Interview: Chantelle Nicholson
Interview: Chantelle Nicholson
One of the most influential chefs in the UK at the moment is Chantelle Nicholson, chef owner of Apricity, which received its Green Michelin sustainability star a year after opening. Ellie Holmes finds out more about the experiences and inspirations that have shaped her…
Chantelle was born in Hamilton, New Zealand and cooking was high on the agenda for her and for her older sister.
“My love of cooking began at a young age,” she recalls.
“All my family were good cooks and so it was integral to family life. We didn’t have school dinners in New Zealand, so if I wanted to make something good and take it in for lunch, then I had to make it myself.”
A hard work ethos and a need to get through college encouraged Chantelle to get a cooking job whilst she was a student. She studied law and business and then got a part-time job to support herself.
“I went into a café and I said I love to cook and I want a job, and they happened to be looking for a weekend chef and they gave me a go. And that was it!”
Chantelle’s first training was as a pastry chef, and it’s notorious in the industry that a good pastry chef is the most discerning background. Not only do they have to be exceptional in terms of presenting pleasing looking food, they must also follow recipes to the letter.
Chantelle was responsible for batch cooking muffins and quiches and she had to get up at 6am on a Saturday morning, which would have put off a lot of students.
“Baking is a hard training: you have to be precise, otherwise it can be disastrous. But it is interesting and rewarding.”
In her early twenties, Chantelle entered a cooking competition, where she got into the final.
It was this encounter which set her on her path to the UK as one of the main judges was the head chef at the Savoy Grill in London. “He said that there would always be a job there for me, and it was too much of a good opportunity to miss.”
That was 18 years ago and since then Chantelle has worked at Petrus, Gilbert Scott in King’s Cross and in April 2022 her London chef life culminated with the opening of Apricity on Duke Street Mayfair, a simple yet beautifully balanced experience with sustainability and lack of waste at the heart of its ethos.
She describes her favourite dish on the menu there: a whole lettuce, sprayed and seasoned with a buttery dressing, stuffed with miso aioli, shallots and crispy kale and tomatoes.
But as well as serving up mouth-wateringly delicious food, her culinary values are clear.
“Zero waste makes you more creative and innovative,” she explains.
“My inspiration is easy and simple, we have so much wonderful produce and that excites me.
“One thing that has surprised me is the variety that presents itself by being a chef. No two days are the same and that keep life interesting.”
So, where does she love to dine out in London? She recounts Supawan (a Thai restaurant in King’s Cross) and Dusty Knuckle in Dalston among her favourite places to eat.
She is not only leading the way with her food, but is also passionate about bringing women into the kitchen and making the life of a chef more amenable to women.
“There is no doubt that the industry is male dominated, but we have an all-female kitchen team and I am really proud of that.
“When we opened, I made it a priority that we would only open five days a week, and I am not there every weekend.
“It’s hard for women to have longevity in the kitchen if they don’t offer more flexibility as life in the kitchen is antisocial and you have to make sacrifices in terms of seeing family and friends.”
A simplistic and waste-free influence is echoed in the interiors of Apricity.
“When Tredwells closed, I bought the tables and chairs from there so they are second-hand.
“When we took the plaster off the walls there were beautiful colours and patterns, I wanted something that was very warm, and all these colours and features were there waiting, so actually we have left a lot of things in their natural and pure state, which echoes our cooking ethos as well.”