17 Female Chefs at the Top of the Game

Wednesday 8th March 2017

London’s food scene is arguably (we think undeniably) the best in the world, but it’s all too easy to overlook the people behind the scenes who make it all happen: the restaurateurs, the mixologists and the chefs. In the first part of a new series for The Handbook, we’re celebrating 17 incredible female chefs at the top of their game.

What: Hélène Darroze at The Connaught

Why: In 2015, Hélène Darroze was awarded the accolade of The World’s Best Female Chef, and London is lucky to have her. Her French gastronomy showcased at Hélène Darroze at the Connaught earned two Michelin stars in 2010, just two years after opening, which she puts down to her roots in South West France, learning first hand from three generations of chefs. An early role with Alain Ducasse in Monaco paved her way and the rest, as they say, is history.

Where: Hélène Darroze at the Connaught, Carlos Place, Mayfair, W1K 2AL


What: Bernadi’s

Why: A waitressing job alongside Wolverhampton-born Sabrina Gidda’s Fashion PR and Marketing degree led to the kitchens of The Dorchester and The Draft House but it was the Roux Scholarship that really kicked off her culinary career. The only female in the competition in 2015, Sabrina got the job as Head Chef of Bernadi’s when it opened in 2015 by chance, after a meeting with Cafe Murano’s old manager led to an introduction with the Bernadi brothers. Swing by for seasonal, authentic Italian cooking in elegant surroundings.

Where: Bernadi's, 62 Seymour Street, Marylebone, W1H 5BN


What: Oklava

Why: Selina Kiazim looked to her Turkish-Cypriot roots for her first restaurant, Oklava, albeit with a modern spin on things. Previous roles in the kitchen at Peter Gordon’s Providores & Tapa Room and its sister restaurant, Kopapa, saw Selina learning the ropes and confident cooking has led to rave reviews, helping to revolutionaries the way we think about Turkish food in London.

Where: Oklava, 74 Luke Street, Shoreditch, EC2A 4PY


What: The River Cafe

Why: The River Cafe is one of London’s most iconic Michelin-starred restaurants and Ruth Rogers, aka Lady Rogers MBE, is the much-loved woman behind it. After spending time in Paris and northern Italy, Ruth decided on Italy as the focus for The River Cafe when it opened in Hammersmith in 1987. It earned a Michelin star in 1998 and has retained it ever since, during which time chefs like Jamie Oliver, Theo Randall and Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall have passed through the doors, learning their skills along the way. 2017 will see a second restaurant from Ruth so watch this space…

Where: The River Cafe, Thames Wharf, Rainville Road, Hammersmith, W6 9HA


What: Shibui

Why: Four years of studying architecture proved to Elizabeth Haigh (née Allen) that wasn’t what she loved to do. A stint on MasterChef in 2011 confirmed this and, despite not winning, she began working in a professional kitchen straight away. Fast forward a few years and Elizabeth’s experience in Michelin-starred kitchens like The Royal Oak Paley Street, L’Enclume and The Kitchen Table led to her winning Pidgin a Michelin star in 2017. Elizabeth has set her sights on big things, starting her own company, Kaizen House in 2016 – the first restaurant is named Shibui and is set to open in September 2017.

Where: TBC


What: Rosa’s Thai Cafe

Why: Any lover of Asian food will know about Rosa’s Thai Cafe. With eight restaurants under her belt, the latest in Brixton, founder Saiphin Moore along with husband Alex never expected such big things of humble Thai cooking. Raised in rural north-eastern Thailand, Rosa’s began life as a market stall in Brick Lane before becoming permanent and her other project, Lao Café, is London’s first Laotian restaurant and epitomises her entrepreneurial mindset.

Where: Across London


What: Rochelle Canteen

Why: Rochelle Canteen is London’s worst but also best-kept secret. Hidden away in a converted bike shed, behind a big green door in Shoreditch it’s frequently visited at lunch by those in the know. Margot Henderson is the magic behind it, accompanied by a colourful CV which features some of the top London restaurants of the 90s and her catering business, Arnold & Henderson, with partner Melanie Arnold on the side.

Where: Rochelle Canteen, Rochelle School, Arnold Circus, Shoreditch, E2 7ES


What: Aster

Why: Another Nordic chef taking London by storm, Helena Puolakka merges her Finnish roots with her French culinary training. Helena celebrates uncomplicated food and has worked for D&D London previously, at Skylon. Helen was Head Chef at Pierre Koffmann’s three-Michelin starred restaurant La Tante Claire and worked in Paris at the three-Michelin starred Hotel Balzac so she knows what she’s doing.

Where: Aster, 150 Victoria Street, Victoria, SW1E 5LB


What: Hotel Café Royal

Why: You may be surprised to hear that Sarah Barber was the first pastry chef ever to work at Hotel Café Royal – even more shocking when you realise the hotel has been around 150 years. Thankfully things have changed, and Sarah launched London’s first dessert restaurant which showcases her beautifully crafted cakes, chocolates and patisseries after years of working at London’s top restaurants including Corinthia, Yauatcha, The Ritz and The Connaught but her biggest inspiration? Her grandfather, a former Café Royal Head Chef.

