Changes: Angela Hartnett
The audio version of this episode is available here.
Annie [00:00:05] Hello and welcome to Changes. It is Annie Mac here and my guest is so exciting. She is an elite chef, one of the most high profile women in the restaurant world. Having first studied history, she went on to work for Gordon Ramsay for 17 years, despite many of her male colleagues thinking she would last a week or two at most. She got her first Michelin star at the Connaught in London in 2004 and opened her restaurant Murano in Mayfair in 2008, winning a Michelin star within four months of opening. In 2022, she was awarded an OBE for services to the hospitality industry in the NHS during COVID. Now, as well as running her restaurants, she appears on TV on MasterChef, on Saturday Kitchen and co-hosts the Waitrose podcast 'Dish' with our mutual friend Nick Grimshaw. Angela Hartnett, what a pleasure to have you on Changes.
Angela [00:00:58] Thank you. Lovely to be here. Thanks for inviting me.
Annie [00:01:01] We're here to talk about change. Before we get to that, how many restaurants do you have now? Talk me through the Angela Hartnett empire, please?
Angela [00:01:08] So we've got Murano in Mayfair, which is the one star Michelin, and that's 15 years old this year which is great. And given the turbulence of restaurants at the moment, that's really- very proud that it's still going strong, still full, all the rest of it. Then we've got three Cafe Murano's in London, which are sort of these really simple Italian trattoria's, and then I work with Robin Hudson and Luke Holder and we do Lime Wood Hotel and we do a restaurant out in the French Alps, a hotel called Portetta, so that's seasonal so that's December to April. So that keeps me going enough *laughs*.
Annie [00:01:42] And do you still cook on a daily level?
Angela [00:01:45] Not on a daily basis, I'll be absolutely honest. I go to the restaurants all the time in there and I do services, but I don't do the day to day. I do all the menu tasting, all the checking, all that but you put a tier of people in place and it's their job to do that. And I am a believer in developing people forward and I think unless you step back a bit and let them do it- and some chefs would disagree with that, they love the control, they will always want to be there every service. For me, I think I want to get the next people moving forward and to do that, you've got to let them do it. You've got to let them make mistakes and you've got to let them run the businesses.
Annie [00:02:17] Yeah, Yeah, I saw that your head chef in Murano is a woman at the moment.
Angela [00:02:20] Yes, yeah.
Annie [00:02:20] Do you, like, make a point of trying to, like, bring through women, or no?
Angela [00:02:25] I quite like to in kitchens because I think it's great to have a good balance. Ironically, I think all my restaurants at the moment, like the front of house are all run by women. And in every level there's probably at least two in senior management. And in the chefs, I've got one female head chef- oh no two, sorry Marella as well, so Marella and Em. So yeah, I mean, I like the balance it's got to be- and in any industry you need a bit of everything otherwise it's dull.
Annie [00:02:50] What would you say is the biggest change you're going through in your life at the moment?
Angela [00:02:56] I think adjusting from being very hands on and micromanaging to a certain degree, to actually stepping back and exactly what I said at the beginning, letting people do their job.
Annie [00:03:08] Delegation.
Angela [00:03:09] Yeah, delegation. And it's and it's really hard to do when you're in restaurants. It's also hard to do when you're in a business with people because people want you. They work for you and they want to see you so if you step back so far that you're never in there, it's- who are they working for? So it's finding that balance of being available when they really need you, doing what you need to do, but actually letting them do their job and giving you some detachment. But it's not easy.
Annie [00:03:33] Yeah, yeah, I can imagine. All right, let's get into our changes. So the first change is your childhood change, tell me about that please.
Angela [00:03:41] So my father was in the Royal Navy, he's in the Merchant Navy rather, and him and my mum- so what am I, 55 / 54? Married later for their generation. You know, if you think about it many people's parents were marrying in the 20s, they didn't get married till their thirties so we were late kids. And then in his early forties- he was 47 my father, he died. So I was seven coming up for my eighth birthday, my brother was coming up to his 10th and my sister wasn't even 1. So my mum was widowed, you know, early into a marriage, left with three children under the age of ten. And because he was in the Navy we lived in Kent, whereas all the family members from her side or my father's side all lived up in Essex, near London. So yeah, that was a transformational change, just suddenly you move house, you changed schools, you've lost a parent. Yeah. And I think to my mum's credit, we all went the right way. We could have all gone other ways but actually... Mum- I think if anyone delegates my mum did *laughs* you know she- we had to get on with it, we had to go to school by ourselves, we had to come home from school by ourselves. You know, I looked after my sister, I had to help her cook, we had to do shop- You know, there was no- my mum couldn't look after three kids and not expect us to do our bit so I think we matured easily. You know, I remember my brother in his early teens going up to London on the tube quite happily, you know and also, you know, you're talking 40 years ago, 30 years ago rather so it was a different time. You know, and I know you sound very old when you say 'ooh it wasn't like that in my day', but it felt less dangerous maybe.
