Sally Abé, head chef, The Harwood Arms

The Staff Canteen

Sally Abé is the head chef at Michelin-starred The Harwood Arms which is owned by The Ledbury’s Brett Graham.

She has been there for a year but before that she has worked with Gordon Ramsay at the Savoy and Claridges, then The Ledbury and Phil Howard’s ElystanStreet. She is also married to Matt Abé who is chef de cuisine at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay which means they hold four Michelin stars between them!

The Staff Canteen caught up with Sally to find out more about the menu at The Harwood Arms, how Brett Graham has influenced her over the years and her thoughts on female chefs.

Whole lemon sole with spring vegetables%2C capers and brown butter low res

Whole lemon sole with spring vegetables, capers

and brown butter 

What are your thoughts on the age-old question about there not being enough women in professional kitchens?

I can honestly say I don’t think I’ve ever been treated differently by another chef because I’m a girl. The only issue I’ve ever had is carrying heavy pans and reaching high shelves because I’m 5ft! But if chefs won’t help you do that then f*** them, you get small guys as well. It is a shame that there are not as many women in the kitchen, they are more organised and it’s normally a pleasure to work with them.

Talk us through your career to date.

When I first came to London, I was doing a hospitality and business management degree, and it was supposed to be a year in industry from university….. I never went back to uni! My placement was at the Savoy when it was ran by Gordon Ramsay and when it closed for a refurb in 2007 I moved over to Claridges.

I was supposed to do six months front of house and six months in the kitchen as part of the placement but once I got in the kitchen I knew that was where I wanted to be. After two years at Claridges, I got a job at The Ledbury. I spent five years there and that’s where I earned my stripes as it were. I wanted a change after The Ledbury and I got a job as a writer at Great British Chefs, being able to write about food was quite an exciting change for me.

Then I saw Phil Howard was opening Elystan Street and I contacted Brett (Graham) and said I’d be interested in working there as I have a lot of respect for Phil. I started as sous chef there from when it opened until February 2017 and then the job at The Harwood Arms came along and Brett stole me back!

Roast fallow deer with carrot%2C pickled walnut and juniper low res

Roast fallow deer with carrot, pickled walnut

and juniper

You’ve worked in some intense kitchens – do you enjoy the pressure?

I do yeah, I thrive under pressure and I got bored very easily at that age (21) unless I had some one kicking my arse all the time. I always enjoy pushing myself and try to learn more, working in those kitchens that is exactly what you get. What did you take away from those experiences?

When I was at Claridges I’d just started cooking so I didn’t really know what I was doing but it was a great place to learn because it was busy all the time and there were lots of very experienced, strong chefs there. There were two or three people on each section which meant you could work your way around them all, this gave you the opportunity to grow and learn before you were given the responsibility of a section yourself.

Here it’s one per section so you have to just get on and do it. Being at The Ledbury for so long has made me the chef I am today, everything I learnt with Brett I put in to practise here.

Obviously, he owns The Harwood so he is still quite involved but his entire ethos on cooking and business is so fantastic you’d be stupid not to want to try and replicate his attitude towards hospitality.

Info bar

Rising stars

Ben Marks at Perilla

Guy Owen at The Idle Rocks

Sean Garrett - sous chef at Portland

Graham Long who I worked with at Elystan street who will be opening his own place later this year

Guilty Pleasures

Love a Wispa Gold, also my mum makes this thing she calls chicken dish that’s made with curry powder and Campbell’s condensed chicken soup and mayonnaise - it sounds gross but it’s delicious!

Top 5 restaurants

The Ledbury

The French Laundry

Trois Gros



Favourite cookbooks

White heat - Marco Pierre White

Roast chicken and other stories - Simon Hopkinson

The Square cookbook - Phil Howard

English Food - Jane Grigson

Tell us about your goals for The Harwood Arms.

We are just trying to drive it forward every day, we want to push it as much as we can over the next couple of years and make sure guests keep coming back!

What about the food, what can people expect from your menu?

The food we are doing now, I want it to be simple but with loads of flavour. Flavour is the most important thing for me – I’d rather have three things on the plate and have them all taste absolutely amazing, rather than have 12 things on a plate and it be a bit confused.

I just want to use clever cooking techniques; I spend quite a lot of time looking at old English recipe books and I try to find old recipes to bring into the modern day.

pear tart low res

Red Williams pear tart with raisin

caramel and buttermilk sorbet

I just want The Harwood Arms to be the sort of place I would want to go and eat. You spend all this time and money eating fantastic tasting menus but sometimes I actually just want to eat a great Sunday roast!

We’re offering hot, hearty but refined rustic food. Some examples of dishes are a wild garlic soup with a crispy hake collar or a rabbit and bacon terrine with a lovage and celery salad.

Are all the dishes on the menu yours?

There are the Harwood signatures that pretty much always stay on the menu like the braised shoulder of roe deer and the doughnuts. The rest of the menu I change seasonally, discussing things with Brett as I go along, you can’t really ask for more than being able to get menu advise from Brett Graham, can you?

You have the star but what’s it like retaining that as a head chef?

It’s an exciting responsibility to carry and the biggest thing for me is making sure it’s as good when I’m not here, as when I am here.

dessert low res
One of the desserts at The Harwood Arms 

You’ve found it difficult, as many other chefs do, to be fully staffed. What do we need to do to improve the chef shortage situation?

We need to work harder to attract people into the hospitality industry, fair wages and a good work/life balance are the two key factors to this.

Your husband Matt Abé is chef de cuisine at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – are you two quite competitive?

We do tend to fall out if we cook together! It’s more of a gentle ribbing but if we cook at home one of us will cook and the other will stay out of the room.

Is the end goal to have a restaurant together?

Absolutely not! For the time being I’m very happy but I would like my own place at some point and Matt definitely wants his own place too. But at the moment he has such a big job and finally the limelight is coming towards him so he’s very focused on that. The thing with Matt is he is so humble and you’d never know from talking to him what he does for a living. It is nice that he is finally getting some recognition and I’m really proud of him.

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 5th April 2018

Sally Abé, head chef, The Harwood Arms