Interview with Roberta Hall-McCarron representing Scotland on Great British Menu 2021 – Women In the Food Industry
Great British Menu (GBM) returned to our screens mid March for series 15. The BBC Two show puts the nation’s most talented chefs to the test. At Women in the Food Industry we are interviewing the strong female line-up of chefs from across Britain competing to serve their dish at the final banquet. To continue our series, our co-founder, Mecca Ibrahim, interviewed Roberta Hall-McCarron, Head Chef of The Little Chartroom in Edinburgh.
How did you start working in the hospitality world ?
When I was 15 and still at school, we had to do a week’s work experience. I was chatting to my parents trying to decide what I wanted to do. I knew I really loved food. I wrote to a few restaurants and one got back to me. I really enjoyed the week I spent there and I remember coming back to school really buzzing about my experience. I got a job with the restaurant once I finished school and haven’t looked back.
Who are some of the people you find most inspiring in business and in the food industry?
I think Angela Hartnett is one of my favourite chefs and is such an amazing role model. On a general day to day to basis the people who continually inspire me are my team. They are always coming to me with great ideas and we are always trying things out. I want them to think about food and not just come into work and do what they are told. They try so many things in their own time at home and they push me to try things too. They’re fantastic and a constant inspiration.
How has life been treating you during lockdown?
Life has been pretty good. When everyone was put into lockdown last March we went home and it was all a bit scary. After a few weeks of being closed, we were gifted a whole deer from one of our regulars. I made pithiviers and sold them as part of a finish at home meal for the restaurant. I thought it would be a one off as I wasn’t sure how a finish at home meal would be received. They were so oversubscribed and we have been doing them ever since. They’ve been great and really saved the business. It has also been amazing to be able to stay in contact with a lot of our customers and also gain a new client base who haven’t made it into the restaurant.
We also did some charity work and raised money through a crowdfunder to allow us to cook for Soul Food Edinburgh every week.
We had the opportunity to open up a food truck on Portobello Promenade serving food cooked over fire. This allowed us to bring back the last of our staff that were furloughed and actually employed a new person as well. We’ve now signed a lease for The Little Chartroom on The Prom for two years. If a year ago someone had said this to us, I probably would have laughed, but it’s been so lovely and a great addition to the business.
You have been on Great British Menu, once before – how different was it this year?
I think the stress levels were still there, but having done it the previous year, knowing the format and the team certainly helped. The crew are a lovely and they make everyone feel so comfortable and relaxed. It was great to go back and have another crack at the competition.
How did you prepare for the British innovation theme at GBM?
It was interesting as Scotland had a lot of innovators and inventors, almost too many to choose from. It was really interesting learning about them all. I approached it differently too, last year I created the dishes first and then found ways to link them to the brief, in hindsight that wasn’t the best way to approach the competition. This year I looked at the inventors and innovators first and found the ones that I liked. I then built the dishes around them.
Which was the hardest course to prepare for?
They are all challenging in their own way, but for me the dessert. Pastry isn’t my strongest area, things can go wrong and I don’t always have the answers.
Did you embrace the props on the show?
Yes, I had a lot of fun and they definitely helped tell a story.
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 find it frustrating that this is still a topic that keeps coming up. I think it is important that there are equal numbers of men and women, hopefully it will get to the stage where we don’t have to talk about it and it is just common practice.
What was it like being back in the kitchen with Amy?
It was lovely, we got on so well last year and have stayed in touch since. She’s a really kind person and lightens the mood in the kitchen.
If you were marooned on a desert island, what was the one type of dish you could happily live on?
Any form of bread. I don’t think I could give up bread. Good bread and salted butter would be really hard to go without.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you could have told your younger self when you were starting out?
Easy to say, but harder to put into practice. When you are working in kitchens it can be quite a tough environment and I wish I hadn’t been as stressed. I cook better when I’m relaxed and happy. If I could tell myself to take a step back from it all and not get too caught up in it, that would have been great.
Roberta will be appearing on Great British Menu from Wednesday 1st April 2020 representing Scotland. Look out for more in our series of interviews with the great women chefs on Great British Menu 2021 soon.