Annie [00:05:19] Yeah. Yeah.
Angela [00:05:20] So we grew up quite quickly and I think, you know, as a result, I think we've done okay. You learn to be very independent and we didn't have lots of wealth. You know, my mum and my father never came from money or anything, you know, so we work to do well in our sort of careers. And I always remember as a kid, I'd always have two or three jobs because my mother didn't have this extra money as pocket money so I'd have a paper round, I'd do a Saturday job. You know, my brother would work for friends up in London so we were all trying to scrape together money. And so in lots of ways a tragic change but I think we've come out of it okay, if I'm honest.
Annie [00:05:55] What kind of man was your father and what kind of father figure was he?
Angela [00:05:59] There's always this thing, I love playing cards, I love going on holiday and playing cards and games. And I remember, really remember this really when I was young, my sister was obviously born so she was a baby and I'm a seven year old seeing a baby, it's all exciting, I want to help with the baby, but I'm playing with my dads cards or something. And he said, 'are you playing cards or are you looking after your sister?' you know, make your mind up. And I chose the cards *laughs* and it was that thing of- my mum would always say cause my brother was a quite bad loser as a kid and my mum would always say, let them win Paddy, just let them win. You know, he's Irish man from Cork and he goes 'the worst lesson you teach a child is not learning-'.
Annie [00:06:36] Is to let them win.
Angela [00:06:38] Yep, and so he never did. And that's the sort of man he was, he was very- not stern, I think he was very fair, very straight, Irish wit, Irish humour. He had this great album that my mum gave to my brother when he got married, it was a black and white album, all his youth.
Annie [00:06:56] Oh wooow!
Angela [00:06:56] So pictures of him with, you know, cigarettes, drinks of whisky, one girlfriend, friends, all the rest of it, going up to the final page. And he had little lines that said, you know me and you know, Sophie, or me and Don down the pub or something and the last page is a picture of their wedding and he put 'the end' *Annie laughs* you know that's it, it's all over. And then the final page is a picture of my brother who's the eldest, and he said 'the living end'.
Annie [00:07:20] Ahhh wow!
Angela [00:07:20] And I think that's it, that's how- you know, my father enjoyed his youth, loved it, probably as a reason died early, probably drank too much and smoked too much for his generation.
Annie [00:07:30] Can I ask how he died?
Angela [00:07:32] It was yellow jaundice, so liver cirrhosis. So yeah, he drank too much really, you know, in the Navy I think that's the way it was. But then when he knew he was a family man, he was a family man, you know? And, you know, he was great with us kids from what we remember. You know, obviously, he's away a lot in the Navy so we don't remember much but there's snippets you remember. I do remember when we were told that he'd died, I remember going to visit him in the hospital. And you know, my brother saying 'he must be ill, look at all those machines dangling'. And I think now, in 2000 or whatever he would be cured, there'd be no problem. But I think back in '75 when he died, no '76 sorry, you know, we weren't as advanced you know so how do you deal with it? So, yeah, that's where it is. And as a result, we moved up to London or to Essex basically we moved to H--- to be near my mother's family and to be near my father's family so we then, you know, we we had a great life. We lived in Kent as kids, really in the countryside, walked to school, all very nice and twee. And then as teenagers we were in London and that to me was, you know, to live near London when you're a kid and to be able to go up and down is great, I loved it.
Annie [00:08:43] Yeah, yeah. I think that's kind of a dream scenario, isn't it, to be kind of out of it but to be able to go in when you choose and when you need.
Angela [00:08:49] Yeah, exactly.
Annie [00:08:49] Yeah, that's great. So your mum sounds like she was- is your mam still around?
Angela [00:08:55] Yeah, yeah she's still around.
Annie [00:08:56] Pretty amazing woman. Like very strong.
Angela [00:08:59] Driving us nuts. Yeah, she's great *Annie laughs*. We love her, yeah, yeah, yeah. She's been great, but you know, very catholic- you know, she's Catholic-Italian to Catholic-Irish you know so, now her focus is all of us going to heaven. And with some of my relatives going 'there is no heaven' *Annie laughs*, thats just sending her over the edge. 'What you on about there's no heaven? We're all going to meet in heaven. I wanna see Dad, I wanna see-' we're like alright mum, you believe what you wanna believe. If that gives mum peace, that's what you've got to do. And you know, and I think that's how we've got to play her, you know, we can't let her go wherever we go and not think she's going to see us all again if that makes her happy. Yeah.
