Anna Haugh, Executive Chef, Bob Bob Ricard

The Staff Canteen

Anna Haugh is the executive chef at Bob Bob Ricard. She has previously worked in a number of Michelin-starred kitchens under the likes of Shane Osborn at Pied a Terre and Phil Howard at the Square, before opening Gordon Ramsay’s London House.

*Please note Anna has now left Bob Bob Ricard to pursue a new venture

Originally from Ireland she discovered her love of cooking through being in the kitchen with her mother and her latest challenge is relaunching the menu at Bob Bob Ricard.

The Staff Canteen spoke to Anna about her cooking style, being a woman in the industry and why she regrets not sticking it out for longer in Paris.

You’ve always cooked from a young age so did you always know you wanted to be a chef?

My mother always taught us as children so, from the age of 12 I would have done the Sunday roast from start to finish. I had good instincts for cooking and a friend of mine’s mother turned round to me at 17 and said ‘why don’t you be a chef?’ which to me was like saying ‘why don’t you be an astronaut?’ – I just never thought I could do it. The career advisor at school made me think it wasn’t really a career option for women but when I went into a kitchen for the first time (simply to open tins of fruit cocktail!) it’s difficult to describe but I felt complete, it was love at first sight. I never looked back and it was a gift that I wandered into a kitchen.

You’ve worked in some great kitchens including Gualtiero Marchesi in Hotel Lotto which held a Michelin star in Paris, but was London always your aim?

Absolutely, I was working in Paris as a junior chef and head pastry chef because I was told I should go to France to learn. When I came back to Dublin everyone told me to go to London, so I went thinking I needed one more year then I’d be a qualified chef and I could probably open my own place. I arrived in London fifteen years ago and I realised I knew nothing. So I started back from scratch in Pied a Terre with Shane Osborn.

So London pushed you outside of your comfort zone?

God yes, to be good at this job you have to be able to live outside of your comfort zone. There’s nothing easy about high-end food in London at all.

What was Shane like to work with?

Bob Bob Ricard

He was mental! He’s charismatic, endearing, funny and he really was incredible. He taught me everything I needed to know about the hot side of kitchens, timing, how to organise your mise en place – I was so lucky to work under him.

Then you moved to The Square?

I was super lucky to go there. I learned about the harmony of ingredients, seasonality and respect of the produce. Not that Shane didn’t have those things but here was a huge focus on it in the Square. The only way I can describe Phillip Howard is he is full of calm passion, the kitchen could burst into flames and Phil would just calmly say ‘everybody out the door’.

If I had been in the Square before Pied de Terre I would be a different chef today, a lesser chef, because what I learnt at Pied a Terre was really graft. Work hard, think fast, organise yourself and be prepared for the shit hitting the fan. I took those skills to the Square and was then able to learn more in depth about truffles, risotto grains – so many things that I’d never had the time or the space for.

You went back to Pied a Terre as a sous chef but then took a role at Rocket Foods?

Yes, it was an events company and for me it was amazing. It was completely different and I learnt stuff there I wouldn’t have in a restaurant kitchen. We would do the most exciting and unbelievable parties, I was there for four years and I really enjoyed it but it wasn’t enough and I came out of it.

London House was your next role, which you opened for Gordon Ramsay. Did you enjoy it and did he have much input?

Oh yeah he was washing dishes every night……(laughs) Gordon doesn’t touch a knife! Give him a break, the man is literally in three different countries every week. But he is inspiring, he’s a delegator and he is a leader.

They sent me to LA for a few months while I was waiting to open London House and it was amazing, the food scene is trail blazing and the standard of service is so high. I suppose its Californian cuisine which is an eclectic mix, and the amazing weather means the quality of the produce they have is phenomenal.

Having worked for some very talented chefs who have their own style of food they are known for, is it hard to find your own niche?

No, I think the personality I have and the way I approach food has been there since day one. I’ve taken influences from all of the chefs I’ve ever worked with but I’ve always been able to find my own personal ethos and which way I would like to conduct myself. I only worked in kitchens until I felt I had taken everything I need from them – Paris was the only one I regretted leaving.

There was a bit of sexism, I was desperate to get off pastry and on my days off I’d come in and help the lads on the larder. They sat me down and said you’re a woman and head pastry chef is as senior as you can get in our kitchen’. So I left, which I shouldn’t have because there are things I learnt in that kitchen I still use today. The mind set there was unacceptable but perhaps I could have continued to strive to learn there and not heeded their advice to know my place. As much as I regret leaving I've always been proud that I never listened to anyone who told me I couldn't do something.

So has being a woman been an issue throughout your time in the industry?

I always compare myself to a short, skinny man as in they would have the same challenges I had – you have to own your presence, not second guess yourself in front of people because they will assume you are small and weak. So I feel for any of those little, short men out there because I’ve been through the same thing!

I’m a big fan of woman, encouraging woman. I think that’s how the boys have done so well for so long! I always have women in my kitchen, when I was in Pied a Terre I was the only one for a year and a half but that was a notoriously aggressive kitchen.

And you’re at Bob Bob Ricard now, what’s the brigade and kitchen like there?

It’s massive! You can have 18 chefs on a shift. I’ve been very hands on while I’m building my team, once it’s built I’ll be supporting them and keeping them on track. When it comes to menu changes I’ll still be in charge of that. We will be opening a second site next year so it’s in my interest to make sure the team is rock solid.

What are your plans for the restaurant?

I’m hoping I can bring the food to match the amazing ambience and service it has here already. The service is fantastic and it’s the first place I’ve worked where I think I’ve got to up my game to match them out front.

All of the detail we are going in to so everything matches the food, I can’t tell you how exciting it is. And its fine dining, no one does fine dining anymore and it’s so cool. I love fine dining, I see it as such a treat and a luxury plus the idea of the technique and knowledge going behind the food too. It’s not just something which looks pretty and sound fashionable – the menu is very classic in a lot of ways.

It’s about creating the most delish and elegant food we can that the guests will want. A huge focus here is lobster, truffle, caviar, wild sea bass – its high quality and I have the budget.

Talk us through the menu which has several Russian classics on it as well as French, and the changes you are making.

We are refining the food. I love French food it’s what I believe in and its part of the reason I have taken this job. I love places that do fine dining correctly, so it’s steeped in a classic recipe and it’s brought into a more lighter, more modern and fresh version. There’s not that many places like that anymore and here is a place I’m able to do that.

We sell more caviar than Harrods or Selfridges! We do Russian dumplings, (pelmeni) and we try to do a more luxurious version than they would have been. Originally they were made to get people through the winter and they would be left in bags outside because it was so cold t was like a freezer, so they are cooked from frozen. It’s the most popular starter because it’s rare to get an authentic Russian meal. So those few little Russian treats are staying on the menu.

Is Russian cuisine something you had cooked before?

No but it’s incredibly interesting and it’s not a million miles away from any developed cuisine – there are strong recipes with strong histories. They use pancakes like crepes, dumplings like gnocchi – there are loads of similarities so it’s not difficult to understand the cuisine. It’s just not well known.



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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 3rd November 2016

Anna Haugh, Executive Chef, Bob Bob Ricard