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Recognisable for her appearances on Hell’s Kitchen and Kitchen Criminals, Angela Hartnett has become one of the biggest names of the cooking world. She began a successful relationship with mentor Gordon Ramsay in 1994, after getting a job at his first restaurant, Aubergine. In the years that followed, Angela supported Gordon at the numerous restaurants that he managed, with stints at Zafferano, L’Oranger, Pétrus, Amaryllis and Verre. She was later named chef-patron of Angela Hartnett at The Connaught, where she was able to achieve her first Michelin star.
While still at The Connaught, Angela earned an MBE for Services to the Hospitality Industry and has since been more active in managing her career having bought Gordon out of the Hartnett-run, Murano restaurant in Mayfair which succeeded her tenure at The Connaught. It is at Murano that Angela has secured her impeccable reputation as a chef while cultivating a lucrative business empire of her own. While the task of escaping Gordon’s shadow might be quite a challenge for Angela, it’s one she seems more than capable of rising to.
Angela wonderful to come and see you thank you very, very much for inviting us in. The first question I have to ask you is, as I said earlier, why does someone with a history degree decide they want to be a chef?
Well I come from a family who owned businesses, not restaurants, my grandparents owned a fish and chip shop and my close family and friends also ran cafés, ice-cream parlours. I liked the idea of running my own business. I never in my wildest dreams ever thought I'd come to this level of doing anything like this. So I just fancied owning a business but I didn't want to start cooking at the age of 16, I wanted to get a degree and just spend a bit of time jerking around at college ((laughs)).
And you did come into the industry later didn't you?
Yes and I still don't regret that at all. Probably the one regret I have is that I'd love to have done a big kitchen like the Gavroche where you did classic training sometimes I judge Young Chef of the Year every year and there's always some classical thing involved and I'm like, "What the hell?" and all the other judges laugh so perhaps I fill I missed out there, but equally I'm smart enough and humble enough to go and buy the book, read about it and I think the worst thing is to try and pretend you know everything, far better to look it up and find out what the proper thing is.
And let's be honest you've set down a marker by entering Gordon Ramsay's kitchens.
It's in the 90s, Gordon's really in his heyday, he's firing on all cylinders and it's a tough environment.
No, no and I was very fortunate in that respect and I think a lot of my success has been to do with luck and being at the right time, at the right place, you know.
Well we all need a bit of luck don't we?
Yes of course you couldn't walk into Royal Hospital Road now with my inexperience but then there were so few chefs around, so few people wanted to do six days a week and really graft and I think that made a big difference. And if you really into work I think and if someone comes to me and they're willing to work, even if they've got little qualifications and they're willing to be a sponge and absorb all the knowledge then it's better to come that way.
One thing I've noticed about being with you today is a lot of your team are long stayers. You've just introduced us to your kitchen porter who's been with you for 17 years and you've got guys in there who have been with you four or five years, people that have come with you from the Connaught so what is it that makes working for you different and how do you get that camaraderie element involved?
I think you have to treat people properly, you have to be quite flexible.
Is that your feminine side?
I don't know if it's the feminine side or whether it's just"¦I think it's as much to do with myself and Diego my head chef, you can't take away from Diego he's probably a lot more nurturing than me, I'll write the rota up and he'll go, "Oh they asked for this day off," and I'm like, "Oh yah-yah-yah," you know and go off about it and he'll be much more sympathetic in that respect whereas I will go five doubles!
But times are changing aren't they?
Yes you can't and I think I want my time off these guys want their time off, you want them to stay, it's very competitive out there, the amount of guys that have come to me recently that have said they've gone to other places and the environment is just horrible, there's no camaraderie, no teamwork and they all say, even if they come on stage they go, "It's great teamwork here it works really well."
Yes you notice that in the kitchen.
And I think that is important we try and make sure they sit down twice a day for lunch and dinner, that they get out on a break and then it's down to them. If they're not set up then they've got to work a bit more and we give them four days on and three days off which makes a big difference.
Okay so how does that work?
We're basically closed on a Sunday, which is easy and then I give them two days during the week and that's what Phil Howard's been doing for years now at The Square and because he's closed Saturday, Sunday lunch it makes it slightly easier so he just has to give two days. So they'll basically someone could be off Friday, Saturday, Sunday and there's his three days off and it's a nice weekend. If someone says, "I definitely need that day," I'll do it as a holiday because otherwise you never clear any of their holidays but it has made a difference since we offered this.
And let's talk about your food style then. You're very synonymous with an Italian influence, talk us through the food style here at Murano.