Annie [00:09:36] Yeah, exactly. Yeah. And so you mentioned your dad's family were there too, are you still in touch with the Irish side of the family?
Angela [00:09:44] Yeah, I mean he had two sisters and a brother. His brother, my Uncle John is still alive and then there's lots of cousins, we're all the next generation. I think there are still relatives in Ireland, you know, but quite distant and stuff. And then obviously on my mother's side, we've got all the Italians. So, you know, both families were big into food. I think my grandfather, during the war because they were in Essex, was a big foreman in Ford's the motor factory and he would bring- get a load of the Irish people over to work in Fords. And my mum said, you know, what they used to do she said when she first got married and she lived with her in-laws, she'd get these guys come over and they'd see Valentine Hart there and they'd be grateful because they were coming for a job but they'd open their bags and they'd bring a chicken out or a pack of butter or some-, you know, because food after the war was so sparse and, you know, that was their sort of thanks that they've got a job, they've moved over from Ireland, he's helped them and we're going to repay you with food. So mum said his bags would open and just food would top out. And the same in Italy that if my grandmother lived in this country, because she'd moved over here when she was 19, but we go back alot to the family house but if you stayed with Nonna, before you left she'd open your bag and she'd take clothes out and put bottles of olive oil and pieces of cheese in and stuff and that was to take back to, you know, your aunties and all the rest of it. So we were smugglers at an early age.
Annie [00:11:10] Food smugglers, I love it. Now, your nonna was kind of responsible for you learning how to cook, and your mam, right?
Angela [00:11:17] Yeah, both of them, yeah. Because we moved- as I said, we moved up to be near her, she lived 20 minutes up the road. So, you know, families- there's an expectation, I think, in Italian families that you help the generation above you. And if you're the eldest daughter, let's be honest, it's never the son, I was always expected to go help. So I would always help her prepare the anolini for Christmas, I would always help her prepare the tortelli, if she wanted to make something for Sunday lunch it was always me that went up and helped her and actually, I loved it. I loved cooking with her. I love being in the kitchen so to me it was never a hardship- it only became a hardship as a teenager when you wanted to go out but I still thought it was great.
Annie [00:12:03] And essentially your grandmother was running her own kitchen. You were seeing- you were watching someone run a kitchen as well.
Angela [00:12:07] Yeah, exactly you know, and there was no weighing scales, she did it as they say in Italy 'a la occhio' which is 'by the eye' so she'd just look up, see and never weigh anything. But she would make bread, she would make fresh pasta, she would do everything and she- you know, and her food always tasted delicious. You know, she was just a very simple cook, but absolutely understood the quality of ingredients and getting the best she could afford, I think. You know, it was never about highfalutin products, produce rather, but it was buying it and making sure it was right.
Annie [00:12:39] And so you didn't study cooking, am I right?
Angela [00:12:44] Yes. Yeah.
Annie [00:12:45] Yeah, so you studied history. When did you first start thinking about cooking as a vocation, I suppose?
Angela [00:12:51] I suppose probably in my late teens before I went off to college, I thought I'd like to go into cooking. I don't know why. I think because I was quite good at it and I did it at home a lot and I was interested in it. And I wasn't really academic, I was okay but my brother was the really bright one. And my mum always said, go to France and do a cordon bleu and she said, learn all that, that's the way to do it, but I didn't really want to go off to France and I wanted to go off to college to study and I thought all my mates are going off to college, so that's what I want to do. And so I sort of put it on hold for a bit. Still did a load of stuff at uni when we were there. So we spent all our money on food and going out to restaurants, but then after I left college I went off to start working in restaurants and because I work hard, I get my head down, I'm quite honest in the sense of I don't go and say yeah I can do all these things, I go in and say actually, I don't know how to, you show me, I'm here to absorb all your knowledge. People like that and I've got on well with the bosses and, you know, I sort of proved myself, you know, and that's how I sort of managed to get where I've been and work for good people.
[00:13:56] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:14:05] Watching this documentary I saw on when you were the head chef at the Connaught, so you were elected by Gordon Ramsay to be the head chef at the Connaught so it's his restaurant that you are running?
Angela [00:14:15] Yeah.
Annie [00:14:16] And, you know, I knew there was pressure in terms of running a kitchen, but you know, it was interesting to see him say, well, actually, if this fails, then probably a lot of my other restaurants will fail too. And it's all on Angela, and she has to get this right. And it was just like, oh my God like the amount of pressure on your shoulders. And then just watching you work 18 hours a day, 16 hours a day or something. Like 7 in the morning till 2 at night, you know, and having to run this kitchen, having to deal with the staff that are already there, who are resentful and confused, and then having to bring in new people, having an entirely new kitchen design, like all the different elements, it just kind of blew my mind and you do seem tired, but you seem so calm, so calm. What is it about you that can deal with this fucking huge amount of pressure, do you think? And not crack!
