With a former career in fashion and from the stable of Angela Hartnett, Chef Pip Lacey has gone on to storm the food world, winning the Great British Menu in 2017 and recently opening her first restaurant, Hicce in London. Lacey is a girl in a hurry with plenty both to celebrate and to achieve. “I like winning,” says Lacey, speaking whilst on a brief break between services at Hicce. Join Vic North for a fleeting window onto the world of an award winning, snowboarding, grill mastering chef.
What do you love about being a chef and what drew you into the industry?
“Every day is different and there is always something new to learn. With each dish, I like to think – how can I make this better, I’m always asking why and I continually learn from my mistakes.
“I love working with people and in hospitality there are lots of people involved. I’ve always loved the industry so when I decided to switch careers, it felt like a natural progression. I love cooking and although I cook for a living, I still love to cook at home.”
What’s your advice for young chefs keen to fast track into the industry?
“Chef School can give you an ingrained confidence because you’ve done the time but I don’t think it’s absolutely necessary. You can learn a lot by going straight into the industry and I’ve been lucky with the places I’ve worked for – just make sure you’re in the right kitchen. Either way, confidence comes with experience. The fact that I missed out on chef school occasionally bothers me but that’s what keeps me going and pushing for more.”
Hicce has opened with support from your mentor, Angela Hartnett – how has the friendship helped you and where did you two meet?
“I met Angela at the York and Albany where I had my first job as a commis chef. Angela was the executive chef there and took me with her when she left to open Murano. From day one, I saw she had authority and I liked the way people respected her. As well as being a great chef, Angela has a sense of humour – which is a massive thing for me. She taught me a lot with her plain and simple approach and she gave me space to be myself.”
What was it like to be a head chef for a Michelin-starred restaurant?
“It was a fantastic experience at Murano and I loved it. At times, the pressure of holding a Michelin star for someone else could be rough. The first year was great – just a big adrenalin rush and then, it kicks in that the weight is on your shoulders. I can only liken it to holding someone else’s baby and not wanting to drop it. The whole experience inspired me to start my own business.”
How did running a pop-up supper club (The London Gap) help you to forge your own cooking identity?
“The pop-up series allowed me to step outside of my comfort zone. I like to excel in everything I do and I never like to feel entirely comfortable. It inspired me, kept my brain working and it was good fun.”
What’s the magic about cooking over fire at your restaurant, Hicce?
“We’ve got a dish on at the moment at Hicce of sardines cooked on the grill which takes me back to when I was a kid on holiday with my family in Tenerife. I’d go to a beach hut with my dad and our Spanish cousins and we’ve have barbecued sardines for just pennies which we’d eat off the bone with our fingers. It was just amazing and so tasty. Cooking over live fuel is a really fun way to cook and totally delicious. I’ve been classically trained and it’s alwasy inspiring to master new techniques.”
Winning Great British Menu 2017: what impact did it have on your career?
“It was a confidence boost and an exciting thing to be a part of. The first time I entered, I didn’t win and I like winning so I entered a second time and that time, I won. The biggest impact was on me as the win gave me self-belief.”
Women in food: do you think you’ve had to work harder to get your voice heard as a woman in our industry?
“I’ve always believed in leading by example. If you walk the walk, you can talk the talk afterwards. I’ve never had an issue in any of the kitchen I’ve worked in. However, there are kitchens I’ve chosen not to work in because they’ve felt like a Boys’ Club and I’m not up for that.”
What advice do you have for aspiring women in food?
“Apply to my email address! Seriously, if you want to do it, go large. Apply to the top restaurants and see if you can get your foot in the door with a commis chef position. Have a good will to work and we’ll teach you the rest. Take advantage of the opportunities out there. The industry has open arms at the moment because of the chef shortage. If the restaurant can see your potential, they will invest time and training in you. Take advice quickly, don’t make the same mistake twice and get on with it.”