Clare Smyth holds a unique position for a female chef in the UK as the first and only woman to run a restaurant, Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, with three Michelin stars. Smyth moved to England at 16 from Northern Ireland to train before working in a number of restaurants around the world until 2002 when she was offered a job at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. After a period abroad Smyth was promoted to Head Chef in 2008.
How I got to where I am now:
I have always loved cooking from a very young age and other people always said to me I was going to be a chef before I thought I was. I said I was going to get a decent job! I met a few people that were at the top of the industry and were really passionate about what they do and I met the right people to drive me on and make me realise I did love cooking, I had a real passion for it and I could really do something with it. I trained at Highbury College, Portsmouth.
At each stage of my career I was lucky to meet people on the way that really inspired me in one way or another to keep going and keep moving up the ladder and get to where I am. I worked at The Fat Duck and The Waterside Inn then spent some time abroad before working in Cornwall in 2002 when I was offered a job at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay. I also spent a period with Alain Ducasse at Le Louis XV in Monte Carlo.
I was always quite focused – I have always known that I wanted to go to the top but I have met the right people along the way and they just inspired me each time and helped me move along a little bit further.
My Biggest Challenge:
Every day. You have to have a lot of staying power and discipline every day to keep doing this, keep at this level and keep driving the team. You are aiming for perfection, it is not always possible because nature is not perfect but you are doing everything humanly possible to aim for perfection every day.
My Greatest Achievement:
It has definitely got to be doing what I am doing right now. I have been running this kitchen for five years and maintained the three Michelin stars here and that is definitely the biggest achievement of my life to date. Everyone thinks that maybe it is glamorous working in a three-star restaurant - it is not at all - it is a huge amount of pressure. It is a pat on the back and a punch in the stomach at the same time because every day you need to be on form for every customer. Everyone is there to criticise when you are at the top of what you do so you need to be 100 per cent focused and I do love that challenge.
The biggest inspirations to me have always been Gordon and Alain Ducasse. The way they manage their businesses they are like super-chefs. As far as food-wise right now I went on a trip to Spain in October last year and I went to lots of restaurants and a couple of them were really fantastic but one that really stood out for me was El Celler de Can Roca . I really loved what they were doing and the three people in that place are just really amazing talents at what they do and I think it is just a really unique restaurant.
My top tips for aspiring chefs:
It is really hard work. I think a lot of kids don’t understand that these days. You have to realise that from the beginning and you really have to love it and be determined. Going through the training of becoming a chef there is a lot of things to learn and it takes many, many years to gain the skills and to understand how to combine ingredients well together and to manage a kitchen. No one ever knows everything, we are all still learning all the time, but when you know enough it is like starting to understand The Matrix – you start to put things together and that is when it really becomes enjoyable. As a youngster I think you have to face up to the fact that you have many, many years of hard work ahead of you to actually learn physically the skills of the job – the palate, the management – to become good. I think a lot of youngsters want to get there quite quickly and it is just totally unrealistic. You really have to be aware of that.
If I wasn’t working in hospitality I would be…
When I was younger I used to say I would rather be a doctor or a lawyer but realistically I think what I would be doing was sport. I used to love show jumping and horse riding when I was younger and I would probably be doing something like that. I used to show jump all the time and I was quite successful at it as a youngster and I would probably have stayed in that. I really admire sportspeople and what they do to achieve where they get to.