What does Clare Smyth’s 3-course meal of success look like? It begins with a tartare of hard work, followed by a perfectly seasoned piece of experience, and is topped off with a sorbet of determination. These three qualities have been Smyth’s sole focus and have transformed her into a 2-Michelin star chef at her restaurant, Core in London. She dismisses the ideas of luck or natural talent as she originally had her eyes fixed on becoming “...a doctor or a lawyer or something...”. We thought it was worth finding out how Smyth became a chef, see what she has achieved so far, and give you her advice on her journey to Michelin-starred success.
1. From Farm Girl to City Star
Born in quiet County Antrim in Northern Ireland, not many people would’ve expected that the local farmer's daughter would become a 2-Michelin star chef with a top restaurant in London. But, defying expectations is something that comes naturally to Clare Smyth. At 16, she flung herself into the hustle and bustle of the English capital, attending culinary college and multiple internships in order to get where she wanted to be: into a top kitchen. Pursuing her dream, Smyth soon landed a job working at Gordon Ramsay’s ‘Restaurant Gordon Ramsay’ in 2002.
Over the next 12 years, she worked with the chef, rising up to become Chef Patron of the three-Michelin starred establishment. Her success, was exponential, earning her multiple awards including National Chef of the year in 2013, an MBE in the same year, and a perfect score of 10 in the UK's Good Food Guide of 2015.
From 2016-2017, Smyth worked hard to forge her own path, opening her flagship restaurant: Core, in 2017. The restaurant, based in the chic Notting Hill area, has already gained widespread acclaim and is a “must go” for top food critics, chefs and appreciators of fine British cuisine.
2. Don't Stop Me Now!
Never one to settle, Clare Smyth believes that constant evolution is the key to continued success. She says that she is:
“excited about moving forward every day. It’s really important for me that we evolve every single day.”
The chef has acquired a wealth of experience by completing a variety of apprenticeships in Australia, Singapore, and London, and even when she reached the dizzy heights of Head Chef of Restaurant Gordon Ramsay at just 28, Smyth didn’t stop there. Taking herself off to fill positions with Alain Ducasse in Monaco and spending time at El Cellar de Can Roca and Azark in Spain, Smyth has continuously developed her skills and ideas. Her insatiable thirst for learning is something she considers essential in colleagues she employs in her own restaurant, insisting that:
“spending a good amount of time to gather that knowledge that makes you stronger [is invaluable for] when you become a manager or a leader”.
Her focus on discipline, learning and leadership do not mask the ultimate force that drives her: her passion for food. Smyth cooks traditional British food such as jellied eels and braised lamb but her devotion to gastronomy is what shines through and elevates, this (some would say) fairly bland cuisine, to something that resonates with flavor. Smyth makes a point of knowing where her ingredients come from, going straight to the farmers herself and learning about how to get the most from each product. From potatoes to scallops, everything counts at this level.
3. Clare Smyth's Words of Wisdom
Whilst Clare Smyth is not one to shout about her success from the rooftops, there is a quiet confidence that shows she knows what she is talking about when it comes to making it in the hospitality industry. Perhaps the most useful tip for those starting out or working already is that ultimately it takes dedication to make it:
“Hard work. I don’t think it’s a secret...none of it seems to be through luck or natural talent. I just always think that if I want to do something then I’ve got to work at it.”
We think this is a really humbling and important nugget of advice. It’s important to not get ahead of yourself or your abilities because ultimately you’ll fall down. However, equally important is Smyth’s can do mentality here. There is nothing that is unattainable and it doesn’t matter who you are or where you come from. If you are willing to put in the hours, you can get where you want to be!
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Another thing that caught our attention was her meticulous work and devotion to her craft. Smyth really appreciates every aspect of the food preparation process. She knows that to be a Michelin star chef, you have to understand every department that you oversee because no two days are ever the same.
“Nature is different every day. There’s a huge amount of work that goes into consistency and also people, you know, humans make mistakes and are unpredictable; so we’ve got to negotiate that every day.”
Any aspiring manager (whether you want to manage a hotel, kitchen or other enterprise) needs to run a tight ship. However, equally important is the ability to adapt and react to different circumstances, something that Smyth knows will give you the versatility to really succeed.
Clare Smyth is an incredible role model for anyone attempting to make it in the field of hospitality. Her remarkable ability to stay level headed despite the success she has attained is a great lesson to us all and will undoubtedly serve this cool, calm and collected chef well as her career goes on.