Discover how Core’s Clare Smyth built up her brigade of culinary all-stars
The hugely talented British chef understands that gastronomic excellence is a team sport
How do you win and maintain three Michelin stars? Ask Clare Smyth. The patron chef of London’s three-star restaurant Core, has worked in establishments of a similar standard for the better part of two decades, and, as she writes in her new book, Core, she understands what it takes to gain and keep that unparalleled gastronomic distinction. “In five words: everything perfect, all the time.”
Smyth herself has maintained such a perfect record for years, and has been recognised for her excellence. She was named World’s Best Female Chef at the 2018 World’s 50 Best awards; she is a judge of both the Roux Scholarship and the National Chef of the Year awards; she has received an MBE, and a doctorate from Queen’s University Belfast for services to the hospitality industry. And she is one of only twelve female chefs worldwide to have held three Michelin stars.
Despite all these accolades, Smyth doesn’t regard herself as a lone genius, but rather part of a hugely talented team, each of whom contributes towards Core’s success. “A restaurant lives and dies on the strength of its brigade,” she writes. “To be at the top level – where we aspire to stay – you need a team of all-stars, each of whom are dedicated, trustworthy and talented. Building this team takes time; it takes leadership and reflection; it takes training; and it takes failing and recovering. Beyond all else, it takes hard work and an attitude that’s fixed on succeeding and improving, never content with standing still or doing just enough.”
Clare Smyth at Core. Photograph by Nathan Snoddon
The foundation of Core’s team began with Smyth, her restaurant director, Rob Rose, and her head chef, Jonny Bone. “We started the restaurant together, and to this day they are as important to me as my left and right arms. I trust them implicitly,” she writes. “For ten years Rob was part of the front-of-house team at Restaurant Gordon Ramsay – he joined specifically to work with the legendary maître d’, Jean-Claude Breton, and learned almost everything there is to know about hospitality in the process.
“Jonny worked with me at Royal Hospital Road, and his rise through the kitchen was similar to mine,” Smyth goes on. “He started off as a commis chef and climbed up the ladder before leaving for France after three and a half years. Much like me, he took so much from his time in France, falling in love with the produce and the artisans behind it. When it came to planning Core, I knew Jonny would be ready for the head chef role.”
That team may have grown, but both Rose and Bone continue to contribute towards Core’s success. In her new book, Smyth credits Bone with helping her develop her distinctive potato and roe recipe, as well as the Core’s bread baking, and the Core 'Caesar salad’.
Core 'Caesar Salad'. Photograph by Nathan Snoddon
“A lot of people wonder how the team at Core really eat on a day-to-day basis,” she explains. “For us, it’s salads like these: we’re big fans of salad. Jonny, our head chef, can’t go a day without one. So we wanted to capture, in one bite, the ideal palate cleanser that celebrates the salads we turn towards time after time.”
Of course, the salad a three-star Michelin restaurant serves its guests will be a little different from the one its staff enjoys for lunch. “We’d been growing these beautiful, minuscule Little Gem lettuces in our courtyard herb garden, and they looked so delicate that we thought to serve them whole; as a salad course, yet still in their natural form,” she writes. “We make a Caesar ‘soil’ from crumbled bacon, anchovies and Parmesan, and compress the lettuce heads in vinaigrette so that they absorb its flavours without going limp. To serve, we ‘plant’ the head, root attached, into the soil, and dot it with flowers, chives and a pinch of the crumb. When it arrives at the table, we snip it from the root and pull it from the soil, presented like it came straight from the earth – an elegant, fresh and natural mouthful.”
To create your own version of that mouthful, (which also requires clarified butter, thyme, sourdough, and onion powder) order a copy of Core here. The book not only includes plenty of insight into Smyth’s success, but also all the recipes for her restaurant’s stand-out dishes.