'It was the only thing I wanted to do, I thought they were all rockstars'

The  Staff Canteen

Sally Abé and Harriet Mansell on how they ended up in hospitality, the opportunities hospitality offers, and why it's the place for them.

In this week’s episode of Grilled by The Staff Canteen head editor Cara Houchen was joined by co-host Sally Abé, chef at The Pem, and by their guest Harriet Mansell, chef-owner of Robin Wylde Restaurant.

During the episode, they discussed many things from unpopular opinions to the proper way to pronounce scone, but one notable topic was how both women ended up working in hospitality as it was something neither of them had originally planned.

Before life as a chef, Harriet studied a degree in politics and history and when she was asked why she made such a big change and retrained as a chef she said: "You know that feeling inside of you when you have a calling to do something and it's more painful to ignore it than it is to go and do it? 

“I was genuinely depressed at the time because I wasn't fulfilling my passion. I was working in an office in my early 20s and, whilst I really enjoyed and took so much from what I was doing, attempting to follow that more traditional career path that was set out by the school that I went to - quite a pushy grammar school - and, I think, my parents as well, wasn’t working."

Along with that Harriet had always been very aware of food and found food very interesting. Something she attributed to some nature-loving teachers she had when she was younger.

“I was always interested in food and flavour," she said. "Then having worked in hospitality in part-time jobs throughout my teenage school years, also then through university and straight afterwards, [along with] working with chefs doing a ski season and then working on a yacht for a summer, I very much learned that the food industry was there.

“I was working in kitchens part-time and I was working front of house. I loved hospitality and I was so inspired by all the chefs I was working with. It was the only thing I wanted to do I thought they were all rockstars."

Eventually, it became obvious that she had to go into hospitality full time.

Harriet said: "I was just like 'I can't do anything but pursue this route'. So, I just retrained. I went to cookery school at Tante Marie, spent all my savings and credit cards on doing that, then basically went and worked in kitchens.

“Making that move was the best thing I ever did. I loved it. Everything felt pretty good after that."

While Sally didn’t have the same experience as Harriet, she also didn’t originally plan on being a chef.

“I didn't know I wanted to be a chef until I ended up being a chef. When I was growing up my dream was to present the Radio One breakfast show. That was my aim until I realised how early you have to get up to do that.”

She also discuss how, like Harriet, her parents had wanted her to get what they would consider a ‘proper’ job, rather than going into anything like hospitality. Which meant that Sally had never really given it a thought.

Because of this, she said: “I just finished my A levels and just didn't know what I was doing, and I just fell into cooking. I think it was the first time I realised it was a job that I could do that meant I didn't have to sit in an office all day because sitting down at a computer for eight hours a day is not for me, my brain just implodes so I need to be active and moving around and be creative.”

Along with that Sally also discussed how being a chef is different to a standard job.

She said: “You don't realise when you're becoming a chef that being a chef is a lifestyle choice because you're always at work when everybody else is at home and you work weekends, and you work nights.”

But, she said: “That actually suits me down to the ground because I'd much rather have the day to myself.”

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 28th June 2022

'It was the only thing I wanted to do, I thought they were all rockstars'