Frances Atkins and Clare Smyth: You can't just chuck the towel in because things get a little bit tough

The  Staff Canteen

Following the release of her new book, core, we sat down with clare smyth to learn more about the title and find out exactly what makes a successful chef. 

Becoming successful in the hospitality industry is no different from any other profession but the challenges, competition and sacrifices faced along that journey do intimidate new talent entering the industry.

Whether you’re just starting out in your career in the kitchen or taking it to the next level, understanding your situation and overcoming challenges around you, are crucial attributes in becoming a success and reaching your dream end goal.

For Clare Smyth, chef and owner of the three Michelin-starred Core and Oncore, success is something she knows plenty about.

 

“I think it's very much about finding someone that you want to work with,” explained Clare.

Replying to a question on what she would tell a young chef starting out in the industry today, Clare said: “You need to know what you want to do because it's a vast industry, so something that you're inspired to do, and then find the right environment to work in, and then stick at it.”

Clare started her career as an apprentice at Grayshott Hall in Surrey before working full-time at Terence Conran's restaurant at Michelin House, London.

After working in Australia for six months and several restaurants including The Waterside Inn and Gidleigh Park, Clare began her role at the restaurant of the St Enodoc Hotel in Rock, Cornwall, first as sous chef and then as head chef, where she was awarded Young Cornish Fish Chef of the Year.

“Make your decisions, stick to them, buy in and be loyal, and that's how you build your success,” explained Clare.

Highlighting the importance of starting your career as you mean to go on, Clare said: “Your reputation starts from day one as soon as you start working. All the people around you are going to remember you as well. It’s not just your reputation that you create when you're a head chef, it starts from day one.”

"A chef's book, a restaurant's book"

"It wasn't like 'I'm going to write a cookbook,' I always thought I would one day but it was never something that was at the forefront of something I want to do," explained Clare. 

Talking about the new book, which includes recipes served at Core as well other useful recipes for basics including stocks, sauces and breads, tells the fascinating story of Smyth's journey that led to her opening and one of the finest restaurants in the world.

"I tried to make it a balanced book," explained Claire. 

When asked if Core was a chef's book and how it compared to other titles, Clare added: "It is a chef's book, it's a restaurant book, it's recipes from the restaurant but I would say there's lots of recipes in that book, so you don't have to create the whole dish."

WORKING WITH GORDON RAMSAY

Moving from strength to strength in her career, Core details how Clare was famously offered a position by Gordon Ramsay in 2002 at his Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, marking the start of an incredible working relation between the two.

“Gordon was great to work with. I worked with him for many, many years,” explained Clare.

Describing the chef’s personality whilst dispelling some of the myths around Gordon, she added: “You always know where you stood with Gordon, and I like that kind of environment. He was very supportive of me; a lot of people don't think that or that the TV persona is one thing.”

The book goes on to explain how in 2007, Clare was announced as the new head chef of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay becoming the first female chef in the United Kingdom to run a restaurant with three Michelin stars.

Before taking the position, Clare spent a year and a half in Alain Ducasse's Le Louis XV restaurant in Monaco, before returning to London to run the Chelsea-based restaurant.

In her book, commenting on her time working at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay, Clare said: “It was survival of the fittest and it’s an environment that I've thrived in, under pressure, and that’s a personal thing.”

Looking back at challenges working in the three Michelin-starred restaurant, Clare described: “There’s lots of good and bad things about it. I think pressure forms diamonds but yes that was a three Michelin star kitchen, and you can think it was like that all the time, which pretty much it was to be fair, [but] every business in every restaurant goes through difficult times and hardships as well.”

She added: “People have to be able to dig deep. You can't just chuck the towel in because things get a little bit tough from time to time, you'll have it in your own business, and it certainly gave me a thicker skin.”

STARTING CORE AND ONCORE

In 2016, Clare left Restaurant Gordon Ramsay after more than 14 years of involvement with the restaurant to set up her world-famous Core restaurant, located in London’s Notting Hill.

“In total in the kitchen, we probably started off with about 15 I'd say, and same for the front of house, we're now up to 57,” explained Clare.

Core is an elegant fine dining restaurant with an emphasis on natural, sustainable food, sourced from the UK’s most dedicated farmers and food producers.

Offering beautifully crafted dishes highlighting the best of British produce, the restaurant has received numerous awards including three stars in the 2021 Michelin Guide, 10/10 in the Good Food Guide, five AA rosettes, Best Restaurant at the GQ Food and Drink Awards, New Restaurant of the Year by The Craft Guild of Chefs, and the Service Award at the National Restaurant Awards.

Looking back to the challenges she faced in Core’s early days, Clare said: “Your biggest concern is obviously your finances; how much can you afford? How many people can you afford? Can you get staff?”

Regarding staffing, she explained: “As you're starting out, the biggest concern is that cost and the labour cost is huge, especially when you're not opening and you're not actually trading. My first employee I didn't take on until three months before the restaurant opened.”

Focusing on the immense workload, Clare revealed: “I had done my business plan myself, all of the work prior to opening the development of the dishes and stuff, and it was really about cost, what I can afford to do.”

NEW HORIZONS

The book details how in 2021, with restrictions resulting from the Covid pandemic still in place, Clare announced the opening of Oncore in Syndey, Australia.

Since opening, the restaurant has already received critical acclaim from national and international media, with Bloomberg describing Oncore as Sydney’s best restaurant.

“It really is very special in terms of kitchens, all singing, all dancing, Rolls Royce, it's kind of got everything,” explains Clare.

Despite her success both in the UK and abroad Clare made it clear that quantity is not her aim moving forwards and she would prefer to evolve organically.

“I think my next thing will be opening another restaurant, probably in London, and it's really because my team are evolving and I want to give them opportunity so they can stay with me,” explained Clare.

Looking to the future, revealing her ambitions, Clare said: “My plan is not to have 100 restaurants, it doesn't interest me, I want to enjoy what I do and I want to provide opportunities, and believe in it, and create things that are really natural and organic.”

Core is available now in hardback, priced at £45.00. Visit our Instagram for a chance to win signed copies of Core. 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 8th September 2022

Frances Atkins and Clare Smyth: You can't just chuck the towel in because things get a little bit tough