Angela [00:15:14] Well, it's funny my mum always says I'm like my dad. You know, what you see is what you get. You know, if she's in a bad mood, she's in a bad mood, if she's in a good mood, she's in a good mood. There's no change. I'm very the same. And I treat people the same, you know, you could be you, you could be Princess Anne, you know, I'll be the same person with everyone and my dad was very much like that, you know. And I think my mum says, you've got his genes, you don't panic, you don't get stressed. I do- cause I get stressed and of course you get your panic but there's always a level of me that says come on, let's keep this in perspective here. We're not falling off a cliff, we're running a restaurant and things will go wrong. And as soon as you bring in people and employees, it's always going to go wrong. I mean, Robin and I would say restaurants and hotels would be great without the public and without the staff, you know, they'd be an easy win but of course, dealing with the public, dealing with customers and dealing with staff it's going to be challenging. And I think that's the way I am. And also when you've worked-, you know, Gordon, I still to this day, I think he's one of the best people out there. I think he's an amazing chef, he's been a brilliant mentor to me over the years and he's a great friend. And he would be so, you know, as we've all seen it and I've experienced the way he would do it, and it's not- I don't want to run kitchens like that because it would stress me out too much. I just make my point, deal with it, and I'll still make my point if things go wrong but I don't want to get to that level of just, you know, screaming and shouting because it's just-
Annie [00:16:39] Hysterical screaming and shouting yeah.
Angela [00:16:39] It's just not necessary and these days forget it, no ones going to stand next to you.
Annie [00:16:44] I was going to ask that, I was going to say like, is that culture still tolerated where you just get screamed at in a kitchen and shouted at? Like, do people still stand for that?
Angela [00:16:52] I think most people don't. I mean, there are kitchens- I know for a fact there are chefs that still do that, and that's to their detr- you know, their fault. And there are cooks that will stand next to them because they're good chefs or they think their foods amazing or they're two or three stars or whatever. I personally don't, I don't like it. You know, the only person I say that can scream and shout at anyone is me because I own the business. I say everyone else who works for me you just show a level of respect for everyone. Treat people how you want to be because no one wants to go and the mental health now across the board in generations of people, especially post-COVID, that's what you've got to look for, forget anything else. So you've got to appreciate what people are going through with their families, where they live, the cost of living. You can't go in- what to come to work and then be screamed and shouted at? Cause they're never coming back the next day.
Annie [00:17:41] And what about hours, have they had to change?
Angela [00:17:43] Hours have definitely changed. You know, we changed hours a lot long ago. I mean, as I said, Murano is 15 years old now and probably two years into it, we you know, the norm was five doubles across most restaurants. So when I say 5 doubles-
Annie [00:17:59] Whats that? Five double shifts?
Angela [00:17:59] You're basically starting at 8:00 in the morning and you finish at 12:00 at night.
Annie [00:18:04] Jesus.
Angela [00:18:05] And you'll get a couple of hours in between if you're lucky.
Annie [00:18:07] And so you do five of them a week?!
Angela [00:18:09] Five of them a week, you'd have two days off. That was the norm across restaurants a long, long time ago.
Annie [00:18:15] Woooow.
Angela [00:18:15] There probably are still some that do it, which is madness, but that's down to them. And then we do it now, we do six, seven shifts a week. And how it works at Murano is they basically- they like to do three doubles and this is their choice because I think you've got to ask your team. And they say we want to do three doubles chef because then we'll do four days to three days off, so they love it.
Annie [00:18:38] So it's quite like nursing, similar hours to nursing yeah.
Angela [00:18:40] Yeah, that's it and they'll basically get Thursday, Friday, Saturday off, and they love that. And that for them is perfect.
Annie [00:18:46] So when you were starting out, you know, working for Gordon, doing this- I'm using the Connaught as an example because it feels like the most extreme example, I mean, we'll get to Murano but like extreme example of how it was, I guess what were the most challenging parts for you in terms of that time of trying to run that kitchen, trying to prove a lot of people wrong, trying to keep everything afloat?
Angela [00:19:05] Well, I think that was one of the first things was to prove that we knew what we were doing because there was a lot of resentment that one woman had come in, literally.
Annie [00:19:13] How did that resentment look and feel? Like what, were people saying shit to your face?
