Our interview with Clare Smyth, the first female chef to run a three Michelin stars restaurant.
The Chef behind Harry and Meghan’s wedding-reception menu stands out from her contemporaries. In a world of showy chefs, calm and collected Clare Smyth is a breath of fresh air. One of the world’s leading chefs, Clare was classically trained and worked with some of the most respected names in the field before becoming the first female chef to run a three Michelin-star restaurant. But, she didn’t stop there, going solo with Core, her first restaurant venture, she won two Michelin stars straight away. Following this, she was also named World’s Best Female Chef by World’s 50 Best Restaurants. She talks to us about her inspiration, her restaurant, sustainability, the role of chefs, and her personal food luxuries.
What is the story behind your cuisine?
“Modern British fine dining, we use mainly British products inspired by the seasons. But, we are also quite forward with vegetables. We will showcase humble ingredients as the main star of a dish. For example, right now as we are coming into spring, we use wild garlic, spring lamb, soon it will be broad beans and peas.”
Core by Clare Smyth offers much more than a plate of food. I asked Clare what she hopes her diners will take away from the experience.
“The welcome is something that is very important and often underestimated. At the end of the day, we are in the hospitality industry. We don’t want people to feel intimidated, ultimately, we want them to feel comfortable so that they are in the right mind to enjoy themselves.”
“And then, we want to share our passion. We’ll tell our guests a little bit of the story behind each dish we place in front of them. One the young chef will come out of the kitchen to present and explain that dish.”
How do you bring sustainability to your restaurant?
“Pretty much everything we use is made in Britain. We use what is around us, our ingredients are British, but so is the cutlery and the tables. For me sustainability is distance; of course, there is also economic sustainability, we pay people a fair wage.”
“Core’s most popular dish is the humble potato; probably one of the biggest things we do is showing people that they can eat a little less meat and fish. We want to demonstrate that eating vegetables is enjoyable. I think at the moment, in general, we eat too much meat. The production of it is our main problem.”
“It’s just general awareness, I grew up on a farm, we learned to respect the produce and where they were coming from. Sustainability comes from a respect point of view. Also for health reasons, it’s not necessary to eat half a kilo of meat. It’s about maturity, we need to start thinking a different way.”
Are all the ingredients you need home-grown then?
“Not everything, but most of our ingredients are. We choose first and foremost what is coming in season, and what is around us. When we use ingredients that are considered as luxury or prime ingredients like scallops or langoustines, we showcase every part of them. I get really frustrated when you see for example scallops used as aeroplane food and you know that they are dredging the oceans for this. It shouldn’t be done, it’s harming the environment and it’s not correct, we should treat our natural resources with respect.”
Which eco-projects inspire you?
“It’s quite difficult actually in London because there are a lot of issues with the environment around us. At Core, we choose carefully the people we work with. For example, we collaborate with a program called ‘Growing Underground’ in Clapham where vegetables are grown hydroponically, in old disused tunnels. It’s quite cool and also these projects employ local people. They produce food just for us, right here.”
If you could ask people to do one thing, in order to help with sustainability what would it be?
“Not to waste food. It’s one of worst crimes for most households. Plan your meal, buy what you actually need and make this work. Do not throw things away because there is a date on them. It’s just horrible to see people throwing out in the bin, say tomatoes, when there is nothing wrong with them. Lots of people do so, my husband was guilty of that when we met.”
Do you think chefs can help to build a better future?
“There are so many cooking programs, and people are talking much more about food, but I can’t stress enough the importance of planning menus and buy what you need to eat. Things don’t have to be expensive. With simple cooking techniques, meals can be made out from very little, it is a matter of education, something which is not done in school anymore. It’s such an important life-skill to be able to cook a few basic things.”
Last but not least, Clare, do you have a personal ‘food-luxury’?
“We work very hard for the whole week. We cook for other people, so at home, it’s nice to do simple things, a truffle fondue, truffle risotto, a tin of caviar, a bottle of Champagne. Simple cooking but really nice luxurious things to have.”
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Words: Solange Berchemin