Elizabeth Haigh, chef owner, Shibui

The Staff Canteen

Elizabeth Haigh took her first step into the professional kitchen when she took part in MasterChef 2012. Now she is preparing for her first solo restaurant, Shibui, which will open in 2018.

Having worked with top chefs including Neil Rankin she has honed her skills and developed her own niche style which she says is ‘refined barbecue’.

The Staff Canteen spoke to her about dishes we can expect to see on the menu at Shibui, Michelin stars and how she has developed as a chef throughout her career.

Elizabeth Haigh
Elizabeth Haigh

Becoming a chef and her career to date

How did you get into the industry?

While I was at university I was studying architecture, I’ve always like doing something that’s creative and a bit challenging. With regards to architecture, as much as I love it, I didn’t feel like I was getting enough out of it, but with cooking you get instant gratification. You make something and have a product right there and then, plus I just love cooking for other people. This goes back to my family background, they’re all very passionate about cooking (and eating!) as well even though none of them are chefs, it just stemmed from that. I just love feeding people and making everyone happy through food.

Talk us through your career to date

I did MasterChef and then that was my first instance of cooking in terms of for other people other than friends and family. I started working at The Green Oak in Windsor, a local gastropub. I learnt the basics from there and the discipline of the kitchen and then I moved to The Royal Oak, Bray where I was working under Dominic Chapman who was head chef at the time. I eventually wanted to move to London, so I worked at The Kitchen Table and Bubbledogs with James Knappett.

I felt I worked in quite a few Michelin-focused restaurants and gastro-pubs, but it was all getting a little bit pin-holed for me therefore I moved to The Smokehouse, Islington to broaden my skill set. I was learning about smoking, butchering, cooking over charcoal and wood, which is fascinating so I learnt a tremendous amount there. I got approached by the guys from Pidgin to help them open in Hackney, and that was a great opportunity for me to experiment with my style of cooking as well as producing a menu every week, so I got to develop myself and fine-tune what I wanted to do.

Was that your first head chef role?

No I was head chef at Smokehouse. I got to learn everything about managing and running a very busy restaurant there before being more of a creative head chef at Pidgin. I’m really happy that at the end of last year they got a Michelin star just after I left.

Was that a focus for you to get an accolade or did that just come naturally?Elizabeth Haigh

We weren’t pushing for it, we never said we want to get a Michelin star because our goal is always to deliver really good food, really creative and interesting, challenging food. I’ve always worked at that high standard so it was quite nice that Michelin recognised the food that I was doing as well. After leaving there I’ve been focusing on my own project, Shibui, so that’s what I’ve been doing for the past few months.

Her first solo venture, Shibui

Have you got a permanent site for that now?

Unfortunately, everything is still under close wraps, in the next month or so before I can start talking about it but I’m trying to do a sort of Modern European Asian cuisine, but it’s really hard to define! Because my background Is European/Asian and my passion lies with barbecue cooking, grilling and smoking - that’s really what Shibui’s about being those two cuisines together, European ingredients with Asian kick and fire and the real umami flavours.

Why is now the right time to branch out on your own?

I just wanted to focus on my own thing and own style and kind of challenge myself a bit more. I want to become more whole-rounded understanding business more and company structure and its really, really fascinating.

What location you looking at?

We’re looking at central London.

Cooking style and dishes on the menu at Shibui

Can you give us examples of dishes we can expect to see on the menu once you open?

I’ve did a pop-up at Carousel, one of the dishes that I’ve developed which is a signature dish, is the buttermilk fried chicken with caviar, taré sauce and miso mayonnaise. It’s a play on the unrefined dishes that are becoming a bit more refined and that’s what Shibui means. There will be a lot of grilled things like grilled chicken hearts and radishes with a miso dressing, meats, big grilled fish heads - basically anything that’s fresh in season, uncomplicated dishes, the kind of stuff you want to order again and again.

Elizabeth HaighYou’ve got your familiar ingredients and flavour profiles and its also going to have that Asian influence like miso and pandan. It makes it a little more interesting.

How are you feeling about the opening?

It is daunting at the same time its equally exciting and I think that I’m never one to back down from a challenge and push myself to try something different. Its great being a head chef and being part of someone else’s dream but to be able to do your own menu, set up your own team and restaurant - it’s a massive drive and kick.

Being a female chef

As a woman in the industry – what’s your experience of working in professional kitchens?

I think being a female chef, it’s hard to say because I can’t experience being a male chef so how do I compare? I just know in my experience, its always difficult going into an industry that’s very hard disciplined. It’s difficult, its physically and emotionally challenging and to be a great chef you’ve got to control yourself emotionally and have that emotional intelligence but also be creative as well. There have been instances in some places I’ve worked that I’ve been picked upon or suffered because I was female, but that really has changed a lot now I hope. As a young chef, its more difficult, but its like that in any industry though. I had it when I was in architecture, I had it when I was in retail - I do get approached by a lot of young female chefs who want advice and I think that’s exactly what we need, we need more role models and people who will just listen. It’s a difficult industry but it’s one of the most rewarding at the same time, we’ve just got to make sure were moving in the right direction.

You took part in MasterChef, what made you enter?

It was actually on a dare! I was a bit young and naïve and I enjoyed doing the show but at the same time I just crumbled under pressure and just made my dishes a bit too complicated, from that I was like I love cooking but I need to learn the basics. It kind of gave me a little bit of a push, it felt like a natural progression for me.

Which chefs have influenced you most?

There’s definitely chefs that have really helped and mentored me on my way. Matt Gillan, I did an event with him a long while back and he opened my eyes a bit more to how creative and exciting fine dining could be. Simon Hulstone, the way his food is really beautiful, simple yet complex, and I love that sort of food. Neil Rankin, gave me the opportunity to really explore myself in terms of flavour and making food really punchy as well as how to cook it differently over charcoal.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

Ideally Shibui will be a great hit, and just to have regular customers and happy customers. I’ve got got maybe three or four concepts and ideas up my sleeve but I’m keeping those close to my chest. Let’s get Shibui up and off the ground first, and in five years’ time then maybe we’ll have a couple more restaurants on the side.

Michelin stars

And what about accolades are you looking for a Michelin star?

It’s not a focus but its always the standard of professionalism that we work towards. For me its always about sourcing and using the finest ingredients. Sustainability is a huge thing for me as well, so counting all those factors and if that results in an accolade or an award or lists then fantastic. Sustainability and the quality of the produce are the things I’d focus on the most, and also the story behind the food, why we’re using this meat and then why we’re using it with those other ingredients, why we are cooking it over wood fire, and delivery the best possible outcome, surely it’s all about that.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 3rd August 2017

Elizabeth Haigh, chef owner, Shibui