Angela [00:19:17] There was a couple of that. You had a couple of customers, one guy said- he'd ring up the reception and go, is she still there? And Leila at the time was the receptionist, she goes do you mean Angela? Yes Angela is still cooking here. He goes, well I want a table. Leila to her credit said to this guy, she goes why, why do you want to come? You don't like the restaurant anymore. You don't like the fact Angela's here or we're here, so why am I booking you a table to complain? and I thought, brilliant, you've just fronted it out. There's many great things about the Connaught but one of the great things about- and there is a level of this today and I think you and I probably see it, we like to go to the same places. I never thought I would become that person. I'm a creature of habit, I like to go to the same restaurants, the same hotels, the same- I always thought ohh no that's boring and the Connaught has had years of these sort of customers. But actually they're the loyalist people and a lot of them would come, and there was this guy, John McCulloch, big Chicago lawyer, came to the Connaught every year for three weeks at time. Knew that I was taking over, always would meet three, two friends there they'd stay in London blah blah blah, and afterwards he pulled me aside when he came in, ate the food and he said I've written to my friends and said we've got nothing to worry about. So you had wonderful customers like that and then you'd have arseholes like the other people. I'd say we converted 90%. It was probably 10% we were never going to convert but so what. You've also got to move hotels forward and restaurants forward. A new generation came in.
Annie [00:20:44] Yeah, so people just react badly to change anyway don't they.
Angela [00:20:47] Exactly yeah. I mean certain people wanted certain tables and they'd sit on the same table, eat the same breakfast six days a week, blah blah. And this American guy came over and he again would come for three weeks of the year and he said to me *American accent* 'you know, Angela, you know, why can't I sit on 35?' he goes 'that's the table I want' and I said, to be honest, we all have to wait for the man on table 35 to die and then everyone can move up a table *laughing* but until he does, that's his table and that will be his table for life. And I said, because he comes every day, I said, what do you want me to say? And that was the beauty of it, you know. And I sort of, it took me a while to understand that and appreciate it. You know I'd think, ooo these mad people what the bloody hell, but actually when I got it, then you think you know, these are your bread and butter. So I think there was Martin Sorrell, you know, the big guy from advertising and stuff, Sir Martin Sorrell, he came one day, we totally screwed his breakfast, we didn't realise we'd done it and a month later the --- did an interview with him and they said where do you eat? He goes well, I used to go to breakfast at the Connaught with Angela Hartnett, but we had such terrible breakfast, I no longer go there.
Annie [00:21:53] Oh Goddd.
Angela [00:21:56] And I read this, so you know you reach out with this email. And you know, in a way it's a good barometer these sort of people that come all the time, because when you suddenly don't see them, what's gone on? Hold on why are they not here on a Thursday? So either they're on holiday, which you generally know, they're ill which you might not know, or you screwed something up and they've just decided no. You know, so there's a lot of that, making sure you're aware of who's in. But I loved it in the end, I thought it was brilliant and I miss the Connaught, I think it's a great hotel.
Annie [00:22:28] Again, watching that documentary where you're starting the Connaught, you have to present your menu to Gordon and Marcus --- and a couple other chefs to taste and approve. And there's a scene where all the food comes in, it's the first tasting of a good few tastings before you- it's like a rehearsal for a place, when you have to work up the menu, but the first one, you see them eating it and you see them kind of, you know, criticising it. And then at the end he's very nice Gordon, it's definitely a different side of him seeing him being your boss and you can see the absolute respect he has for you. But at the end he's like, okay, so we're going to hand over a couple of dishes to Marcus cause he's going to take that dish, he's going to take that on and he's going to, you know, you're going to be supported, you're going to be helped. And part of me at that point was like, fucking no! She can do it herself. Like, don't hand it over to the man. She's got this. And you're very cool about it, you're like, yeah, no problem.
Angela [00:23:22] Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Annie [00:23:23] But I don't know, part of me was, like, annoyed for you that that had to happen to you. And again, this could be bullshit, but I was like is it because she's a fucking woman? Would that happen to a man? I don't know.
Angela [00:23:36] Yeah, it's interesting isn't it? I don't know, because I suppose I wrote the menu and I didn't- given that I'd worked with Marcus for about 8 years, I was just head chef and sous chef for a long time, I wrote that menu and did it all on my back. And there was a part of me that thought I can do this, I'll be fine. And I did make some fundamental mistakes, and that's fine. And Marcus, after said to me, why didn't you call me? Why didn't you sit down with me and let me help you go through this menu before you did it? And in hindsight, I probably should have done that, because then I think I --- but I didn't and then- and I don't think Gordon did it for- because I was a woman, I think he did it because he knew I needed some help there. Because, you know, I was thrown into running this huge hotel, which if you think about it, Gordon had taken over Claridge's, they had only taken over the restaurant, they weren't doing room service.