As I said earlier it's very much keeping it very seasonal, keeping it very fresh and simple. Not too many heavy sauces because I think people aren't into that so much now, they want lighter food, more olive oil, more vinaigrettes, a lot of our meat we put a lighter vinaigrette on rather than necessarily a heavy sauce. And not too much on the plate. I don't like 50 different flavours, four or five maximum and just make sure they complement, you know, aniseed with sweetbread and fennel, all those things all matched together work, you might add a little twist of some spiced breadcrumbs in at the end and just keep the dish as real as it is.
How have you evolved as a chef since you've gone out on your own? when you were working for Gordon Ramsay it's still Angela Hartnett but is there more freedom for you now?
I wouldn't say so to be fair because at the Connaught and when I opened Murano I was writing my own menus. At the beginning we did a whole tasting thing and Gordon knows without doubt how to open a restaurant and what to wow the critics with.
And he's been very successful.
Yes hugely successful. So but once you've proved yourself and established yourself then I was pretty much left to do it myself. So certainly when we opened Murano I did the tasting with him, and once I did it, Gordon was literally, "One of the best tastings I've been to, everything was spot on," and then we opened, he let me get on with it. So I can't complain in that respect.
Obviously working with someone like Gordon you say he's very good at opening a restaurant and you're absolutely 100% right, can we see that from the future from Angela Hartnett? Are you just confined to Murano or is there a future plan?
No I might do a few other bits and bobs, there's nothing on paper, I'm talking to a few people and we'll see what's happening. I certainly won't do another Murano and I don't particularly want to go, Angela Hartnett here, Angela Hartnett there. If I do other stuff it will either be in the background, backing people to run it themselves, not necessarily putting Diego in charge of another restaurant but basically he could oversee something else as well as this place and it gives them the freedom to do other stuff and stretches them, also from a monetary point of view you can only go so far with salaries and that's your limit so if these guys want to make more money they've got to have the freedom to be able to do it themselves and that's pretty much how I'll do it but I certainly am not going to take the Murano brand and just do it all around the world unless someone paid me an extortionate amount of money.
((laughs)) Which they may well do.
Which they may well do.
They may well do.
My number's xxxxxxxxx, give me a call.
I'll take that out "¦((laughs)) I don't think that's good putting your mobile number in do you?
You'll have a bloody phone full of cranks. What do you measure success by Angela for the restaurant? Is it money in the bank? Is it Michelin stars? Is it a happy team? What's success for you or is it all of that?
I think it's a bit of everything. I think certainly it's money in the bank. I don't see the point and I think chefs who sit there and do it for the love of it is all great but I think you need to make a living. It's not 20 years ago where it was easier to do, you've got to be competitive, you've got to make a living. So that's first and foremost. Secondly yes a happy team because a happy team means happy customers and I think if you get those two right and you run a successful business all the accolades follow. I think when run in the sense of, writing menus for the guidebooks, I'm going to write it for the critics you're not doing yourself justice. You should write it for you and your customers and if then you've got a full restaurant you see the difference and having spoken to numerous Michelin inspectors and AA inspectors they're about a restaurant that's good.
I think you're absolutely right, I think when chefs stop cooking for the guides and start cooking what they enjoy and the food they enjoy success follows.
Yes totally without a doubt.
But do you not think that also comes with a sense of confidence about your own food as well that comes in time?
I think it comes with age, I think it comes from confidence, I mean I never forget years ago when I was judging Gordon's scholarships and I was talking to this young cook and he said, "I'm going to open my own place," and his girlfriend was pregnant, he was just about to leave and he said, "I'm just going to cook the food I want, forget worrying about food costs, forget whether we're full lunch or dinner," and I couldn't believe it, I mean and I think Richard Corrigan had to say, "Calm down Angela." I was furious because I was saying, "You idiot, you've got a girlfriend that's pregnant etc." that's totally the wrong thing to do. Cook for a successful restaurant.
Agree. Where are you going to be in five years' time Angela?.
Where am I going to be in five years, probably still here, yes definitely still here not probably still here. I've a 15 year lease so definitely still here maybe with a few other things under my belt, hopefully with a little bit more money in the bank. It's nice to have a bit of money but it would be nice to sort of say, "I'll pay the mortgage off, or I've paid the debt back," I'll definitely own Murano outright by then it's a year or so more debt and then just doing stuff like that.
Brilliant. Well listen thank you very much.
I wish you every success it's been absolutely wonderful to come in.
Thank you very much.