Interview with Amy Elles representing Scotland on Great British Menu 2021 – Women In the Food Industry
Great British Menu (GBM) returned to our screens in March for season 16. 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.
How did you start working in the food world and where did you train to be a chef?
I started in the food world pretty early on working with my Mum’s PR agency. They dealt with fresh produce companies, so I did all these really weird cooking demos in Harrods, Selfridge’s, supermarkets and food shows. Then I made a decision to work at Harrods in the prep kitchen downstairs. I must have been about 20. They sent me to Westminster College once a week and the other 5 days I worked with chefs. It was an amazing two year course.
How has life been treating you during lockdown?
Life has changed! As a family we have taken quite a lot of good out of it. For the business it was a potential disaster, our catering company, Stocks Events, was fully booked and it was going to be our best year, so unfortunately with covid it flatlined. But with the boxes from the cafe we managed to salvage lots and keep ourselves alive until we re-open, which I feel is nothing short of a miracle. We have three kids and one of them needs home-schooling. My youngest is three, so we had a very full house, if I thought I was juggling before, this was just unbelievable. But the upside is we’ve had a lot more family time which is a good thing.
You have been on Great British Menu, once before – how different was it this year?
Well it’s different because it was all covid style, we were being tested the whole time. We weren’t giving each other hugs and hanging out with each other after filming. But the competition is a competition, so you get that head on and try to do the best you possibly can. It sort of felt like no days had gone since I was last there – it was quite funny. All the camera crew are a great group to work with too.
How did you prepare for the British innovation theme at GBM?
When I first heard the theme, nothing massively sprung to mind. But it didn’t take very long to evolve and once there, it wouldn’t stop. It was interesting, but to be honest with you I think we lucked out last year with the children’s literature theme, I think it brings out the best in a chef. This one felt a little more on par with what the chefs had to do with the NHS theme.
What did you find the hardest course to prepare for?
I think it would be my main course. But I had so much fun with at the same time. I suppose it was the only course I would have wanted more time to work on because it became more and more interesting. It unravelled itself every time I was practicing.
Did you embrace the props on the show?
It didn’t really sing lots of props to me. When a prop comes into your mind, you have to just go for and this year, it was more the food for me. It didn’t really demand a huge amount of props.
In your round there are an equal number of men and women chefs, and we’ve seen the biggest number of women taking part in GBM this year, why do you think it’s important to have at least equal numbers of women in the kitchen?
I am a big believer that if you are chef, you are a chef, whether you are woman or a man. But that doesn’t mean to say I am not pleased to see more female representation, as we’re always there. It makes really nice watching for TV, as sometimes when it’s all men going into the heat, it’s a little competitive.
What was it like being back in the kitchen with Roberta?
I love Roberta, she’s just great and we can talk so honestly about our dishes and help each other. It’s a really nice and special relationship. It’s nice to find someone where you can genuinely help each other out, rather than thinking is this person going to be better than me.
Who are some of the people you find most inspiring in business and in the food industry?
There are so many, but I’ve always found Raymond Blanc up there with the best. I cooked for him one time and he was so wonderful to talk to about it. I can’t remember how many Michelin star chefs he has produced or who have worked for him. It was 30 odd at one point years and years ago and that really shows what this man’s like and how much he cares for and nurtures his staff. He breathes excitement into the kitchen.
If you were marooned on a desert island, what is the one type of dish you could happily live on?
I might sound so boring with it, but it’s going to be soup. I eat soup literally every day and every day it’s different. I absolutely adore it, because you can completely change it.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you could have told your younger self when you were starting out?
Have faith and don’t let anyone tell you, you’re too young for something or you need more experience. Just go for it. Don’t reform to things you think you should be doing. Make up your own rules if you believe in yourself.
Amy will be appearing on Great British Menu from Wednesday 31st March 2021 representing Scotland. Look out for more in our series of interviews with the great women chefs on Great British Menu 2021 soon.