Pip Lacey, Head Chef, Murano

The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th June 2016

Starting in York and Albany under Colin Buchan, Pip Lacey has worked at the helm of great chefs. Moving on to Clare Smyth at Royal Hospital Road, and Diego Cardoso at Murano, before taking the role of head chef herself.

Inspired by her parents, Pip started cooking when she was young and combining flavours came as second nature. Starting her career in graphic design, Pip came to realise that her passion lay within the kitchen, and with encouragement from her friends, she started her journey into cooking.

We talk to Pip about being thrown in at the deep end with no experience, Angela Hartnett’s ‘head mistress’ aura, and how she almost gave up her dreams at breaking point.

You started your career as a graphic designer, what made you want to change career and when did your interest in food start?

I've loved food and cooking for as long as I can remember, my mum and dad are both good cooks. They always encouraged me to eat everything as a child, we were not fussy kids, I think that helped develop my palette. I grew up cooking and I knew I could make things taste good using the right combinations etc.

I assumed everyone could do this, as it’s what I grew up with. I didn't think I stood out. But then when changing career and talking to friends about what I should do they made me realise that not everyone can make things taste nice. So with a lot of naivety I started my journey.

 

Dream restaurant 

I would love to have a restaurant in the French Alps, that was preferably open for dinner and not lunch for obvious reasons! I would serve a seasonal modern cuisine, mostly European of a fine dining standard. I would like it to be a more relaxed experience though, somewhere which is busy, fun with cool music and an open kitchen. I’d like my guests to be able to carry on après ski. During the summer I’d return to London, to cook until the next season.

Dream Brigade 

Any passionate chefs that love life as well as cooking, ones that could play hard and work hard, chefs with a sense of humour.

How did you get your first job in a professional kitchen?

I applied for a commi chef position at Gordon Ramsey Holdings and quickly got a reply of ‘no sorry’. Of course this came as no surprise. However I then went on to read that it was because I needed a Visa!

For some reason I had ticked the wrong box about being British and needing a visa. If you want to get an interview this is not how to do it! I then proceeded to phone Gordon Ramsey Holdings and explain but the next problem is that you don't have any experience.

The power of voice and then seeing someone face to face was the difference. I convinced them to meet me and in turn to give me a chance. I turned up for my trial and was completely out of my depth. But I didn't give up and worked as hard as I could. Colin the head chef at the time gave me a chance, either because he was desperate or because he saw something, you will have to ask him...

Did you know Angela Hartnett before you started working for her?

I didn't really know who Angela Hartnett was, but got to know pretty quickly. I remember the first time I met her in the kitchen, it reminded me of going to see the head mistress. She had a presence, she still does. A presence of automatic respect, not scary or intimidating. I can still say she is inspiring to be around. 

Did Angela approach you to become head chef at Murano?

Angela took me for dinner and asked me to take over from Diego. It was a night I won't forget, Gordon was in the same restaurant and came over to say hello. I felt like it was a good sign.

How are you finding the role of head chef?

Hand rolled linguine; clams, artichokes, toasted breadcrumbs

Hand rolled linguine; clams

artichokes, toasted breadcrumbs 

I'm loving being head chef, it’s been a crazy seven years and it’s been emotional. I'm glad I got to do it at Murano, it definitely feels like a great accomplishment coming through the ranks at one place.

What is Angela like to work with?

Angela is a great boss, the one thing I've learnt more than anything from her is how to enjoy my work, to have a sense of humour, to work in a fun environment and to be yourself. I think we both cook by instinct rather than lots of exact measuring and recipes, plus she is always there with advice if you need it. 

I have been working with Angela a long time now, as a result I feel she trusts me with the menu development. We work together as a team to create what we think is best for Murano. Its Angela's restaurant, she has to be happy with what we are doing before we get the go ahead, whether it be through tastings for the menu or any other matter. It’s good to have a hands on boss. 

Has Angela influenced your style? Is it hard to find your own style whilst working for another chef?

Of course Angela has influenced my style of cooking. In many different ways, but she has also allowed me a lot of freedom. Angela has never told me how to cook, like ‘you should do this or that’. She's trusted my ability to learn from her in other ways than being told. I have my own style under Angela, would it become different without her, yes I’m sure it would! But I know I also have my own style at the moment, the food is different from when I started at Murano, I must have played a part in this. I'd like to think Murano and myself have developed together.

Murano_Confit duck leg agnolotti; mostarda, lyonnaise onions

Murano Confit duck leg agnolotti;

mostarda, lyonnaise onions 

Is the menu down to you or does Angela decide?

I write the menu with my sous chef Adam Jay and then Angela will have the final say. Over the years the more menu changes and tastings I do with Angela the less she's had to critique them. 

What dish on the menu is your favourite? Do you have an ingredient that you like working with?

I love fish and seafood, I love working with it and eating it. My favourite fish is Turbot. At present we are serving it at Murano with langoustines, a langoustine bisque, confit potato, scorched red onions, and nasturtium. Its classic, its uncomplicated and very flavoursome, it’s one of our best sellers.

What has been your single biggest professional challenge whilst at your current operation and how did you overcome this?

Our biggest challenge at Murano was taking over as head chef then straight away doing Great British Menu and then coming back to eight months being very short staffed all in one year. That was full on. I think having enough staff and the right staff is the hardest thing for me personally, when the team is depleted you have to be the one to create energy and all the opposite things that having no staff brings. At one point I lost faith, this is when Angela was a great boss. She told me things would turn around and convinced me it will be fine. I was at breaking point. We came though it! I now know to keep the faith.

What are your plans for the future?

Plans for the future...I’m getting married this year which I'm incredibly excited about. That’s how I work best, the more I have going on the more I feel inspired. I don't like standing still. This year I hope to help develop the chefs at Murano, so that as a team we can push to a new level. Myself and Adam (sous chef) also host irregular pops ups (when Murano is closed), so hope to fit in a few more of those this year. I'm looking forward to the future, I’m going do what I've been doing the past seven years and work as hard as I can and see where it takes me.

 

 

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The  Staff Canteen

The Staff Canteen

Editor 15th June 2016

Pip Lacey, Head Chef, Murano