10 minutes with: Kim Woodward - Savoy Grill's first female head chef now executive chef at Skylon

The Staff Canteen

In 2015 Kim Woodward was appointed the first female head chef at Gordon Ramsay’s The Savoy Grill, London.

(Note: Kim Woodward has been appointed Executive Chef of Skylon, its modern European restaurant on London’s Southbank. Kim joins Skylon at the end of February 2017, on her new role she said: “Skylon is a beautiful restaurant overlooking the river Thames, I couldn't help but take a shine to this exciting venue! D&D London is one of the UK's most progressive hospitality businesses and I look forward to this next phase in my career with the group.”)

No we’re not in the early 1900’s we are in 2015 and yes it has taken 126 years for this to happen but this doesn’t phase Cheshire-born Kim as she aims to make her mark on the menu but is by no means planning on taking out the classics any time soon. Instead she is to tweak and play with flavours and assures us that iconic dishes such as the Omelette Arnold Bennett is here to stay but first and foremost Kim wants to get to know her team.

Kim explained: “I’m not about to change the whole thing or the classics, the iconic dishes will stay, like they should do, they are very famous to the Savoy itself so it’d be a shame to take them away. “I want to get to know the team and build that inside in the kitchen and then I can work on small menu changes.”

Having been with the Gordon Ramsay Group since 2007 Kim started as most chefs do, attending college to learn the basics, but the chance to head to America came her way and she started work at Big Cedar Lodge.

Kim said: “I got an opportunity to go to America to work in a massive resort with three restaurants and the one that I worked at was called Top of the Rock; it was a beautiful place. “I then returned to England and joined the Gordon Ramsay Group as junior sous chef and from that I worked my way up to senior sous chef, where I opened The Savoy Grill in 2010.”

Feeling like there was no further opportunity in America Kim explains that 'London was the only place for me that I could see more opportunity and more restaurants that were recognised within the industry', with this in mind she joined the now closed Boxwood Café.

She said: “For me it was a great positon to come into as the expectations are high the higher you are. They expect so much and I didn’t want to fool myself by coming in at such a high role. I wanted to see where I sat within myself as a chef and actually me progressing and growing; so it was good role for me to start at in my career.”

Belonging to the Gordon Ramsay Group this was the start of an eight year career within the group so it’s only natural that Kim cites Gordon as one of her main influences when starting out.

She said: “When I knew I was joining the company, I would always look at Gordon; of course I would. He’s someone who I always wanted to work for and you never know when he’s going to be in, so it was always a nice treat when he showed up.”

Clearly something about the group has made Kim stay put which she puts down to their ethos perfectly matching hers. She explains: “I think it’s the way it’s driven. It’s always got a good leader and Stuart Gillies, who’s the managing director, is an amazing character to look at and go wow.

“It is about people that are self-motivated and wanting more, and for me it’s always about wanting more and saying what’s my next challenge and they’ve always been able to give it to me; so I think that’s what keeps me very interested.”

After Boxwood Café came Kim’s next challenge in the form of taking over the York and Albany in 2012 that was once synonymous with Angela Hartnett, although this wasn’t an issue for Kim as she explains both championed completely different food.

She said: “She was very Italian in the food where as I turned it into more of a British feel, British seasonal ingredients. For me I took it on a totally different direction from what Angela did.

“It was a great learning curve for me, it was a step in the right direction and there was a lot of learning in the process for me as a head chef within the group. For me it made me stronger and made me realise things that I was missing.”

Moving from York and Albany to such an iconic venue as The Savoy it seems nothing phases Kim as one kitchen is just the same pressure as any other. Kim said: “Any kitchen is pressure-driven, whether it’s here or another restaurant. It is well known and does contain a lot of history and being in London itself, but no it doesn’t feel any more pressure, it’s just normal for me.”

Kim’s ability to handle the pressure was certainly tested when she appeared on the 2011 series of Masterchef: The Professionals.

Speaking about her time on the show Kim said: “It was an opportunity to put myself up in a challenge, see what other talent it out there and what you’re putting yourself up against. It’s a very pressure-driven competition, you get an hour to cook everything or less and it is about finding where you see yourself at as a chef.

“I’m a very well organised person and time is of the essence when you’re on the show, so if you’ve only got an hour than it was well managed. I was never late for anything, it was all about being organised and delivering on time.”

Now Kim has taken on this history-making role at The Savoy Grill she is keen to put her “stamp on the menu” but reinforces that both the “Omelette Arnold Bennett and lobster bisque are staying put.”

She added: “Why would you take them off? I’m just going to play around with a few flavours and seasonal choices and make my mark that way.

“If you take a classic mille-feuille I can play around with the flavours, one I’m working on is a tonka bean with wild strawberry, basil and balsamic; those are the flavours that really interest me which I’ll bring to this menu.”

Kim however is by means letting this position go to her head as she humbly says: “At the moment I’m overjoyed that I am here as it’s such an honour to be appointed head chef. “I think it’s fantastic that it’s finally happened, even though it’s now 2015 I think it’s great coming from anyone and for any female to be given this position.”
 Especially given that there is a shortage of female chefs at the moment, something that Kim hopes to improve now she is in her new role.

She explained: “I think we’re getting more recognised everyday now and with me being the first female head chef I think it’s going to attract more females to come forward. “There is a lot of talent out there but I just don’t think they’re being recognised.”

Having been in the role for just over a month of course Kim is happy where she but doesn’t rule out one day owning her own place, she added: “In the future yeah I think anyone would love to open their own restaurant. It’s never going to be no but probably just not yet.”

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The Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 9th February 2017

10 minutes with: Kim Woodward - Savoy Grill's first female head chef now executive chef at Skylon