Angela Hartnett: "What Mentors Can Offer is Experience"

A chat with the British chef Angela Hartnett, about her style of cooking and her advice for young chefs.

British chef Angela Hartnett had a baptism of fire as a young chef. One of her first jobs was at Gordon Ramsay’s Aubergine in London, where she helped him win a Michelin star. With Ramsay’s seal of approval, she travelled to Dubai, where she was instrumental in launching his Verre restaurant. She returned to London in 2004 and won her first Michelin star at The Connaught. She was awarded an MBE for services to the hospitality industry, and she now has her own one-star restaurant, Murano.

As a child she garnered a keen appreciation of good, wholesome food. Her Italian grandmother taught her the importance of the family meal, which in later years would inspire her first cookbook Cucina: Three Generations of Italian Family Cooking. She has made regular appearances on hit TV shows such as Hell’s Kitchen and the Great British Menu, and is a household name in the UK.

Fine Dining Lovers caught up with her to speak about her experience in the world of haute cuisine and her projects for future.

Murano restaurant | Angela Hartnett's dish

How has family life influenced your approach to cooking?
I like sharing meals together and enjoying the whole experience.

You spent time working overseas, notably in Dubai: how did those experiences of other food cultures shape your food?
I would not say Dubai has a food culture, hence all the chefs are from abroad and thousands of restaurants have opened up. The Middle East certainly has its food culture and great Middle Eastern cuisine is so delicious. Very much like the Italian way of eating and all sharing together.

What was it like having Gordon Ramsay as a mentor, and what did you learn from that experience about mentoring young chefs?
Brilliant. I would not be where I am today if it was not for Gordon. 

How long did it take to develop your own style of cooking, and what advice would you offer to young chefs looking to develop theirs?
I’d advise them to decide what they like cooking and stick with it. Give themselves time to train. The year in cooking is a seasonal year. You have to see everything, not just six or three months at a time.

Angela Hartnett's dish

You have become famous for your work in the UK – how easy has it been to deal with that fame, and how would you advise others to deal with it?
I get spotted occasionally but I am not on the level of Jamie Oliver and Gordon, and would never want to be.

What new things are you working on at the moment, and what’s new for the future?
I’ll continue what I am doing maybe do another book. I love my job, so its all good.

Can you remember the moment you decided to become a chef – what inspired you and what obstacles did you overcome to achieve your dream?
I didn’t necessarily wake up one day and want to be a chef. I always liked the idea of owning a restaurant and being my own boss. When I started, the hours were long so you lost out a bit on a social life, but I don't really feel I had to sacrifice any part of my life to become a chef.

What was your biggest triumph as a young chef, and is there anything you would consider your biggest failure?
Biggest triumph as a young chef? It depends what you call young, but to get a Michelin star in my first restaurant was brilliant. Failure is a hard word. I can think of many day-to-day disasters when in a kitchen. The key is to never let them leave the kitchen.

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