contributing dishes to it that she knows her boss will like. "We have developed our style within Angela's style," she says. There are some dishes on the menu that Lacey is particularly proud of. One is the monkfish, fennel purée, charred leeks, king prawn and smoked butter, which she says came to her in a thunderbolt of inspiration.
"You have flashes of brilliance and then other times you can spend forever and still not be happy with a dish, but I was happy with that one straight away and the feedback on it has been brilliant," she says.
She is also pleased with the aubergine, goat's curd, Forge Farm honey and walnuts dish. "A guy came from Forge Farm, which is an organic farm that specialises in pumpkins. He brought some honey along too, and once I tasted it, I added it to this dish," she explains. "It is so simple and Angela loved it when she tasted it."
Other classic Murano dishes have undergone a tweak for autumn, such as the rabbit, crispy leg, baby turnip and Sauternes jelly.
"I love prepping the rabbit," says Lacey. "It's quite a skill to get the cooking exactly right so that is one of my favourites."
And if you think that training as a graphic designer isn't relevant to a career as a chef, Lacey aims to prove you wrong with a dish of mallard breast and leg, baby beetroot, sloe berries and hazelnuts, which she hopes will be the next big seller on the menu.
"It looks great - it's nice and colourful," she says. "I don't want to sound like a hippy but I always think that if colours don't match, then the taste doesn't match. The colours are there for a reason."
That artistic side informs her ability to present food too. "I remember Gary saying that I was a natural at plating, but I have been doing that kind of thing - making things look good - all my life," she says.
From the menu
- Sea bream ceviche, avocado purée, citrus and chilli compote
- Hand-rolled pappardelle, braised hare, Treviso, golden raisins
- Roasted pumpkin and squash, fried ricotta, beetroot purée
- Halibut, parsley farfalle, cockles, lemon beurre noisette
- Scottish long-legged partridge, cocoa beans, white onion, pancetta
2 courses: £50
3 courses: £65
4 courses: £75
5 courses: £85
20-22 Queen Street, London W1J 5PP