10-01-2016

The super-chef’s new adventure

«I’m leaving Ramsay»: Clare Smyth, the first three-starred female chef in Britain, announces the turning point in Courmayeur

Clare Smyth with Gordon Ramsay: after many years o

Clare Smyth with Gordon Ramsay: after many years of partnership (Smyth holds three stars, the first British woman to receive the acknowledgement, at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in London), she announced Identità Golose, during the Mountain Gourmet Ski Experience in Courmayeur, that she’s ready to leave the Scottish chef and open a restaurant of her own in London in the autumn

Mountain Gourmet Ski Experience is the event created by Heston Blumenthal who for the third year in a row reunited two excellences in Courmayeur, namely the landscape and tourism of the mountains of the Valle d’Aosta and fine dining culinary excellence. Among the protagonists, this was the first time for 37-year-old Clare Smyth, the first British woman to conquer three stars when in 2008 she took the reins of the Restaurant Gordon Ramsay in Chelsea, London. The ongoing partnership with the famous Scottish chef will soon end: Smyth told Identità Golose she’s about to open her own restaurant in the autumn, also in the British capital.

It’s a story worth telling. With a female side: 68 Royal Hospital Road has 14 tables and a staff of 27 people (12 in the dining room and 15 in the kitchen: all men) led by two representatives of the fair sex: sommelier Anna Botting and chef Smyth, originally from County Antrim, in Northern Ireland.

Smyth with Sat Bains in Courmayeur

Smyth with Sat Bains in Courmayeur

A self made woman: she was the last of three children, from a family of breeders, born in 1978 to William, a farmer, and Doreen, a waitress. At 15 she started working in restaurants. The following year she left her village for England to attend Highbury College in Portsmouth, Hampshire.

From there on, her career was all upwards, though starting from the lowest ranks: with Michel Roux at the The Waterside Inn, then an internship in California at The French Laundry and at Per Se in New York, but also a year and a half at Alain Ducasse’s Le Louis XV in Monaco when she had already met Ramsay, in 2002. When she returned to him in 2007, as mentioned above, she conquered the laurels no other woman in Britain had ever achieved: «Gordon is a great manager: if you’re worthy of it, he allows you to grow».

Ramsay is Smyth’s declared mentor. Her vision is disenchanted: «Being a chef is a job, like with a carpenter. Perhaps you need an artistic side to reach the highest levels. However, the foundations are made of practice. You need to study the dishes of the greatest chefs to become familiar with their techniques».

Salmon, beurre blanc and sorrel: one of the dishes prepared by Smyth at the Mountain Gourmet Ski Experience in Courmayeur (the other was Lemon soufflé with mascarpone ice cream): organic salmon lightly smoked with kombu, cooked for 7 minutes in a bain marie at 50°C then seared in the pan

Salmon, beurre blanc and sorrel: one of the dishes prepared by Smyth at the Mountain Gourmet Ski Experience in Courmayeur (the other was Lemon soufflé with mascarpone ice cream): organic salmon lightly smoked with kombu, cooked for 7 minutes in a bain marie at 50°C then seared in the pan

Smyth’s cuisine – we had a delicious sample in Courmayeur – is elegant, harmonious, very feminine, refined. «I start from classic foundations and seasonal products. I want to obtain dishes that are seemingly simple, from which the truth of the raw materials may emerge. Today technologies and the quality of selected ingredients allow me to find the best. Being creative is easier».

Clare is humble yet ambitious: after 8 years in a row with Ramsay she decided to play solo. She told Identità so: «In the autumn I’ll open my own restaurant in London. It will be a great challenge, which will allow me to put myself to the test and do something new. I’ll finally be able to prepare recipes that fully represent my personality but at the same time I will work in a restaurant that “keeps up with the times”, that is to say not just with a relaxed atmosphere but also paying attention to environmental sustainability».

Here she will present dishes that are an evolution of her classics: such as the Lemon juice parfait with honey, bergamot and sheep’s milk yogurt sorbet («I love pastry-making»); or the Scottish halibut from the island of Gigha with finger lime and broth with ras el hanout, a North African blend of around thirty spices that recalls, in particular, the aroma of Moroccan tajine.

Smyth at work in Courmayeur

Smyth at work in Courmayeur

What is Smyth’s opinion of Italian fine dining? «Even if I were Chinese, in Italy I’d use my technique but with Italian products because you have the best raw materials in the world. So I’d be very happy to represent this contamination, which is in fact part of my style».

Don’t you think we’re still too influenced by tradition in Italy? «You have a strong culinary identity and this shouldn’t be lost. In fact, I’m terribly jealous of this. I wouldn’t change too much, nor too soon. I know great chefs in the country, some real artists – I’m thinking of Massimo Bottura – They have the merit of always starting from products and identity, which are your unmatchable strong points».


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Carlo Passera

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Carlo Passera

journalist born in 1974, for many years he has covered politics, mostly, and food in his free time. Today he does exactly the opposite and this makes him very happy. As soon as he can, he dives into travels and good food. Identità Golose's editor in chief

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