Interview with Ruth Hansom representing North East on Great British Menu 2020 – Women In the Food Industry
Great British Menu (GBM) returned to our screens in March for season 15. 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 Ruth Hansom, Former Head Chef at Pomona’s and first ever female winner of Young National Chef of The Year.
How did you start working in the food industry and where did you train to be a chef?
I got into the food world with a programme called Future Chef, it’s run by Springboard and is held for school children under the age of 16. I actually wanted to be doctor at that point and cookery was a hobby, although I used to grow my own veg and thought it would be good if I learnt how to cook them. But at the point when I got the final of the competition, Freddy Forster gave me his business card and said, “If you ever come to London give me a call”. So I thought I’ll give it try. I moved when I was 16 and applied to Westminster College to train there. I fell in love with the buzz and fast pace of London. I did an apprenticeship with the Ritz and stayed on there after that.
What have been the biggest highlights or areas you are most proud of in your career?
Definitely Young National Chef of the Year and being the first female to win. It took me three years to do it, I came second and third in the first years I entered, so became really determined to win that.
What were the most challenging things you learnt about moving from fine dining to more relaxed food at Pomona’s ?
It is quite challenging going to different styles. I wanted the food to be more relaxed but didn’t want to decrease the quality of the food. I wanted to focus more on spending time sourcing great ingredients. When the farmers are producing quality that’s off the scale, you don’t want to mess around with that too much.
This will be your first time on Great British Menu (GBM) how did you get onto the show?
Actually I just got an email at work one day. I thought is this real, is this how they approach you? Everything just progressed from there.
How did you find working in the GBM kitchen under the eye of the cameras? How did it compare to Million Pound Menu?
Well Great British Menu is quite well established so it’s a lot smoother. When I was on Million Pound Menu that was its first year, so it was all a bit hectic and there was less time to prepare in advance. Whereas Great British Menu is in its fifteenth year and is a well oiled machine.
How did you prepare for the children’s literature theme at GBM?
When I first got the theme I was thinking how on earth am I going to do this. But when you start thinking about it, children’s books are full of food and it allowed for some really good props, which you will see.
There are two new courses in GBM now, which was the hardest course to prepare for?
Although I do desserts, I think I found it the most difficult. You are given sub-genres and ours was realism in children’s literature. There is some realism in children’s books but they’re also primarily fictitious, so I found hitting the dessert brief here probably the hardest.
GBM is very much known for its props, did you feel you embraced the props on the show?
With our week, we’ve gone really heavy on the props. Not just my dishes but everyone else in the round. You’ll see some big props. My fish course was probably the most proppy.
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. Have you always worked in kitchens where women have been in the minority?
Definitely earlier on in my career I was in the minority. Although when I left The Ritz there were 20 women and when I first started there was only me and one other. In my later kitchens, especially in Pomona’s we were 50% females.
Who are some of the chefs or cooks you find most inspiring?
My two previous head chefs Frederick Forster and John Williams have inspired me since day one and have constantly helped me progress. Probably Ann Sophic Pic too and have had some of my favourite meals there. I went through to her kitchen when she had moved to London and its crazy and looks like a space ship.
Finally, what do you know now that you wish you could have told your younger self when starting out?
Don’t rush things. Good things will take time. Probably I am guilty of rushing into doing a lot of things such competitions. Although it is great to do them when you are young, I think I may have been too young when I did some. Select the competitions you feel really ready for, they are going on all of the time and aren’t going anywhere.
Ruth will be appearing on Great British Menu from Wednesday 6th May 2020 representing the North East. Look out for more in our series of interviews with the great women chefs on Great British Menu 2020 soon.