Annie [00:24:24] So you're doing all the excess bits yeah.
Angela [00:24:27] I was doing every thing else so it was a much bigger pressure. Claridge's had been such a success, they wanted to make sure that Connaught followed suit.
Annie [00:24:33] Yeah.
Angela [00:24:35] And also they weren't stupid, they had eyes on bigger prizes then Savoy, The Barclay, all these other restaurants so there was a lot of that. And also, at the end of the day, the one thing that's always when I've worked with Gordon, I was employed by him. You know, I never forgot that, I worked for him and if he said, Angela, you've got to put a --- on like this, yes Gordon, You know that's your job. So I never, ever felt that sort of resentment and afterwards realised, you know, the help was great and Marcus knew how to run a restaurant and, you know, I'd done this and he goes you know, you're putting half an artichoke or a whole artichoke on every plate, it's going to cost your food costs, change that to- you know, and that's what I needed the help with. And once I got it, then I clicked but it was that first initial.
Annie [00:25:18] I think it takes a lot of strength to be able to, in that scenario to be like, yeah okay, let's get the help as well. I saw on one of the comments on the YouTube, underneath this documentary which is on YouTube, I'll put a link to it actually in the show notes if anyone wants to watch it, it says 'being an executive chef at a Ramsay restaurant is for only a very few elite chefs who have thick skin, great cooking talents, leadership skill and obsessive perfectionism' *Angela laughs* would you say that's correct?
Angela [00:25:47] Probaby true, yeah, I'd say so, yeah. Because you're working for someone like that, so you've got to be the same. Yeah.
Annie [00:25:51] It's so much more than cooking.
Angela [00:25:53] Yeah, course it is.
Annie [00:25:54] It's so much more it's like- it's so much about being able to communicate with people, right?
Angela [00:25:59] Well I think that. I think some of the best chefs in the world aren't necessarily the best managers or people, you know, because I think these days, again, as I said, I always look at people now and I think, yes, you've got to be a good chef, but can you manage people? If you can't manage people, I don't care how good you are because I need you to manage a team and these days you've got to really look after that team. And I think that for me, management is up there equally with cooking, you know, because otherwise you never get- you're going to be constantly rolling through staff and no one wants that. It's just a headache.
[00:26:32] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:26:42] So then we fast forward to you going out on your own. So you started your biggest change of adult life going alone and buying your own business. Give me the context there, what was going on in your life to make you think now was that time?
Angela [00:26:53] Yeah. Interesting. So we did five years at the Connaught, it was a five year deal, but I'd been working with Gordon so we looked for a new restaurant together. At the time it was lots of people that said to me, why don't you goon your own? You know, there were people saying we'll invest and all that but I in myself, I didn't feel ready.
Annie [00:27:08] How old were you? You'd have been late 30s?
Angela [00:27:12] Yeah, maybe 38 probably. And I didn't feel ready for it, you know, because the one thing again, you work for a big company like Gordon's, they're paying the bills. You know, you have a bad month, your food costs don't deliver or you're a bit quiet, they've got the resources and the backup to make sure all your staff are paid, all your suppliers are paid, all your bills are paid. And so I was quite happy in that notion that I had that protection. So we went off and we bought Murano, Gordon, myself and Chris Hutcheson, his father in law. And so they put all the money up, I had a small percentage and we opened the restaurant. Really great success, blah, blah, blah. The days before social media, loads of critics, all lovely, all great. And then things were starting to change in the company, and that's when it suddenly felt right and I felt Murano was doing so well, I suppose I can cockily say because of me, you know, Gordon had done one tasting with me and then he just let me go with it.
Annie [00:28:08] And you had your Michelin star.
Angela [00:28:10] Yeah, had all of that sort of thing. So it was going really well and I thought I could do this. And so I thought, I'm going to go out on my own. And well, actually I thought I'm going to see if he'll sell me Murano because he had 90% and I had 10. And everyone said no he won't, he'll never sell you and that's not Gordon blah, blah, blah. And I thought, you know what? He might, because he does really love me *laughs* you know in my innocent way. And we went out for dinner one night and I said, Gordon, I want to move on, I want to be on my own, I want to do my own thing. I said, I've loved working with you, but I think it's time now. I want to earn the money for me. And he said, what do you want to do? I go, I'd love to buy Murano, he goes 'sure, if that's what you want'. He goes, why didn't you say this two years ago when we first did it, you know, and then that's it, the rest is history. And then as a result of it, more opportunities came cause I was on my own. You know, I didn't need- you know, before anything came through it would all be under the Gordon banner, but now it was on my own it was great. But then you are waking up going, is the restaurant full? How much was that piece of meat? How much is that toilet roll you spent-? You know, everything. Suddenly the bottom line is all your responsibility.
