Skye Gyngell, who won a Michelin star at Petersham Nurseries, is preparing to open a restaurant at Somerset House, joining a select band of women chefs with establishments in the center of London.
The new venue, Spring, is scheduled to open in late September in the New Wing, a part of Somerset House that has been closed to the public for more than 150 years. The main dining room is a dramatic space with a high ceiling and big windows, and it has an atrium garden.
Gyngell will be in good company. Women chefs in central London include Helene Darroze (Helene Darroze), Anna Hansen (Modern Pantry), Angela Hartnett (Murano), Florence Knight (Polpetto), Sophie Michell (Pont St), Thomasina Miers (Wahaca) Ruth Rogers (River Cafe) and Clare Smyth (Gordon Ramsay). Does Gyngell feel close to them?
“I love running into any women chefs,” Gyngell said in an interview. “If I ever run into Angela I’m always incredibly happy to see her and it does feel like a little bit of camaraderie because there aren’t that many women.”
Gyngell is excited as she shows off the restaurant, which has two floors of kitchens and stores below. It marks a return to the front line for a chef who quit Petersham Nurseries after winning a Michelin star in 2011.
“I’ve been cooking for 30 years and there have been great women cooks,” Gyngell said. She cites U.S. chef Alice Waters of Chez Panisse as another woman who inspired her, as well as Australians Maggie Beer and Stephanie Alexander, and the Briton April Bloomfield, who created the Spotted Pig in New York.
Still, gaining this position certainly entails some sacrifices. “I don’t think that all of a sudden there’s going to be a lot more women cooks around. It’s exhausting. It’s anti-social hours and it’s really hard to work your way up through a kitchen.”
Gyngell has cited the pressure brought on by the success of the Michelin star as one of the reasons she left Petersham Nurseries. “When we got the star, I was so excited and pleased and thrilled. But all of a sudden everyone came and said, ‘This isn’t a Michelin starred restaurant.’ Without the star, we could cook whatever we liked, but then people came to expect different things. It’s hard. It’s a lot of pressure.”
Gyngell, 50, was born in Sydney and went to Paris and started cooking in 1980. She’s the daughter of the late Australian television executive Bruce Gyngell -- her own daughters are now 17 and 24 years old.
“I’m in a really good time of my life because my kids are growing up and I can spend more time in the kitchen. It’s difficult when you have children. It’s quite a physical job, like being a plumber or working on a building site.”
She is known for her unfussy style of cooking, bringing together great seasonal ingredients to create light and unfussy plates. At Spring, the plan is for a short menu of no more than eight starters, eight mains and five desserts.
The dishes may include: Grilled langoustine, deep-fried courgette flowers and chilli (16 pounds/$27); poached veal tonnato & agretti (12.50 pounds); grilled wild sea bass with peas, broad beans & sage (28 pounds); and peach leaf panna cotta and Gariguette strawberries (8 pounds).
Spring is backed by the owners of Heckfield Place, a country hotel where Gyngell will also be in charge of the food.
Meanwhile, Gyngell is going to California to spend some time cooking at Chez Panisse, the restaurant of Alice Waters.
(Richard Vines is the chief food critic for Bloomberg. He is U.K. and Ireland chairman of the World’s 50 Best Restaurants awards. Opinions expressed are his own. Follow him on Twitter @richardvines)
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