HELLO! Online has spoken to Clare Smyth – the first female to hold and retain three Michelin stars – at the semi-final of S. Pellegrino Young Chef competition at Harrods, where she was a judge.
From growing up on a farm in Northern Ireland to travelling the world and working for top chefs in the UK, Australia and the south of France, to now working as Chef Patron at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London, Clare always knew that she would take a culinary path.
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Clare Smyth is the first woman to hold and retain three Michelin stars
"I’ve always wanted to become a chef and fell into cooking in my school holidays and weekends. Because I grew up on a farm, I understand produce, respected animals and appreciated fresh flavours and simplicity. And because I was quite artistic, I decided I wanted to go into the high end of food," Clare says.
Although she now has a loyal client list, that includes Olly Murs, Adele and Katy Perry, Clare’s journey hasn’t been without challenge – overcome largely by her immense drive and passion.
When applying to work at the luxurious Louis XV Restaurant in Monaco, she was initially not wanted for being a woman and British, and not speaking fluent French.
"In order to get to work there, I enrolled in an intensive language school for a month, where I was fined 1€ every time I spoke a word of English," she reveals. "It is my favourite place of the places I've lived though. The region and the surrounding area has some of the world's best produce, which has a lot to do with the sun. People are also very passionate about food there."
The panel of judges holds five Michelin stars between them
According to the blonde chef, working with Hell's Kitchen star Gordon – who is renowned for having a fierce temperament – isn't the scary experience many would assume.
"I don't think anyone would work for someone aggressive. I've known Gordon for 13 years and the real story is that Gordon is a really kind, generous and inspiring person who allows those who works for him to flourish and grow. There is a reason why so many great chefs has come from working for him".
A lover of classic French rustic food, such as cassoulet and pate on croute, Clare says she doesn’t look at the long working hours as work at all, but rather considers it her life, which she loves.
"It might sound odd, but I would rather be at work than at home. Sitting in front of the TV would be wasting my time – I love being at work," she says.
Mark Moriarty was crowned winner of the competition
Sharing the panel with her at the S. Pellegrino Young Chef competition were Atul Kochhar, Chef Patron at Benares, Dan Doherty, Executive Chef at Duck & Waffle and Oliver Dunne, owner of Bon Appétit – boasting five Michelin stars between them.
About the importance of mentoring and helping the next generation, she says that "the competition allows me to inspire the next generation and the people who's coming behind me. They're actually not that much younger than me, and that might be why I have such a good connection with them, because they can see that it's not too far away.
I'm very proud of being a chef and I wouldn't be where I am today without amazing people showing me the way, so I want to do that for these people".
At the end of the night, Mark Moriarty from The Culinary Counter was crowned UK & Ireland Winner of the S. Pellegrino Young Chef 2015 Competition and will travel to Milan in May for the final.