Sophie Michell: The British chef changing the landscape of cuisine in Barbados

Sophie Michell: The British chef changing the landscape of cuisine in Barbados

Sophie describes her cooking as “honest, approachable and produce driven” and her work is driven by her environment, be it the Caribbean or Cornwall.

As you stroll down the streets in Speightstown in Barbados, there is a warmth and gentle buzz about the place, and it’s easy to see why Sophie has settled there.

As we sit in Sophie’s stunning restaurant Local & Co in Speightstown, it’s hard to believe she has crammed so much into her relatively short career.

Her first encounters with cooking were with her grandmother when she was four years old, and since then her trajectory in the kitchen has been upwards, if not vertical!

In short, by the time she was fifteen, she was running services in a Somerset gastropub and had decided she wanted to work in the food industry.

She went on to train at Butler’s Wharf Chef School, while doing work experience at La Gavroche.

Sophie went from strength to strength and has cooked for royalty, been the UK’s youngest female executive chef at London’s Belgrave Hotel, where she completely overhauled the menu after the departure of Mark Hix.

She has even held the mantle of food and drink director at Byron Burgers.

But when the pandemic hit, Sophie and her family were in Barbados helping friends with a sustainable restaurant project they were developing. And they decided to stay.

As we sit watching the crystal clear waters, sipping a spicy margarita we caught up and she told us about her incredible story and what motivates her.


Sophie, you have experienced so much as a chef, what keeps you inspired?

My son and building a future for him, it’s at the forefront of my mind, all my decisions are based on that now.

That runs through from the sustainable practices we can put in place at Local to any other project I work on.

Talk us through what brought you to Barbados?

Ian McNeel (my business partner) had started plans for Local & Co and has a great background in hotels and in the farm to table movement, he also owns Walkers Nature Reserve that is a stunning area of rugged land on the east coast of Barbados, where they practice regenerative farming.

All he needed for Local was a chef like me, so after a few consultancy trips, and with the impending pandemic, I decided to jump ship from the UK and be here permanently.

Having a beach-front restaurant on a tropical island was always a dream of mine and becoming a partner here and bringing up my son has been amazing.

Local is one of the first ‘farm to table restaurants’ in Barbados, what were the main challenges you have had to overcome in setting up the restaurant? 

Well, Covid, a hurricane and a volcanic eruption all came at us while we were renovating the early 1800’s building, so there was that!

Then it was more about the consistency and struggles of only using produce from Barbados, but we’ve been open and busy since day one so we can’t complain.

What made you leave London? 

Again, I wanted a safer and calmer life for myself and my son. I love London and always will, but I need nature and sun.

How has Barbados changed over the years and what direction do you see it going in? 

The whole Barbados hospitality scene is changing so much, the stuffier style and stagnant menus of imported food is on the way out and a lot of new and creative concepts are opening up.

Farm to table, sustainable practices and relaxed restaurants are becoming much more of a thing.

Do you think that being a restaurateur is a very male dominated business? 

Yes for sure, but it’s not just this business, being a senior member of staff or director, as a woman, in any industry is rare, to be honest.

The older I get the more angry I am about it.

I think sexism and inequality is so ingrained and insidious that it’s only when you get older that you can see how serious it is.

The only thing I can say is be bloody minded and keep on pushing through, the only way we can change this for the next generation of women is to be strong and continue with our passions.

What is life like in Barbados for your son Oscar?

Hahah, amazing! He swims and snorkels every day, we have a giant garden with lizards, hummingbirds and monkeys visiting daily, he comes to Local & Co after school for cassava fried chicken and moringa superfood muffins.

Him and his mates live a charmed life, and my main concern is keeping him balanced, it’s a bit of a bubble here sometimes, but there is an innocence to it all and I love to see him here and happy.

What advice would you give your 20 year old self? 

Surround yourself with positive people with similar goals, then you will grow together.


Sophie has released seven books since her first hit, Irresistible. Fabulous Food, Love Good Food, The Gorgeous Kitchen and The Greek Yoghurt Cook Book.