As a young girl I loved playing at restaurants and growing up on a farm in Devon I had a strong interest in food and would bake with my mum. She did bed and breakfast and I would help her. I also worked in a local hotel waitressing from the age of 13. At school I was good at cooking and also had good grades so decided to study Hotel and Hospitality Management at college to cover all avenues. I did a project on designing a restaurant and was hooked - it was always my ambition to have my own. I met Laurie at Combe House in Devon we shared the same passions and moved to Oxfordshire. (We managed a gastro pub together, I worked at the original Le Petit Blanc Oxford, and then we both worked at Pinewood Film Studios as chefs) In our spare time we did some private dinner parties and events which inspired us even more and we started to search for a restaurant site of our own and found the building that became The Artichoke in 2002.
Tell us something you wish you had been told at the start of your career?
We have had to find out mostly the hard way. Often you have to go through the process to realise your mistakes.
What’s your favourite restaurant or group of restaurants (besides your own)?
Kitchen Table, Le Manoir and our lovely local The Three Oaks at Gerrard’s Cross. We recently visited the River Cottage HQ in Devon which was a fabulous experience.
What time do you wake up?
Between 7:30 and 8am.
Coffee or tea?
Coffee with hot milk, followed by an Earl Grey.
How often do you check your email?
All the time.
How do you let off steam?
Cycling, and a gym session when I can.
Do you prefer a night on the tiles or a night on the sofa?
Bit of a both - love to dine out, but it doesn't happen as much these days with our little one, so a collapse on the sofa is always welcome.
What motivates you?
I love that feeling of wellbeing when food, wine and service are all in harmony.
What keeps you up at night?
Late night emails after our daughter’s bedtime; work life balance; sadden by Brexit; concerns about the future of hospitality recruitment in the UK; and more recently obsessing about Coronavirus.
Which colleague, mentor or employer has had the biggest influence on your approach to the restaurant business?
Raymond Blanc; David Moore of Pied a Terre was very helpful when the restaurant was forced out of action from a devastating fire from a neighbouring premises; am totally inspired by Heston’s culinary invention; Francis Atkins, a fantastic female figure for the industry; and Patrick Dempsey, former MD of Whitbread Hotels & Restaurants, has been cornerstone of advice as a well as great guest and friend.
Worst business decision?
To not have time for a family. The restaurant was all consuming and took its toll physically, so when it came to a family of our own it was very hard and took us 10 years before happily our daughter arrived in 2015.
Best business decision?
To come back after the fire 2008 from a neighbouring premise was tough going, but we made it back like a phoenix.
What’s your signature dish to cook at home?
Stir fry prawns with rice and quinoa and lots of vegetables, followed by a dessert of lemon polenta almond cake with apricots.
Lazy Sunday breakfast with our daughter, walk through the woods and bicycle ride. Maybe some gardening and wood fired pizza if the weather is good.
What’s the most spontaneous thing you’ve ever done?
Buying the building that became The Artichoke.
Favourite holiday destination?
The US. I have special memories of Nantucket, Rhode Island and Washington. A visit to the Taj Mahal, India was a very special experience; the Fullerton Hotel in Singapore for a 24-hour stopover; swim and brunch on the way to Australia; and loved Whaiheke Island, New Zealand.
What boxset are you currently watching?
Does the Adventures of Paddington count?
What was your dream job growing up?
Well, aside from a love of cooking, I always wanted to be a ballet dancer, which was never going to happen. And to write a novel. Whilst working at Pinewood as a chef, I was enthralled by movies and the film/TV industry and wanted to develop my head for figures so trained in TV/Production finance and went on to work at the BBC where I was able to have an insight and work on the foodie programmes – food writing and research would have been another direction.
What piece of advice would you give to those looking to climb the rungs in the business?
Working for yourself is a great way to express yourself, but it is very hard and demands stamina, determination and pure grit. Keep focused on what you set out to do and evolve your dreams and ambitions.
If you could change one thing about the restaurant industry today, what would it be?
The perception that roles front of house in the industry are unskilled, when to do them well takes a fantastic amount of talent and ability that is so underrated. If this was understood more the industry would attract and appeal to a wider audience of dedicated people with true passion for service, food and wine.
Born in Devon in 1968, Gear has spent most of her career working in hospitality. Early experiences included being a hostess at Le Petit Blanc in Oxford, and working as part of the front of house team for Heston Blumenthal's The Fat Duck restaurant in Bray. Later on, following a stint as restaurant chef at Pinewood Film Studios, Gear went on to work as an assistant to a production accountant for Manic Films, and then later the BBC. However, since 2002 she has been restaurant director and general manager of The Artichoke in Old Amersham, Buckinghamshire, which she opened with her husband, chef Laurie Gear.