The difference about being independent [of Gordon Ramsay Holdings] is the freedom outside Murano. There were no issues with Gordon in terms of the restaurant – he was very supportive – but now I write for The Guardian and I’ve done Whitechapel. I might not have done that before.
There is so much competition in every field, not just in London but outside, and not just at the top end but across the board. You can’t take your eye off the ball. It’s too easily done, as we’ve seen.
I always liked the idea of being my own boss. I started at The Blue Boar in Cambridge, but it was at Midsummer House under Hans Schweiz that I started to get serious. He trained me, and then sent me off to Barbados.
I do the odd TV show but I don’t want a 12-part series. I like running restaurants.
Whitechapel fits within the remit of what I want to do. It’s not over-complicated, we don’t want to rewrite the world of cooking, and it’s a consultancy. Diego [Cardoso, Murano’s head chef] and I both pop down regularly to check how things are going.
At Murano, we’ve added monthly tasting menus that are regional within Italy – Lombardia, Piemonte etc. It’s important to keep things fresh, to make little changes. You do that by eating out and coming back with new motivations and inspirations.
We have our off-days without doubt – everyone does. But you’ve got to be able to hold up your hand, apologise, and invite people back so you can make amends. If you get a complaint, remember that nine times out of 10 they are unhappy for good reason.
I’m not suddenly going to become Heston [Blumenthal]. I don’t want to make jellies and foams. You’ve got to stick with your gut feel.
Customers want to see you in your restaurant, but they also want to see you on TV. You can’t really win! I’m still at Murano for most services though.
Maybe because I’m a woman, chefs ask me for advice over a coffee a lot. One thing you always hear is that they’ve been promised things and then it’s not happened. I’ve been guilty of it myself; the intention is there, but short-term pressures get in the way. Now we try to be more structured.
The biggest thing I learned from Gordon was the importance of consistency and high standards. He was also very good with his staff, despite what you read in the press. He and Marcus [Wareing] were great influences.
People like to think kitchens are bad, but they’re no worse an environment for a woman than any place where there are lots of guys. I’ve never felt any discrimination. You learn to ignore the macho stuff.
My favourite restaurants include Noma, Dal Pescatore in Italy and Jean-Georges in New York. But I also love little places off the beaten track in Rimini or down in Puglia. It’s certainly not all about three Michelin stars...
My staff think I micro-manage – and they’re right. Especially over their spending.
Why has home economics been taken out of the school curriculum? Kids don’t understand enough about food and what sustains you. I think the restaurant industry can help educate people, via the media, by taking out some of the mystique.