Britain’s top female chef Clare Smyth tells all: ‘I feared I’d lose Ramsay’s stars’
But although she baffled Ramsay with her “calm and quiet” approach, the restaurant thrived. She won chef of the year in 2013 and went on to open her own restaurant, Core, in 2017, which has also achieved three-star status. She is the first British woman – and one of only four British chefs – to currently hold the prestigious accolade.
Clare, 43, told Desert Island Discs how she had grown up on a farm in County Antrim and left home at 16 to study in England. She worked for Ramsay and then Alain Ducasse in Monaco, but it was Ramsay’s invitation to return to London that changed her life.
“It was a lot of pressure, it was very tough. I was petrified of being the first woman to lose three Michelin stars,” she said.
“And it was me kind of finding my feet as a boss and a manager, for the first time being a head chef heading up a restaurant that was so famous. If I slipped up it would be all over every newspaper.”
When her appointment was announced, Ramsay told her: “God you have got more press than the prime minister today.”
But she retained the three Michelin stars and developed her own style.
“Gordon was unnerved by how quiet the kitchen was, saying, ‘I don’t know what’s going on in here anymore’.”
“Clare went on to cater for Harry and Meghan’s wedding, alongside legendary chef Anton Mosimann, an idol of hers. She said: “Meghan is a big foodie, as is Harry actually. She had come to eat at Core with a friend and then the engagement got announced.”
“I really didn’t think anything of it and then the call came.”
“With Core being a restaurant we could not cater for that, so we had to start to find someone to work with. Anton Mosimann was the official royal caterer – he had catered for quite a few royal engagements.”
“They selected some of the dishes from Core but we also did a little version of a roast chicken for their main course.”
On the wedding day staff had to surrender mobile phones as they worked away in the Windsor Castle kitchen.
Clare, who chose a chef’s knife as her luxury item, said: “It was like Formula One… the training and preparation to make sure everything went absolutely to the minute timing, making sure we got it on the nail.”
“We didn’t know what was going on the whole day.
“We were kind of in Windsor but had no idea about what was going on around us.”
Clare chose tracks including Circle of Life from The Lion King, Maria by Blondie and Adele’s Set Fire to the Rain.
- Desert Island Discs, Radio 4 today at 11.15am.
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