Annie [00:29:15] And how did you cope with that change? Did you feel more stressed or?
Angela [00:29:18] I think definitely more stress, certainly to make sure that everything's running right. I think you become a mad micromanager for the first year or so because you want to put yourself in everything and I would literally go, you know, I'll order the pencils, I'm gonna order this, no, no, don't do that, you know, everything, which became insane but then you make sure you've got great people around you. And you also I think the big skill is where you erm, you got to recognise in yourself what you can do and bring people in to do the stuff you can't and I absolutely can do the creative side, I'm great with people, I can come up with the ideas about marketing, all that sort of thing, I'm rubbish about making the books balance. I know how to run a business, I know how to make money, but I'm not interested in making sure that we've paid the electricity. That's an account, that's a finance guy. And so I think that's what you do and you make sure you've got good people who help you and do the bits you don't want to do and I think that's the key to it all.
Annie [00:30:16] If you look back at your career, what was the hardest point?
Angela [00:30:21] I have to say post COVID, I'll be honest.
Annie [00:30:24] Why?
Angela [00:30:24] I think coming out of COVID into a hospitality industry that was short of staff, incredibly short of staff to the point that we would close in days because we had no staff, which I never thought I'd end up doing ever in my life. Finding good staff because really good staff had decided, actually, I've been at home for six months, I don't want to go back to that business. The hang on from Brexit, which is again-
Annie [00:30:51] Sure you lost so many people.
Angela [00:30:53] Yeah, you know, decimated hospitality in some more way- not just even in people, in produce, prices, everything. And that to me was the hardest, that there were points when I'd do services and I'd come out and I thought I'm in tears here nearly because they were so bad, because the cooks weren't good enough, the front of house wasn't good enough, you would get hassle from customers because they couldn't quite believe things weren't as they were, and they just thought you could switch on a tap. You know, it's amazing how many people were slagging off restaurants going ooo I tried to book online, they said they had no bookings and then I went there and it's half empty, and I said to loads of people, I said, because we can control the covers then, if we open a book and it's full and we have no staff, you're gonna have a shit night. So sorry you're eating in a half empty restaurant, but you're going to at least have great food, good service, but you need full restaurants to make your business work. So that was it and I remember thinking I needed a bit of coaching and I saw this lovely lady, Madeleine, and within 10 minutes I was in floods of tears and that's not me at all. I've never been that sort of person. I normally might go, oh yeah, it's a bit shit and then I pull myself together, I move on. That's very much my mum. 'Pull yourself together, what's wrong with you!' blah blah blah. I was in tears and I said, God almighty, Madeleine, what have you done to me? I'm never like that. And then I realised it was an age that I was probably menopausal, you know, it was a lot of things that all- and I said I've never felt so like, this could all go horribly wrong and I could lose everything. But then it gives you a perspective and I also say, you know what? If, God forbid, I did lose everything, I could still have a job, I could still make a living, you know, so I'm not so like- obviously not like that anymore but it was, that was the worst time I think. The first three months post opening COVID fully was just horrendous.
[00:32:40] *Short musical interlude*
Annie [00:32:50] Angela, can you tell me about Neil, please?
Angela [00:32:52] Really? *Annie laughs* He was just in, brought me a nice cup of coffee, bless him.
Annie [00:32:56] Thank you Neil.
Angela [00:32:56] He's great, he's Neil. Thank you Neil. He's wonderful, he's my husband, he runs the French House in Soho. Neil and I worked together at the Connaught for four years.
Annie [00:33:07] So you were his boss?
Angela [00:33:08] I was his boss, always made me laugh. He was a great, great chef, to --- really good cook, really great cook. And he always wanted to go to France. His mum had taught French and stuff and he knew French. And so towards the end of the time he started applying for jobs in France and I always really got on with him, you know, and we became very dear friends. And then when he went off to France, I'd go out and see him in France, see how he's getting on and towards his time in France, he was getting into his thirties and I was getting to my early 40s, you know there's a bit of an age gap. Then it suddenly fruitioned into romance you know we thought this is how it is. And it felt right then, you know, he'd matured and, you know, I was in a different place in my life, you know, and we've been together ever since. We got married 2018, yeah.
Annie [00:33:57] What was your wedding like? Who did the food?
Angela [00:33:59] Brilliant. All my chefs did the food and Neils chefs.
Annie [00:34:04] Ahh lovely.
