- 20 Jul 18
The County Antrim born chef takes a damning verdict on Brexit and the current state of politics in Northern Ireland in a superb Hot Press interview…
The award-winning chef Clare Smyth – who has an MBE and was the caterer who organised the meals at Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s recent nuptials – believes that there should be a second Brexit referendum.
“The whole Brexit thing is a joke,” she tells Hot Press in an exclusive interview, in the magazine which hits the streets tomorrow (Thursday, July 19). It’s just pathetic really. We’ll see what goes on, but it’s pretty sad really. Dividing people is never a step forward, is it?”
The UK media were quick to hail Clare Smyth as the “first female British chef” to win the Best Female Chef award bestowed on her by the 50 Best Restaurants group earlier this summer. But Clare – who’s the only woman in either Ireland or Britain to hold three Michelin stars – insists that she “very much” sees herself as Irish.
She tells Hot Press, “I see myself as Northern Irish. I remember when I was working in France they called me the little English girl: Petite anglaise. And then about nine months into me working there the chef turned around to me and said to me, ‘Oh, but you’re Irish!” And I said, ‘Yes’. And he said, ‘Oh, well that’s okay then’ (laughs). For nine months I wasn’t okay because I was English. And then he found out I was Irish then I was alright; he liked me then (laughs).”
In our exclusive interview, Clare Smyth also talks to Hot Press’ senior editor Jason O’Toole about why she forced herself to lose her Irish accent, talks about Anthony Bourdain’s shocking death, and opens up about the sexism she experienced starting out in the restaurant business.
Clare also reveals that she now jokes with Gordon Ramsay about how when they first met he told her she wouldn’t last a week in his kitchen because she was a girl. Clare also expresses her admiration for a man she describes as a mentor.
On a more personal level, she also opens up about finding love in her late 30s and reveals that the last time she cried was when her nephew died tragically in his infancy…
Asked if there should be a second Brexit referendum, Clare states, “That’s a tricky one. Yes. I would. I would. I think we might get a very different result.”
On how Brexit could damage the restaurant industry, Clare says, “Yeah, it’s hugely difficult. I really think that the government’s going to have to do something about it. Our industry depends upon a workforce coming from elsewhere. And we’re cutting our noses off to spite our faces, really – with all of it.”
On how it’s amazing that the Republic – what was once thought of as 'Catholic Ireland' – has leapfrogged the North when it comes to issues like same sex marriage and abortion, Clare says: “The whole situation in the North at the minute with politics is a disaster. They need to wake up a little bit and get everything moving forward. It’s a real shame that they’re behind everyone else. Yeah, like I say, I just find it very sad (with regards) the situation that they’re in and they can’t sort themselves out. They’re not good role models – are they? – for the younger generation. They can’t agree on anything.”
Asked if Irish restaurants can compete on a global level, Clare reckons: “Absolutely. For me, some of them do compete at that level. But it’s just that the judges aren’t there dining in them. And a lot of it’s got to do with promotion.”
On why she didn’t like the Best Female Chef tag, Clare says: “It is very controversial. I think the whole subject is controversial. The job is non-gender specific. Being a female has never played a role in my job at all – until I became the head chef at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay (Royal Hospital Road, London).
She adds, “I was the only woman to have ever have run a (Michelin) three-star restaurant. Ever single journalist asked me, ‘What it was like to be a female chef?’! (Laughs) But for my whole career, being a female had never had anything to do with being a chef. So, it’s one of those things. Everyone else is always pointing it out and bringing it up. But, actually, the reality is: the job is the same.”
On Gordon Ramsay, Clare says: “No. I didn’t find him difficult to work with at all. I find him very easy to work with. And the reason is that you always knew where you stood. I worked with him for 15 years and, for me, he was very easy to work with, because you knew what you had to do and you were told when it wasn’t right – that was pretty straightforward for me.
On her worst experience as a woman in the restaurant industry, Clare says: “When I was 17-years-old I came to a restaurant for a trial. It was one of the top restaurants in London. The chef was a bit of a dick the whole day. And I was 17 years old and I was from Northern Ireland. You know, you don’t expect kids to know too much. But, anyway, at the end of my trial, he said to me, ‘What do you want to do? What’s your ambition?’ I said, ‘I want to be a chef at a top London restaurant or a five star hotel’. And he said, ‘You’re never going to do that because you’re a woman! It’s a man’s world.’”
In our exclusive interview, Clare Smyth also discusses finding love in her late thirties, the music she loves, why she kept her job secret from her husband-to-be – and she reveals how and where he proposed to her! She also explains why she never allows her husband to pick a restaurant and chats about… fast cars. There’s lots more food for thought in this extraordinary, exclusive Hot Press interview….