Interview with Louisa Ellis representing Central England on Great British Menu 2024 – Women In the Food Industry
Great British Menu (GBM) returned to our screens on January 23rd for season 19. The BBC2 show puts the nation’s most talented chefs to the test. At Women in the Food Industry we are continuing our series of interviews with 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 Louisa Ellis who runs her own private dining and events business Chef Louisa Ellis.
How did you start working in the food industry and where did you train to be a chef?
I really loved cooking at school, we were lucky enough to be able to do GCSE in it. I then took it up at college for a two year course. I then went straight into professional kitchens full time and worked in hotels and fine dining restaurants. Moving to Birmingham and working at Adams, a Michelin-starred restaurant, was the turning point in my culinary career as it gave me the opportunity to master proper cooking techniques with confidence. Before then I was working in rosette hotels catering for large quantities including banquets & weddings. That was all good, but I wanted to focus on fine dining. After Adams, I worked at a restaurant called The Wilderness. Alex who owns The Wilderness gave me the freedom and belief I needed to enable me to enter MasterChef The Professionals. I am to this day grateful for all of his support and respect him very much.
MasterChef made me realise I wanted to learn more and work in a 2 Michelin-starred Restaurant. So, I went to Restaurant Sat Bains in Nottingham. Shortly after working at Sat Bains, I started my own private dining business, and that is what I am doing now, six years down the line.
How did you get onto Great British Menu this year and how did you prepare for the Olympics theme?
I was approached for Great British Menu, which was an absolute delight. I grew up watching it, so after years of watching it was great to be on the show.
For the Olympics theme, I actually tried to prepare mentally for it by putting myself into an athlete’s mind. I took up running and boxing to help with the mental side of it. Having the show and running a private business on my own was mentally draining but worth it.
Preparation wise going in for the first time, and hitting the brief was all new to me. But with of lots practice and hours of brainstorming and playing around with different ideas to get it right. I got into my stride.
This is your first time on Great British Menu, how did this compare with being on MasterChef The Professionals?
This was like being in a kitchen with all the top dogs, so it was so much more pressure. I have imposter syndrome and was doubting myself constantly and saying here I am with Michelin star chefs. It’s something I know I have to work on. We all have our own strengths and weaknesses, and on the day of the event, our individual performance is what truly matters. As such, I had to focus solely on my own actions and not worry about what others around me were doing.
Which was the hardest course to prepare for when you were researching for GBM’s Olympic theme?
The fish course, because I had an idea in my head of what I wanted to do. But getting the visual aspect right was really difficult. I wanted to think outside the box slightly and didn’t want to involve medals and Olympic flames. I went down a different route, but with that it was really difficult to plan.
Did you embrace the props on the show?
I embraced the props to my maximum capacity, as that is part of the show. I did find it difficult though at first, but I’m really proud of how much I was able to embrace them after lots of practice run-throughs.
Which chefs that you have worked with have given you the most inspiration?
Adam at Adams in terms of learning fine dining cooking techniques. But also Alex Claridge at The Wilderness, he’s opened my mind to different ingredients, and different flavour combinations. His approach in the kitchen is admirable. You don’t have to conform to the stereotype of a harsh kitchen to earn respect.
If you were marooned on a desert island, what was the one type of dish you could happily live on?
My favourite ever dessert is sticky toffee pudding. But maybe also something refreshing: a mango and passion fruit sorbet.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you could have told your younger self when you were starting out in this business?
To be more confident in myself and to keep taking risks as they make you stronger. It’s not going to be comfortable at the time, but in the long run, you won’t regret it, you’ll only regret the things you didn’t do. If you take risks you will eventually get rewards.
Louisa will be appearing on Great British Menu from Tuesday 30th January 2024 representing Central England. Look out for more in our series of interviews with the great women chefs on Great British Menu 2024 – this page will be regularly updated.