Angela [00:34:04] We wrote the menu. Suppliers- we did it in the local there's a- I live in Spitalfields, very fortunate to live in Spitalfields and there's a wonderful church there. It's Christ Church is the name of the church and you can do everything there, you can do events. So we had this ceremony, it was a glorious day so we came outside for drinks. Then they turned the church into a dining room and you go downstairs into the crypt and we had the disco. And it was brilliant, it was a great wedding. The fact everyone says it was such a brilliant party. I said there was a wedding by the way, vows were taken *Annie laughs*. I mean, so many people come up to me and go 'it was my best wedding ever' and I say what about your own and they say 'no better than my own' *both laugh*.
Annie [00:34:42] That's the dream. Okay and before I let you go, we must speak about the fact that you are now a podcaster.
Angela [00:34:48] Oh my Lord, yes.
Annie [00:34:49] And we share a colleague in common in Nick Grimshaw. How has it been working with Nick? How has it been being a podcaster?
Angela [00:35:01] Well, I mean, as Nick will tell you, I'm a bit dopey about these things. You know, when I got this email from my PR and it said Nick Grimshaw Podcast Waitrose, I said ahh yeah, just flick through it. Didn't realise it was to be with Nick on- I thought I was being interviewed on the podcast. So when I went there I was- I suppose speed dating and we just got on very well. I'd met Nick once before years ago at Lime Wood. I'll be honest and he's fully aware that I never really listened to his radio show *Annie laughs* and so, you know, I've listened more to your stuff and late night than I ever listened to Nick. So even when he did the DJ set at Lime Wood he goes did you see it? I'd go hmmmm and he'd go oh thanks for the support *Annie laughs*. Like you needed me, what you on about. And we just got on very well. We got on very well. He takes the mickey out of me, I take the mickey out of him. It works. We're very different people and I think it works because of that but we work well together because professionally we want it to be right. He'll listen to me when I talk about food, I know what I'm talking about. He knows about broadcasting and how it works. And people are enjoying it. People can't quite believe we only just got together and it's worked very well. I think the thing everyone says, how do you describe Nick? And I said, absolute honesty. I think he's very real. And you know, we've been- he's very kindly, he's invited me to parties and I've seen you at them and stuff and when you look at his circle of friends, given that he's probably got everyone on his phone, his circle of friends is very neat I think and he's got his core. Some of that core have been with him for years and that to me is a very good sign of someone who's got, you know, proper, you know, morals and life and, you know, and his family is a big deal. And the fact that his family is such a big deal, I love, you know. And you know, like when I saw all his friends at his party and inner family, it's like you're saying '---' and everyone knows her, everyone knows his dad-
Annie [00:36:52] *Laughs* everyone knows his mum, yeah.
Angela [00:36:52] You all know 'our' andrew. You know, it's very real and very honest and I feel very privileged that, you know, he's invited me into that sort of inner circle, I suppose to a degree. He always laughs, he goes you'll never come. I said I will, of course I'll come *Annie laughs*. I fell off a chair in front of his mum, I mean what an impression, I was literally arse over tit in his back garden. I said it's the rosé, it's the rosé, you just fed me so much I'm just absolutely paralytic.
Annie [00:37:26] I'm sure his mum loved that. I'm sure his mum's fallen off a few stools in her time as well.
Angela [00:37:33] Yeah am sure, as has he.
Annie [00:37:34] Angela, the change you would still like to make in your life. What would that be?
Angela [00:37:39] I would like to move out of London. I love London. Don't misunderstand me. I adore London but I want to move to the sea. I just want to be by the sea.
Annie [00:37:49] Oh god, I feel you.
Angela [00:37:50] I just want to wake up every morning hearing the sea. I'll be honest, that's all I want. I find the sea very calming. I'd still work, I've no interest in sort of necessarily retiring, but just want to be by some water that I can go swimming every day or walk on the beach. And I love the sun, but I love that English wet, windyness on shingle. You know, we went down to Margate the other day and it wasn't the best weather, but it didn't bother me. It was just great. And if Neil and I could get a little restaurant together, he'd cook and I'd do front of house. So that's what we'd like to do.
Annie [00:38:25] So a little restaurant by the sea? Ohhhh Angela!
Angela [00:38:29] Yeah, something like that. So we don't have to rely on anyone in the nicest possible way. But if we wanted to, close on the Thursday lunch. Sorry we're not open. You know and actually this is the menu today, you know that's it, you know and just keep it like that.
Annie [00:38:41] Well, I look forward to that restaurant by the sea *Angela laughs*. I will be there. I will be there. Listen, what a pleasure to speak to you. Thank you so much.
Angela [00:38:49] Oh, lovely to see you Annie.
Annie [00:38:52] Do please rate, review and subscribe to Changes. It is so appreciated and if you fancy sharing it on social media too, that would be amazing. The more people we can get listening to these episodes, the better. We want to tell our stories far and wide. Changes is produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions. Thanks for listening.