"Have faith and be yourself. Be creative, there are no rules."
Great British Menu (GBM) returned to our screens in mid March for season 15. The show on BBC2 puts the nation’s most talented chefs to the test. At Women in the Food Industry we are continuing our series of interviews the strong female line-up of chefs from across Britain competing to serve their dish at the final banquet. Our co-founder, Mecca Ibrahim, interviewed Amy Elles, Head Chef of The Harbour Cafe in Fife.
Amy started in the food industry when she was about 15. Her mum had a PR agency and her clients were all in the fresh produce world. So she helped her out doing food demos in Harrods and Selfridges. She became a party planner for Harrods and was liaising with the chefs the whole time and fell in love with the kitchen. Later she went to Westminster College and was trained in-house at Harrods too.
She was asked about her first experiences of working at Michelin starred restaurants like The Fat Duck and Moro?
She said "One of the first things you learn straight away is whatever you are doing has to be perfect. You have to strive for perfection and when you get it right, that's brilliant, but you have to get it right all of the time. It's all about consistency.
So perfection and consistency is up there, also working under huge pressure, keeping a steady hand and not letting anything go out of the door unless it's perfect. Even if it takes 10 plates to get a perfect plate, which I had to do one time, you've got to do it".
Amy and her husband Jack started The Laughing Stock 10 years before which was a mobile street food company. They had always wanted to have our own place. Amy explained "We also have Stocks Events which is our catering company. Then I had quite a few babies. I was walking down the road with my third baby, Isabella who was four months old and in the newsagent's window in Fife I saw an ad for The Sailing Club, which was basically this "hole in the wall". I said to Jack "This is it, we've got to do this". He said "Go for it" and we got it. Thankfully we got lots of support from The Harbour Trust, who owned all the land around it. Then Jack built the most stunning structure around it which was the cafe. It was a crazy time, as the second opening weekend was Isabella's baby blessing".
Amy loved the children's literature theme of GBM and said "I stuck to mainly Scottish authors and used people that I knew and stories that I grew up with. Also stories that I told my children. I've got these three brilliant children that I read to the whole time, so it was really good way to exercise some of that craziness."
GBM is very much known for its props, and Amy was asked whether she embraced the props on the show?
"Last year, I don't think it was that prop heavy. It's one of those questions that people ask when they know you're going to be on "Oh you're going to use lots of props"! But I thought, I just want to be myself and if it means that props are going to come into this, so be it. It's like fashion and each year there's a different way and a different style of presentation. Plus a banquet is a banquet - it's in the name. They are theatrical and should be good fun. You're not just sitting in a restaurant, there has to be drama. But as long as you're comfortable and being yourself you can find a middle ground."
Women In the Food Industry asked why Amy thought it was important to have at least equal numbers of women in the kitchen? She replied
"A chef is chef and is a "breed" more than anything else. You should look after each other regardless of gender. It's always good to see more women in the industry. For that to happen you need to be able to know that if you do want a family, that is possible as well as having a career in the kitchen. But also not to assume that everyone does want to have a family.
I loved being with Roberta Hall on Great British Menu, she is fantastic. I can't tell you how much we leant on each other, it made it way more fun and interesting.
Amy will be appearing on Great British Menu from Wednesday 1st April 2020. Visit Women in the Food Industry for the full interview with Amy Elles representing Scotland on Great British Menu.