Where: Hotel Café Royal, 68 Regent Street, Piccadilly, W1B 4DY


What: The Modern Pantry

Why: Anna Hansen started off her kitchen career in London back in 1992 dishwashing at the French House Dining Room. Moving up the ropes, she then progressed to chef and later worked with Peter Gordon at Green Street and The Sugar Club. Having opened The Providores & Tapa Room with Peter in 2001, she then went on to open her own restaurant, The Modern Pantry in 2008. With sites in Clerkenwell and Finsbury, she serves up dishes which fuse together unusual ingredients with classic cooking. Expect to find the likes of roast haunch of venison, beetroot and horseradish soft polenta, sautéed wild leeks, sour cherry, liquorice and moromi miso relish; as well as white chocolate pannacotta with black sesame ice cream, lemon curd and sesame tuile.

Where: The Modern Pantry, 47-48 St John’s Square, Clerkenwell, EC1V 4JJ


What: Balls & Company

Why: In 2013, Bonny Porter came sixth in Australian MasterChef: The Professionals, two years later she opened Balls & Company on Greek Street in Soho. The meatball restaurant serves up simple food well, think pork, ricotta, Parmesan, milk bread, pine nuts and sage balls with rosemary polenta chips. Later came Company Below, Balls & Company’s speakeasy bar. To celebrate International Women’s Day, Bonny is joining up with five female chefs such as Olia Hercules and Freddie Janssen for a one off five course dinner which will champion women in the industry and beyond.

Where: Balls & Company, 58 Greek Street, Soho, W1D 3DY


What: Spring

Why: Australian chef Skye Gyngell first learnt to cook in Sydney and Paris before getting a stint at The French House. From here she became Head Chef at Petersham Nurseries and here developed the seasonal, elegant cooking that she is now known for. These days you’ll find her at Spring, her restaurant at Somerset House, where she cooks up the likes of guinea fowl with carrots, farro and parsley sauce and halibut with spinach, chilli and preserved lemon dressing. As well as cooking, Skye was also the Independent on Sunday’s food writer for five years and has three books to her name.

Where: Spring, Somerset House, New Wing Lancaster Place, The Strand, WC2R 1LA


What: Anne-Sophie Pic

Why: Anne–Sophie Pic comes from a cooking family, both her grandfather and father had three Michelin stars; something she continued, by being the only woman in France in the last 50 years to hold three Michelin stars, which she does for her restaurant, Anne-Sophie Pic, in the hotel Maison Pic in Valence. As well as this, she holds two further stars for her restaurant at Beau-Rivage Palace Hotel in Lausanne; is a chevalier de l’ordre des Art et des Lettres (it recognises those who have made significant contributions to the arts, literature and fields such as cooking) and has just opened her first UK restaurant La Dame de Pic at Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square. All of this for a chef with no formal training…

Where: Le Dame de Pic, Four Seasons Hotel London at Ten Trinity Square, Tower Hill, EC3N 4AJ


What: Mere

Why: Arguably the most recognisable female chef, due to her judging on MasterChef: The Professionals, Monica Galetti started off her London cooking career at Michel Roux Jr’s Le Gavroche – she only ever planned to stay a year, but ended up staying fifteen, working her way up to senior sous chef. This week saw her open her first restaurant, Mere.

Where: Mere, 74 Charlotte Street, Fitzrovia, W1T 4QJ


Clare Smyth

What: Debut Restaurant Coming Soon

Why: The day after Clare Smyth finished school she moved from County Antrim to Portsmouth to go to catering college. In 2002 she joined Restaurant Gordon Ramsay becoming Head Chef in 2007, following time in Monaco and California. She’s the first British woman to hold three Michelin stars and this year she will be opening her first restaurant in Notting Hill, although details are TBC.

Where: Notting Hill

What: Murano, Cafe Murano

Why: Angela Hartnett has an MBE, a Michelin-starred restaurant, Murano and has worked with the likes of Gordon Ramsay and Marcus Wareing to secure them Michelin-stars at Aubergine and Petrus respectively. In 2001 she launched Amaryllis in Scotland as well as opening Gordon Ramsay’s Verre in Dubai and MENU and The Grill at The Connaught. In 2004 she appeared with Gordon Ramsay in Hell’s Kitchen and won her first Michelin star, before opening Murano in 2008 and then Café Murano in 2013 and that’s just a brief description of her career…

Where: Murano, 20 Queen Street, Mayfair, W1J 5PP


What: Le Gavroche

Why: Rachel Humphrey first joined La Gavroche as an apprentice in 1996, she worked her way up the ranks to become the first female Head Chef in the restaurant’s 51 year history – during that time she took three years out to work in the RAF Catering Corp. Next month she’ll be joined by Michel Roux, his daughter Emily and Angela Hartnett as they host a pop-up celebrating female chefs.

Where: Le Gavroche, 43 Upper Brook Street, Mayfair, W1K 7QR



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