Interview with Angela Hartnett
Angela Hartnett on Clapham, career highs and learning from Gordon Ramsay
She discovered her love for Italian food in her nonna’s kitchen as a child and survived the school of hard knocks with Marcus Wareing and Gordon Ramsay. With authenticity at the core of everything she does, and little time for restaurants that “faff about with ingredients for no reason”, it’s no surprise Angela Hartnett MBE continues to strike a chord with the public.
Born in Kent, of Welsh, Irish and Italian heritage, Angela’s big break came when she undertook a one-day trial at Gordon Ramsay’s first restaurant, Aubergine. Pretty much the only female in a macho kitchen brigade her fellow chef, a certain Marcus Wareing, bet she wouldn’t last the week. She did. And worked gruelling all-hour shifts during the year that saw the restaurant achieve its first Michelin star.
Was it sheer will and determination? “To be honest I didn’t know about that bet. It wasn’t till after I got into the kitchen proper I realised it used to go on. But I’m quite determined. And most of all, I wanted to do it. I wanted to cook. So I got my head down,” Angela says. “I did like working with Gordon and Marcus. With Gordon, lots of people love him or hate him but I learned a hell of a lot from him,” Angela says of her time as protégée.
“I’ve had many highlights throughout my career but I think each completed design has been a highlight in its own right,” he says. “I’ve been lucky to be able to express my passion for design and creativity by accomplishing something unique for my clients.”
“I like restaurants that don’t mess around with ingredients. For me it’s about really good simple, tasty food”
IN THE STARS
After stints at Zaffarano, and L’Oranger, she moved with Marcus to Petrus, becoming head chef within seven months, and helping the restaurant to win its Michelin star. Angela went on to launch Amaryllis in Scotland; Verre in Dubai; Menu and The Grill Room at The Connaught, with Gordon Ramsay, and won her first Michelin star in 2004.
She now lives in Spitalfields but many of Angela’s early career years were spent south of the river. “The first house I owned was in Stockwell, not far from Wandsworth Road train station. Before that I lived off Trinity Road in Wandsworth. Lots of chefs lived around these parts and there were some great places in Clapham Old Town when I was living there.”
In 2008, Angela opened her first restaurant Murano, which was awarded a Michelin star within the first four months of trading. Murano has now expanded with three relaxed café outposts across London.
Her no-nonsense attitude and willingness to learn has no doubt kept her on the right path. “One thing I’ve always been and I still am to this day is I’m never afraid to say ‘I don’t know’. I think that’s probably a big problem with a lot of chefs – they all like to think they know everything,” she laughs.
“Brian [Turner] will tell you every time we judge the Roux scholarship and they have all these amazing dishes there’s usually a point where I’m whispering to him ‘What is that?’ because I’ve not done it, I didn’t study the traditions of French cuisine. And I think you shouldn’t be afraid to say ‘oh, what’s that fish’, or ‘how do you fillet this or that’.”
Most recently, Angela opened Merchants Tavern in east London, and Hartnett, Holder & Co, at the Lime Wood hotel in Hampshire. With a demanding work schedule, it’s a testament to her genuine passion for food that Angela is still so inspired.
“I like eating – that’s probably the main thing – and I love the camaraderie. I like the friendships we’ve made through cooking and the team spirit. And inspiring the next lot of chefs and making sure they go on to do great things, that’s what it should be about.”
So where does Angela like to dine? “In London I like Noble Rot, I think that’s a great restaurant. I love Elystan Street, Phil Howard’s new place [in Chelsea], and Quo Vardis. I like restaurants that don’t mess around with ingredients. For me it’s about just really good simple, tasty food,” she says. “I do like going to the markets although I do find them very expensive. I think my favourite one is Spa Terminus – there’s great veg shops, butchers and a wonderful charcuterie place.”
In spite of huge success, Angela’s cooking, much like her character, remains deliciously authentic. “I’m never really au fait with trends because I just follow what I like. I think at the end of the day people are over the puree, the gels and the foams or trying to make a beetroot look like a tomato. I think people just want a bit of proper cooking.”
Chantal Borciani interviewed Angela Hartnett at Padstow Christmas Festival. The 2019 Padstow Christmas Festival will be held on 5 to 8 December. www.padstowchristmasfestival.co.uk