CORE by Clare Smyth

Words by Marie Jackson

Photographs by Martin Eberlen

  Clare Smyth, at her restaurant    Core   , in Notting Hill, London

Clare Smyth, at her restaurant Core, in Notting Hill, London

Rosie Bensberg is a 23-year-old food blogger from Oxford who's gone from learning to cook carbonara with her dad to graduating with a Cordon Bleu diploma.

Clare Smyth, 40, grew up on a farm in County Antrim to become the world's best female chef and cater for the Duke and Duchess of Sussex's wedding reception.

She's the first and only woman to run the kitchen of a British restaurant with three Michelin stars and, this week, her first solo venture earned her two Michelin stars in its first year.

We got the two together at Clare's restaurant in Notting Hill, west London, and asked Rosie to serve up the questions to her cooking idol.

Rosie: When did you first know you wanted to be a chef?

Clare: From the age of 14. I knew I wanted to be a chef at the top level.

How did you cope with the long hours?

I come from a farming family. Working long hours was part of my life so I was used to it.

For young people starting out, you have to build up your tolerance. Young people are not used to standing on their feet all day. If you expect too much of them, you can put them off.

  Rosie Bensberg and Clare Smyth, in the Core kitchen

Rosie Bensberg and Clare Smyth, in the Core kitchen

What was your strategy to get to the top?

I was quite calculating. I knew if I trained with the best chefs in the world [she's worked with Alain Ducasse, Thomas Keller and Gordon Ramsay] that would give me my best chance.

How large is your kitchen team?

There are 15 chefs at Core [Clare's London restaurant]. We do three lunches and five dinners over five days so staff are always guaranteed time off. It gives people time to do training which is really important for the restaurant to evolve. And it's my life so you can't just work yourself into the ground.

What are your influences when creating a dish?

Seasonality. We talk to our suppliers a lot. We're always trying to create something new - at the moment we're trying to create something that's as light as a feather - literally. Inspiration can come from anywhere. I collaborate with the head chef and the head of development.

I get asked: "Do you chop the onions?" Does a conductor of the orchestra play the violin?

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As a young woman being a chef can feel intimidating. How did you find this at the start of your career?

I'm quite single-minded. If you want to achieve something, achieve it. Don't worry about what anyone else is doing.

Do you struggle to find good female chefs to hire?

I really try to encourage as many as possible to come in. We do have a few but not enough at all. Ultimately the job is based on merit, not gender at all.

How has the industry changed?

It's so much better than when I started - the working conditions, the hours and the way we treat the team. We value people more, getting time off, the way we speak to each other - it's all changed dramatically.

  Front-of-House staff prepare for the evening service, at Core

Front-of-House staff prepare for the evening service, at Core

What does your target customer look like?

We don't have one. Everybody should want to come to a fine dining restaurant. Some people can find that intimidating but I want to blow that apart. 

We do that by being incredibly welcoming and stripping away things people find pretentious - that comes down to the music we play, the language of the menu and no kitchen walls.

What are you doing to be sustainable?

Our choice is to buy British - from our plates (made by a 300-year-old company in Stoke-on-Trent) to our scallops.

Our scallop diver is also a conservationist so we support him by always having scallops on our menu.

The potato is a humble ingredient but by using our skill it can become much more than that.

We have one dish that is carrot with lamb on the side. It's about getting people thinking differently.

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Can you recommend any exciting new restaurants or chefs?

New chefs? I always like to wait until they've proved themselves

What are your tips for cooking at home?

Buy quality in-season ingredients and you're on to a winner. If things are expensive, use more vegetables than fish or meat. There are lots of simple dishes and recipes. I know it's easy for me to say but cooking is really easy.

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